I write for a living. This, I admit, sounds like a really sweet gig. There is no heavy lifting involved, and the greatest health hazard is from sitting too much. Deadlines and writer's block can make the job a little stressful at times, but I'd wager that nobody's going to shed tears over any of my tales of woe as a content creator.
Recently, a situation came up which cast a light on one of the most difficult aspects of blogging for the Internet. A colleague wrote a very good piece which was soon trending on social media. Within hours, however, a strikingly similar essay, on the exact same topic, was published. That blog then began trending. Language and tone were somewhat different from each other, and the second blog contained alternate information, but the whole affair seemed like more than a coincidence. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but where does imitation leave off, and something more nefarious is going on?
When creating content for inbound marketing, we are often called upon to write about subjects on which we are hardly experts. There will always be people who are more knowledgeable about any given topic than I am, and no amount of intensive research is going to change that. Since the purpose of any blog is to offer helpful information, I choose a buyer persona that I wish to target, and center my blog on what that persona is curious about. The words are my own, based on the examinations I've made on the subject, and I take a very specific approach to any given topic. This does not mean, however, that I've reinvented the wheel. Nothing is new.
Inevitably, I ask three questions
1. How common is this situation?
With the Internet providing readily available content, students and journalists risk engaging in a very common practice called patchwriting. Similar to the way patchwork quilts are made, this is essentially rearranging words and phrases from a previously published work, without any regard for independent, critical thinking. Everything is just stitched together. It isn't plagiarism, necessarily, but it is sloppy writing.
2. What can be done about it?
Genuine plagiarism, which involves the use of unreferenced quotes, can be prosecuted. Patchwriting, while not illegal, can be pointed out in a public forum. The surest consequence of patchwriting can be loss of reputation.
3. How can this be avoided?
Acknowledging the source of your information and ideas will avoid the problem. I would also suggest that while patchwriting may be the result of writing about unfamiliar topics, the more you study a subject with a critical mind and approach, the less likely you are to be guilty of it.
There is a responsibility which comes from content marketing. Do it well. Get it right. Be honest.
What are your experiences in blogging? Does any of this hit close to home? Please feel free to comment.