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The Ethics Of Your Writing

Posted by on Jan 21, 2010

Last summer, Peter and I noticed that one of our blogging friends seemed to be posting things that were lifted from another source. They were word for word what was on another website; we considered that a serious breach of ethics.

fountain pen
Phil Hilfiker via Compfight

I finally had the opportunity to ask him about these posts, telling him that I had noticed that they were the exact same thing is on some other websites. He told me that he had purchased some PLR (private label rights) articles and was using them because he didn’t have time to write anymore but wanted to keep new content on his website. I pointed out that it didn’t look right, and that when people usually use PLR articles that the idea was to modify them so that they would become one’s personal articles.

As some of you know I now offer writing and blog writing services as part of my business. With one of my blogging clients, I knew his industry really well, so I didn’t have to do much research with it. With most of the other writing that I’ve been doing, there has been a fair amount of research. What you start to find out is that as you read on the subject enough times, you start to get the feeling that you know it fairly well and can pretty much write totally original content more than half of the time without having to do any research at all.

But there are those times when you have to do some kind of research. On most topics, what I will do is think of what I want to write about, pull up four or five resources, read them all, and then start writing. If the majority of the resources quoted exact same information, then I would use that exact same information, but will alter the words if it’s possible.

Sometimes it’s not; if you have a list of things that have to go in a particular order, you’re pretty much stuck using what’s there. For instance, I once wrote an article regarding something called “revenue codes“, which is a health care term. I listed a whole bunch of numbers and descriptions, and no matter what resource I might have had to look at, those numbers and descriptions would have been the exact same everywhere.

I think when it comes to writing there has to be some kind of ethical standard that a writer has to have. It doesn’t do a writer any good to copy blocks of words from someone else’s articles without giving them attribution. One of the gripes I’ve written about often on this blog is seeing people on other blogs saying the same thing over and over that they got from another blog.

True, there may not be many new ways to say “create great content” when talking about ways to improve one’s blog or to encourage visitors to stop by, but that’s part of the essence of what writing is supposed to be about, that being creativity. I’m sure that someone else has probably written about ethical writing in the past, but I’m also betting that no one is ever written about it in quite the same way that I’m writing about it right now. That’s the kind of thing that makes us all unique.

There’s also the question of rewriting articles. Many people believe that’s unethical, because they’re taking one source and basically saying the exact same thing that someone else said only in a different way. I have kind of a different take on that one also. I have rewritten my own stuff from time to time, and as I am the original source for that information, I have no qualms about doing that rewrite.

I also think that it depends on what you’re writing as to whether doing a rewrite of something is ethical or not. For instance, if you’re writing something about a new story you read, and you can only find that information in one place, I don’t think there’s anything unethical in writing that in a different way; after all, that’s news, and it’s what all the major newspapers around the country do when they get those newsfeeds from places such as the AP and Reuters. I do that on my finance blog all the time, although I also didn’t comment on those stories which make them unique.

What are your thoughts on ethical writing? Do you think I’m too strict, too lenient, or something else? Inquiring minds want to know. 🙂
 

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24 Comments »

I don’t think you’re being strict at all Mitch. I think the Internet would be a boring place if all people did was copy what they’ve read somewhere else without changing much of anything.

It’s silly really when you consider that all that is needed is a little work and imagination to make that article yours. It may even be better than the original because you were able to make it more interesting or explain it in such a way that more people would understand it.

I’ve always said you had good ethics, now you just need to beat me in chess more often 😀

Actually forget that last bit, I think you’ve been kicking my ass once too often lately.

January 21st, 2010 | 8:27 AM
Mitch:

Thanks Sire. And you’re right, you and I have our ideas, sometimes even ending up writing on the same thing, and yet we write differently, such that no one could ever accuse either of us of stealing from anyone.

January 21st, 2010 | 9:21 AM

Mitch, you cannot be too strict on any question of ethics. I endorse your stand one hundred percent.

January 21st, 2010 | 8:35 AM
Mitch:

Thanks Rummuser. And there’s no doubt that you certainly have unique content every time out. 🙂

January 21st, 2010 | 9:21 AM

‘No idea is original’ but how you use it makes it unique.

There is a fine art to using PLR that is often overlooked. To really benefit you need to go through and add your own voice and style of writing, that being said, often times it can be easier just to write your own article from scratch.

I have 100s of PLR articles on my hard-drive and I am yet to use them in that way. I much prefer to scan through the articles for topic ideas.

‘It’s silly really when you consider that all that is needed is a little work and imagination to make that article yours. It may even be better than the original because you were able to make it more interesting or explain it in such a way that more people would understand it.’ Absolutely Sire.

January 21st, 2010 | 8:57 AM
Mitch:

The thing is, unless you’re researching how something works on your own, most research involves taking the words of others and putting them in your own, hoping to either clarify or enhance what’s come before. I will acknowledge that if one doesn’t fully understand what they’re reading it might be difficult at times, but then that just means one goes out and finds other references to the same material that are easier to understand.

January 21st, 2010 | 9:24 AM
Glen:

I like your ethical standard. Stealing is just stealing in my opinion.

I tend to take another route on my posts.
I read what people like you have written and then, without any research I just make up facts and figures to suit my arguments, ha,ha..
.-= Glen´s last blog ..Interview Tips- Dealing with Profanity =-.

January 21st, 2010 | 10:24 AM
Mitch:

That’s funny, Glen. I at least try to find real stats. lol

January 21st, 2010 | 4:18 PM

Interesting. Last summer I was working on a project which was taking a lot of time. I bought a PLR book with the aim of changing some of the information and using it as a series of posts on my site.

I gave up before posting the first article. Even when I made a lot of changes to the text, it still didn’t have my voice at all. It turned out better, and quicker to simply write my own stuff. So I consigned the PLR book to my trash can.
.-= Mike CJ´s last blog ..Web hosting just isn’t sexy =-.

January 21st, 2010 | 1:08 PM
Mitch:

Hi Mike,

I actually have lots of PLR articles on my computer, but I’ve never even looked at one of them. I downloaded them years ago before I knew what PLR meant, and just never had the time to check them out. Now that I do know what they are, I’m figuring there’s not going to be anything that I could use anyway. Why haven’t I now taken the time to get rid of them? Because I’d have to take the time to sort through all the other junk I have and don’t know what it is. 🙂

January 21st, 2010 | 4:20 PM
Rose:

I don’t think you’re being strict at all Mitch. On my community websites I use re-print articles, but on a blog I think the content should be unique.

Kind of non related, but with regards to PLR articles. A bunch of my articles as well as other people’s articles were recently stolen and sold as PLR articles.

I hope your friend didn’t purchase stolen articles.

January 21st, 2010 | 4:34 PM
Mitch:

Goodness Rose, I hope so myself. This was back in late summer, and the thing is we saw the same articles on multiple sites. That’s just wrong; how’d you find out about it?

January 22nd, 2010 | 12:56 AM
Keith:

I don’t do PLR so am not really familiar with it, but I have heard of article ‘spinners’ that change some words and make the article “new” again so you can submit the same article to multiple directories.

As far as writing ethics, all my ideas have been written about before (well most all of them), but I write from my own heart, using my own words. I never even use outlines or notes, I just sit down and start typing, when I am done I read it over, add some links, H3-4 tags, lists etc… maybe a pic and publish, BOOM it’s mine.

I hate the fact that sites even get away with posting snippets of your article with a link waiting on you to approve the trackback and then removing it. There is something unethical to write about Mitch! LOL

Great article, I think you have to be strict when it comes to doing th eright thing…

January 21st, 2010 | 5:50 PM
Mitch:

Actually Keith, I have written about it in the past. Those weasels need to be pimp-slapped for sure. I do like you do for the most part, I just sit down and start writing and I’m done when I’m done. When I’m doing a research post, of course those take more time. I haven’t bothered adding H3 or H4 tags, mainly because I don’t even think of planning far enough in most of my posts to think about what my keywords might be. Seems that most visitors who end up here via search engines aren’t looking at any of those keywords anyway.

January 22nd, 2010 | 1:01 AM
lazygirl:

Copying someone else’s writing really sucks. That’s just plagiarism.

I didn’t even know PLR existed!

But I guess most people reading blogs would be like me too, and just not know.

January 22nd, 2010 | 3:32 AM
Mitch:

I actually wrote two PLR packages last year, Lazygirl, that I put up for sale. One sold okay, the other not at all and I had to pull it. If you hit the right target you could possibly make a little change from it.

January 22nd, 2010 | 10:45 AM
Typhoon:

PLR articles must only be used once you have rewritten it in your own words and is properly readable. On should not take help of article spinner as it will make the article less readable.

Also, I am strongly not recommending use of PLR articles on blog. But yes, to save your time and money, one can use it for article marketing purpose.

January 22nd, 2010 | 7:15 AM
Mitch:

Thanks for your thoughts, Typhoon. I’m not against anyone using PLR articles either, as long as they can figure out how to put them in their own words on the back end.

January 22nd, 2010 | 10:48 AM
Dennis Edell:

OK now I feel a little bad, and it’s all your (and Sire’s) fault…

I recall our 3-way email bounce regarding “him” and some thing that were said and done, like unsubscribing for one thing.

No one informed me of the PLR revelation. GRR. 😉

January 23rd, 2010 | 1:05 PM
Mitch:

I didn’t know it at the time we were all talking, Dennis. I don’t even know if I’d told Sire that.

January 23rd, 2010 | 1:09 PM
Dennis Edell:

Oh I know, I didn’t think you held anything from me, I realize you found out later on…I think he’s gone anyway now.

January 23rd, 2010 | 5:56 PM
Dennis Edell:

something’S sorry.

January 23rd, 2010 | 1:06 PM

Ethics trumps shortcuts every time.

Even if plagiarism wasn’t wrong, it is really counterproductive to republish someone else article with serious editing. I often use other people’s information and facts, but rewrite and revise it in my own voice. And I always add my own opinions to the mix as well.

When your visitor reads an article or post that they have already read word for word on another site, you lose all credibility. So what have you actually gained by taking that shortcut? You have lost ground. Your friend would have been better off to let his blog go inactive for a while.

As for PLR, it can be a decent starting place. But,if it was fit for publication as is, it would have already been used somewhere else. Substandard posts are almost as bad as plagiarized.

Yes,there is a secret to success. It has always been called work.
.-= Keith@Norman Rockwell Art´s last blog ..Jan 17, Puppy Love, Norman Rockwell Saturday Evening Post Cover 1926 =-.

January 23rd, 2010 | 1:40 PM
Mitch:

Great stuff, Keith. I think he did eventually go inactive for awhile, though to be truthful, I’m not sure if he’s started it back up or not. Some folks might be gifted with PLR, and if they are that’s fine. I don’t know if I am or not since I never looked at any of the stuff I got. I think I know where it is on my computer, but I don’t care about it. I’m having way too much fun doing it my own way.

January 23rd, 2010 | 10:58 PM