As someone who writes a lot of marketing content on a daily basis, I’ll inadvertently find myself referencing statistics or research from other places from time to time, and come across a really good piece of information, only to find out that it was something I wrote years ago.
And it’s not that I have an over-inflated opinion of myself or my writing, it was just a really good insight at the time and before I even knew who the author was, I said to myself, “I’m going to reference this” only to be amused at reading my own byline.
But it sounds crazy, right? Can you really plagiarize yourself?
If you wrote the original work and you’re the author, it’s easy to think that you can use (or reuse) your work in lots of different ways again and again. But as it turns out, you really can plagiarize yourself. Let’s take a closer look at what exactly self-plagiarism is, what it involves, and how to avoid it
What is Self-Plagiarism?
As writers and content creators, we all feel the pressure to write consistently good, engaging, and informative content all the time. And if you specialize in a particular niche like healthcare or SaaS, you can find yourself doing a lot of research to uncover interesting statistics, presentations, interviews, and much more. Why reinvent the wheel? You might be asking. If you can pull from something you wrote previously and use that as a springboard for your other content, isn’t it yours to do with as you, please?
In this case, pulling from your own previously-written content (whether you actually use the text you wrote previously or you simply grab certain numbers or other details as references) is still considered self-plagiarism. There’s a lot of debate between writers, content creators, and agencies over what actually constitutes self-plagiarism since you’re not technically borrowing someone else’s ideas or words.
However what’s technically passable and what’s ethically passable are two totally different things. Let’s tweak my scenario a little and consider the following situation:
A Question of Ethics
Let’s say that in writing for a SaaS, like Originality.AI, I reuse some of the content that I’ve created for their blog; maybe even from this article itself. In the strictest sense of the word, I’m borrowing from myself. However, this is a work made for hire, which means that I’ve written it exclusively for Originality.AI. If I took a part of it and tried to use it elsewhere without citing myself or linking back to Originality.AI, that content that I created for the other company wouldn’t be genuinely or exclusively theirs.
At the same time, I can definitely quote my previous writings and add a link back to reference the original thought, but from an ethical point of view, I shouldn’t (and wouldn’t) go grabbing entire paragraphs from here and passing them off as entirely new content for my other clients. Even if it’s not technically plagiarism, it’s still not doing any favors to my reputation as a writer nor does it add value for my clients so I simply steer clear of it.
Examples of Self-Plagiarism
You may not be thinking of pulling entire paragraphs from previously written material, but that’s not the only thing that’s considered self-plagiarism. For example, if you write a generic piece of content and sell it to a content agency and then turn around and sell that same piece of content to a different agency, that’s plagiarizing yourself.
If you’ve done previous research for another client but then use that research for a current client without citing yourself or linking back to the source, that’s also considered self-plagiarism. Even if you just take your previously-written content and rephrase it a little so that it sounds unique, but you don’t add any new findings or ideas to it, it’s still plagiarism.
How to Avoid Self-Plagiarism
The best way to avoid plagiarizing yourself and your previous work? Cite yourself and your source. Consider your previous work: how long ago did you write it? If it was several years ago, the statistics or other details you’re referencing may be out of date and it might be time for a refresh. You’re also (hopefully) more knowledgeable about the topic now than you were then. What things have changed and how can people be better prepared for what’s to come?
There’s a lot more that you can add to your previous writing to make it stronger, fresher, and better than ever without having to resort to plagiarizing yourself outright. If you’re stuck on ways to modernize or rephrase your content in a different way, you can even turn to AI for some suggestions. It’s great for helping writers get out of their own way when it comes to looking at a given subject from a new perspective and can inspire you to think of your topic from other points of view that you might not have considered before.
It might sound complicated or even comical, but yes, you can plagiarize yourself, and in doing so, although it may save time, is doing a disservice to your client, the agency you’re working for, or your website buyer. You want your content to be authentic, interesting, engaging, and unique, and in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t take much longer to go that extra mile and make it happen. Resist the temptation to cut corners – your writing and your reputation will be much better for it as a result!
The bottom line, no matter how you choose to approach referencing your own content, is to maintain originality above all: it’s what your clients trust you to provide, and it’s something that AI can’t compete with. No one else has your experiences or your expertise, and the more you can share that authentic viewpoint with the rest of your readers, the more your work will shine with Originality.