One writer's take on plagiarism

Please…bear in mind, I’m a nurse, a mom, a writer… not a legal expert but from what I understand about plagiarism without in depth study on it…here are my opinions. If you’re a qualified legal or academic expert and I’ve got something wrong, please feel free to let me know.

But here goes.

There are a couple of sites, blogs, forums, etc, where people seem to be confusing research, common knowledge, or personal knowledge with plagiarism…where do we credit, when, it ever permissible to do it without crediting the source.

No, IMO, it’s not permissible.

However…To person A, it might seem like it requires in depth research for person B to write knowledgeably about something and if they attempt to write it without crediting the source, it’s plagiarism.

But that isn’t right. Because what is common knowledge to one person may not be common to another. Say we had a woman that was born in India and she wrote a romance alluding to the legend behind a certain temple. To her…this is common knowledge. I’d have to look it up.

Another example, I’m currently working on a romantic suspense and I’m using medical terminology therein. References to certain things that are typicl, standard knowledge within the medical field.

I’m not posting sources…because I know this information.

I’m a nurse, I’ve worked the field for X amount of years and while yes, at some point I was taught that

Digoxin works by strengthen the heart, making it pump more effectively, thereby working to treat the symptoms of congestive heart failure…

…this is just something I know. It’s part of my job, it’s part of who I am, and for medical personnel, it’s common knowledge. Common knowledge requires no sources.

I can fairly put this into a book if I had a character that was a nurse and she was explaining the medicine to a patient~fairly and without citing sources. I don’t NEED a source for knowledge that I already know.

Now… if I went to a nursing site, say and copied this information, word for word

“DIGOXIN (Lanoxin) is a cardiac glycoside that can help a weakened heart to function properly. Digoxin increases the strength of the heart muscle, helps to maintain a normal heart rhythm, and helps to remove excess water from the body. Digoxin can relieve symptoms of congestive heart failure, a condition that reduces the ability of the heart to pump enough blood through the body. These symptoms include swelling of the feet and legs, difficulty breathing, and extreme tiredness or weakness. It can also help to regulate heart rhythm problems. Generic digoxin injections are available.”

and put THAT into my book, without stating the source and giving credit, I’ve plagiarized.

Just to be clear, yes that link came from under the drug information on Digoxin.

History buffs could easily rattle off facts about the Revolutionary War without using sources. It’s what they’ve learned, it’s what they know, it’s what they love.

But just general research doesn’t require citing sources either, unless you’ve copied verbatim or just swapped a few words here and there. It’s possible to take written knowledge, let it rattle through your brain and then put it on paper in your own words…and it’s possible to do it ethically.

I had to research for a historical novella and I purposely keep period info vague just because erroneous info isn’t fair to readers. I made a reference to a gun called a Brown Bess, and I didn’t state the source because all I did was mention the gun. Had I described it using verbatim or just switched around a word or two, then I would need to credit the source.

I can tell you from a trip that I took to Alaska that there is this amazing plant on the roadside called fireweed and in the summer, it blooms so thick that grass can’t be seen for the purple blooms. Do I have a source telling people the plant’s name, the color, when it grows, where it grows….? No. Nor do I need one. Researched information can be taken and put into an author’s words without plagiarizing, and without unethically lifting from a source.

Particularly if it’s coming from somebody who spends a lot of time in certain area or a certain field of expertise. It would be like a cop writing a police procedural mystery~I wouldn’t expect him to quote sources. He shouldn’t need to. He KNOWS the stuff, because it’s his job.

Another example…again medical… I know medical, is about Rohypnol. I’d posted this in my post, Truth and Consequence, but it’s a pretty clear example, so I’m reposting that part here.

THESE are my words. This is info that I know and since I know it… I wouldn’t need to reference a source.

Hey, there kids. I’m Nurse Suzy Q and I want to talk to you about date rape drugs. A common date rape drug is Rohypnol. Its a legally prescribed medication that is often abused by teens and young adults.

When legally prescribed, Rohypnol is used on a short term basis for treating sleeplessness, and it can also be used prior to anesthetic.

Back in 1996, it was included in the Drug-Induced Rape Prevention and Punishment Act. One of the main reasons it was included was because of anterograde amnesia, which causes a person to forget things that happened while the drug was still in their system.

A source that any interested person could find…use it to inform themselves and then put it into their own words…ethically…

“Rohypnol (flunitrazepam), most commonly known as a date-rape drug, continues to be abused among teenagers and young adults, usually at raves and nightclubs. The drug remains readily available, mainly through pharmaceutical operators located in Mexico, especially Tijuana.Rohypnol is marketed by Hoffman-La Roche Inc., and is legally sold in Latin America and Europe as a short-term treatment for insomnia, and as a preanesthetic medication. One of the significant effects of the drug is anterograde amnesia, a factor that strongly contributed to its inclusion in the Drug-Induced Rape Prevention and Punishment Act of 1996. Anterograde amnesia is a condition in which events that occurred while under the influence of the drug are forgotten.”

Info found here ~

Again… the top part, clearly not text book style writing… my words, not plagiarism.

One of the key factors from what I understand about what constitutes plagiarism is common knowledge. But the common knowledge of a medical professional will differ from one outside the medical field. Just like the common knowledge of a cop will differ for those outside law enforcement.

People who travel extensively, who are history buffs, are also going to have information that is common among that population.

My final example… I’m an Irish history buff. I’ve been to Ireland, I read scads of books about Ireland, I love the culture. I can tell you that the stone circles were quite possibly a primitive calendar just because I’m so immersed in things Irish.

I wouldn’t have to credit a source.

But if I took somebody else’s words,

“Their precise function will always be open to debate, but a practical purpose could exist in the form of use as astronomical marker points for use in determining calendar-related event timings, and usable methodologies have been suggested.”

And said they were mine? Plagiarism.

Info was found @

Taking information you’ve gathered over your lifetime through hobbies, through work, through a serious reading addiction, and put that information together to create your own story is not plagiarism.

But a person can’t ‘accrue’ a lifetime of information, put it down on paper, that matches another author’s work almost word for word, and then say it’s research. You have to use your own words… or you’re doing something wrong.