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Plagiarism – a word that strikes terror into the hearts of the most intrepid writers everywhere – refers to the act of copying someone else’s work and passing it off as one’s own. It is a wrong and unethical practice and can have dire consequences for writers. In fact, it can get students expelled from school, destroy professional or academic reputations, and even have legal repercussions.

Inspiration, on the other hand, is the critical driving force that impels every creative individual to produce unique works of their own. Most creative people seek inspiration from others’ work – this well-known and well-documented fact is in fact celebrated in the creative community unlike plagiarism, which is strongly discouraged and penalized.

However, there is a fine line between inspiration and plagiarism, and it is often hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. One thing is certain though; the wheel is rarely, if ever, reinvented. Writers are surrounded by other writers and their work, and without a doubt, this tends to influence their own creative process. Ideas are often borrowed and then changed until the writer is reasonably happy with the end product. Writers frequently use other writers as acknowledged or unacknowledged role models, draw inspiration from their creative work, and utilize it to create something of their own.

The 3-Step Process of Drawing Inspiration without Stealing

In instances where a writer is particularly struck by someone else’s work, they can ensure that their own writing is inspired rather than unintentionally plagiarized by following the three steps mentioned below.

Step 1: Identifying Mechanisms

In order to draw inspiration from a piece of writing without out rightly copying from it, a writer must figure out what makes it so inspiring. They need to identify the mechanisms used to create the text – specifically those which evoke inspiration in a fellow writer. Identifying these mechanisms can help a writer draw inspiration without resorting to plagiarism.

Step 2: Combining Existing Ideas with Original Ones

An important distinction between inspiration and plagiarism is that an inspired writer adds something original to their work, even if it draws on ideas from an existing work. A plagiarist, on the other hand, merely copies someone else’s work.

The creative process does not end at drawing inspiration. Once a writer has identified the mechanisms that make a text so inspiring, they need to blend it with other new ideas and transform it into something original. Creativity is all about synthesizing existing ideas in new ways to produce something completely original. This is one of the ways in which a good writer avoids plagiarizing from others.

Step 3: Citing Sources

A conscientious writer always cites ideas, words, or phrases they may have borrowed from others and used directly/indirectly in their work. This acknowledgment is necessary regardless of whether they found the information in a book, an article, or a website, and whether it appeared as text, a chart, a table, an illustration, or a graphic. When words or phrases from other works find their way into a writer’s text, they need to be presented in quotes. Current style manuals such as the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA), Modern Language Association (MLA) Handbook, Chicago Manual of Style, and the Associated Press stylebook offer detailed advice on citing others’ works and avoiding plagiarism.

Thus, in order to draw ideas and inspiration from others’ work without plagiarizing, writers must:

  • Figure out what is inspiring them.
  • Identify the underlying mechanisms used to create works that inspire them.
  • Modify and apply these mechanisms to their own work, thus creating something totally new.
  • Cite the sources from which they drew inspiration.
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Knowing how to differentiate between inspiration and plagiarism can help writers avoid plagiarism and its consequences.
Knowing how to differentiate between inspiration and plagiarism can help writers avoid plagiarism and its consequences.