Another writer was banished for plagiarism...

Well, this seems to be happening a lot. It occurred to me that at fault might be a habit that I’ve heard some writers have, of pasting blocks of material into a draft, to be subsequently either rewritten/paraphrased, or placed into proper quotations. Obviously, if you confuse this text with stuff you’ve written, or if you simply forget to go back and deal with it properly, then you are vulnerable to being accused of plagiarism.

Now, I don’t use this method, it has always seemed like more work than just writing what I have to say directly, but for those who do, it seems to me that it would be very useful for the writing program to have some easy way to assist them in avoiding inadvertent plagiarism.

What I’m thinking about here is for there to be a kind of alternate paste procedure which marks all pasted text as “borrowed” in some way that will not be altered by normal editing like font or style changes, and that would also survive subsequent copies/cuts and pastes. This would need to be done at a low level within the RTF files and probably would involve marking each character. In terms of how borrowed text is displayed, it should be clearly visible, and it should also be noted alongside the total number of characters/words/pages: the number of borrowed characters/words/pages. Rewritten text that retains only a few borrowed characters or words here and there, or text that has been properly quoted & cited, could then be marked explicitly as “not borrowed”.

It would also be nice if Scrivener could detect whether pasted text had been copied/cut from the current document (i.e., by comparing what was just pasted with what was most recently copied/cut from this document). If it was, then it would retain whatever “borrowed” setting it had when it was copied, but optionally, any text pasted from an external source would start out marked as “borrowed”.

Well, it’s just a thought.

The procedure I use is to type a quotation mark (always double) paste the text, type another quotation mark, then type in the source (typically name of main author, date, and some other identifier, like part of the title, or perhaps a URL, and a page number). It works very well.

If people are particularly worried about this, then perhaps clipping the source as a PDF would be a way of avoiding “accidents”. But I would always want to put in the source at the same time. It doesn’t make any sense to me to paste in some text without also recording where it came from. No amount of tiredness or hurry ought to interfere with taking that step, as it just leads to problems later.

As another alternative, one could certainly set up a Keyboard Maestro macro that would take whatever is on the clipboard and format it in a particular way to make it stand out, then paste it into the text (and you could give a single hot key to the procedure to make it as fast as normal pasting). But that would still leave you with the indispensable step of recording the source of the text.

To my mind, any sort of special pasting is not an answer. You have to record the source – even for your own interest or convenience. What if you want to go back and check the context of the text? How will you do that if you don’t know where it comes from?


PS: I’m an academic – dealing with material from other texts is our stock in trade.

Just for information, pasting text from an external source and then editing that text to change the wording is still plagiarism.

Where you need to copy and clearly mark, you should probably think about how it would appear in the final document. Double indenting from both margins and changing font and font colour along with a footnote/annotation are common methods you might use. Whichever way you do it, the onus is on you the author, not the software, to properly accredit your sources.

Scrivener can help you in modest but usable ways to keep track of which documents need to be addressed again later, not least of which are the label and status fields, document references, notes and keywords. If that’s not enough, try the index card, the project notes or creating a new document (anywhere you like) where you duplicate the copied text and cite the source, so you can search for it in scrivenings mode later to check you have properly marked the text.

I’m a thoroughly disorganised person, and I write in a very disjointed way (so if I quoted other’s work I might fall into the trap you mentioned), but getting yourself organised when writing is always a good thing. My rule of thumb is if you can’t quote the entire body of work from memory, then you need to keep it organised.

Well (for the sake of students who may be reading) it may be plagiarism, depending a) on how much you change the wording and b) whether you acknowledge the source of the key idea(s) in the original.
I think a lot of academics are in the habit of taking a chunk of text from a source as a potential block quotation, then deciding that it would work better paraphrased. I don’t think there’s necessarily anything wrong with that, as long as it is presented as a paraphrase of the original, with some such phrase as “according to [so and so]”, or “[so and so’s] theory is”. If it is a paraphrase of a particular section of text then a page reference should be given, just as one would for a direct quotation.

In summary, if the wording is not changed (=direct quotation), then it’s plagiarism if it’s not in quotation marks, or clearly formatted as a block quotation.
Whether or not the wording is changed (i.e. direct or indirect quotation, or paraphrase), it’s plagiarism if the source of the idea is not acknowledged. In fact, the sources of ideas should always be acknowledged, whether the description started as a cut-and-pasted quotation or was written from scratch. These rules are strict for academic work (student or professional).

There are some grey areas: one is popular (semi-academic) works discussing well known ideas: e.g. in a lexicon of an academic subject, not all sources of ideas can be explicitly given in the text, and there will probably be no footnotes. In such cases the author will have some tricky judgments to make, and should certainly avoid paraphrasing.

Well, I’m an academic too but I think it’s a more general problem.

Sure, you need to identify your sources, but to me that’s a separate issue. As a practical matter, I believe that people get caught for plagiarism because of word-for-word copying much more often than for, say, defining a term using a definition paraphrased from a dictionary or from Wikipedia (assuming that the paraphrase is good enough to eliminate all word-for-word copied sequences).

In any case, I suppose that any time something is pasted in from outside the document, Scrivener could pop up a dialog into which you could enter some specification of the source, which would then be displayed along with however the borrowed text is represented.

Maybe it would be enough to just have Scrivener color any text pasted in from outside the document a certain color. At least that would be a subtle word to the wise. (Yes, the user can do that manually, but will he?)

An additional approach might be to maintain a table somewhere of all text fragments that have been pasted in from elsewhere, along with a way to make searches of the document for subsequences of text from them.

Jumping in here. While I’d have no objection to Scrivener making things more colorful, the answer to this problem is – YOU DO NOT CUT AND PASTE FROM ANOTHER AUTHOR! Not even if you plan to change it later.

Yes, I’m yelling. Earlier this year a friend and writer who I’d known for over a decade destroyed her career with a plagiarism scandal. She pulled part of her plot line from another author and thought she’d “rewritten” it enough so that it wasn’t plagiarism. She was wrong. A review of work going through edits with the publisher indicated the incident wasn’t isolated. Fast-track to “how to flush your writing career down the drain.”

Scrivener has a place to put research. I use it to track research on projects. But everything in there is for reading purposes, not to be rewritten and changed. Yes, that may have worked in 8th grade reports, but it is not anything a published writer should do.