The famous Chinese general and philosopher Sun Tzu once said in his book “The Art of War”: “To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.”
While there are many things that writers can do to track their content andstop plagiarism or infringement when it does happen, it would be better, in an ideal world, to stop this misuse of content before it happens.
However, writers are in a unique position. Though there is little that they can do to prevent the copying, at least not much that won’t also negatively impact legitimate visitors, writers can actually adjust the way they approach their material and take steps in the creation process to reduce or minimize the impact of plagiarism.
With that in mind, here are five writing techniques any author can use to prevent plagiarism or the reduce its impact, without taking a single step toward tracking or enforcing their work.
1. Link to Yourself
This one is a good policy in general, but linking to yourself discourages plagiarism and content misuse in a way that even the best copyright enforcement strategies can’t.
The idea is simple, in every work you post, include a link to another related work on your site. It doesn’t have to be anything drastic or glaring and doesn’t even need to break the flow of the writing.
This works in two ways:
- Automated Scrapers: Automated Scrapers who take your content will grab the link as well and post it to the spam sites. Search engines, when seeing the link back to your site, will give it more credit and will be less likely to punish your domain as the one with duplicate content.
- Human Plagiarists: If you word the link or the text around it so that it talks about “my previous coverage” then the plagiarist either has to edit the text out or plagiarize a second work. Some actually leave the text in, giving themselves away.
In short, this technique might not stop a plagiarist, though it will discourage some who don’t want to waste time editing and rewriting, but it works to make the plagiarism much less effective and mitigate its impact.
2. Write Personally
Getting more personal with your writing is a good way to frustrate would-be plagiarists, especially if your backstory is fairly well known.
On this front, writing in first person is usually a good step, but if you can include personal stories or accounts, so much the better.
For example, if you’ve worked as a police officer, sharing stories about your past experiences can greatly reduce the number of plagiarists who can lift the content with any credibility. Plagiarists can edit out such personal elements, but doing so requires work and even with those portions edited their credit is still weakened as you have the complete work.
Usually though, most will just skip ahead to an easier target as there are plenty on the Web.
3. Shift Your Audience/Tone
The audience you write to, in many cases, has a direct bearing on the amount of plagiarism you deal with. Writing to an adult audience, for example, seems to cause a work to be plagiarized less than writing to a teen audience. Likewise, the less educated your audience is, the more likely they seem to be willing to plagiarize.
If you aren’t willing or able to shift your target, you can try changing your writing style and tone, taking an approach that doesn’t necessarily sound as if it were written by a member of your audience. For example, taking a more journalism-like tone when writing for younger audiences.
The problem with this technique is you may be avoiding some plagiarism issues but could be making great sacrifices in terms of marketing and approachability. Clearly, this is not right for everyone.
4. Write Longer Works
In general, longer works, anything over about 800 words, is less likely to get plagiarized than shorter ones, at least by humans. The reason is a plagiarist looking for something to lift isn’t going to want to spend the time to read, edit and republish longer material, not when something shorter will do.
There are exceptions to the rule of course, but most find that if you extend your content, even just a little bit, you can reduce the number of people who plagiarize your work.
Once again though, if you’re a site that focuses on short form content and has a reputation for it, this approach may not be best for you.
5. Have a Unique Style
Though the hardest on the list to pull off, this is probably the most important. Your content should seem like your content and be recognizeable to others as being from you.
There’s many elements to this including your writing voice, your formatting and even your niche but if your content sounds like it belongs to you and others might recognize that it “seems like” your work, you’re probably well on your way.
Simply put, plagiarists seem to prefer work that either seems generic or seems to match their own voice (or what they perceive their voice to be). Having a unique style, one that’s likely built up over months and years, can go a long way to discouraging others to lift your content.
The best way to avoid being plagiarized is to be a unique item yourself. If you have something that’s truly original, others will have a harder time claiming it as their own.
Will it prevent everyone from trying? No. In fact, no matter how unique your work is you will still likely find others willing to make a run at pretending to be you. However, they will likely be less in number and their impact will be drastically reduced.
In short, focusing on your writing may not give you a complete win over plagiarism, but any victory you can obtain without fighting will be the greatest victory you see in this struggle.