Check Your Work for Plagiarism Before Submitting

It’s the final step before sending a draft to editors

Pamela Hazelton
Nov 15, 2020 · 4 min read
Laptop and cup of coffee with a scenic background. On the screen are results of a plagiarism check.
Laptop and cup of coffee with a scenic background. On the screen are results of a plagiarism check.
Photo by @goodphoto — licensed via Freepik; modified by author under license

I’m no word thief. You can hang me out to dry if I ever lift someone else’s work. Yet, I run a detailed check for plagiarism on everything I write — twice if I make any significant changes. You should do the same.

As an editor, this crucial check to make sure I’m not approving a piece riddled with stolen words is step number one. I don’t even consider a submission until the report is complete. Who wants to waste time reading and editing something that belongs to someone else?

Most writers, though, don’t even think about it. Why run your writing through such a test if you know it’s entirely original? Because chances are, something’s going to pop up. Let’s nip it before it becomes a problem.

Most everything we write includes replications

Nearly every submission has some level of content flagged. It’s typically short phrases or cliches, like:

  • Who wouldn’t want to make money?
  • The rule of thumb is…
  • And just like that…

I also used one in the first paragraph above: hang me out to dry.

While not exactly plagiarism, the more common phrases and cliches you use, the higher percentage of flagged content. In shorter stories, it can account for 9–10%. Gulp. When I’m wearing my editor hat, I study the report to determine if the results refer to quotations or common word strings; I check to see if sources are properly cited. Strapped for time, many editors don’t go that far.

Screenshot of highlighted text, referenced to the original source.
Screenshot of highlighted text, referenced to the original source.
Grammarly Pro’s plagiarism check — screenshot by the author

Sometimes it’s easy to work around these issues, while other times, it would require breaking the reader’s momentum. Either way, knowing what editors are going to find helps you rule out concerns beforehand.

How plagiarism checks work

Checking tools use a content similarity detection process. Typically text is broken down into digestible chunks and then run against millions — if not billions — of publicly posted writings. Grammarly Pro reports it uses 16 billion web pages to determine similarities. ProWritingAid says it “checks your work against thousands of other websites, databases, and online published works.”

The checker returns a report with each duplicated snippet highlighted. It also displays what percentage of the story each segment accounts for and the total percentage of all plagiarized phrases.

Some locally run software checkers go a step further to find paraphrase plagiarism — when you rewrite someone else’s work without giving due credit.

Staying out of the dog house

Being suspected of plagiarism is an excellent way to lose all credibility. Seemingly innocent infractions are sometimes enough to trigger automatic rejection or permanent banning. Hence, running checks before submitting can save you lots of embarrassment.

There’s plenty of confusion, especially amongst newer writers, of what constitutes plagiarism. It’s easy to say, “Don’t copy someone else’s work.” But plagiarism is about more than the mere copying and pasting of others’ words.

Unintended plagiarism is a serious issue. If you want to build an honorable writer’s profile, address each of the following.

Always cite sources

The most common innocent mistake is not correctly enclosing copied sentences in quotes and citing the source. Forgetting to use quotation marks can turn proof of concept into an illegal act.

Misattributing quotes is a no-no. While Google is your friend, don’t rely on a single search result to determine who famously said something. If you find there’s a dispute over who said what, find another quote.

Credit also needs to be given when referencing or including statistics, graphics, photos, video, audio, and anything else you use to reinforce your statements — link to the original source whenever possible.

Paraphrasing, by the way, is plagiarism if you don’t give credit to the origin of the idea. Rephrasing content does not make it yours.

Avoid duplicate content

Self-plagiarism is a real concern for many publishers. Duly note if you reproduce content from your website or profile on another platform. Remember that some publishers place caps on the percentage of work you can post elsewhere; this usually occurs in paying markets.

Don’t cite Wikipedia for anything but exclusive media

Wikipedia is not a source. It’s a content hub that sources others. Refer to the footnotes for each entry to identify the source of information.

Assume the responsibility

Not every editor will dig deep. Many will rely on the numbers — the percent of plagiarism returned. But why run the risk? By making plagiarism checks part of your writing and submission routines, you can quash potential issues and increase the chance of acceptance.

Don’t think editors don’t talk. A single infraction with one could block you from a slew of publishers.

If you’re an honest and authentic writer, the only thing you have to worry about is perception. And negative perception is entirely avoidable. You merely need to do what seasoned editors do first, last.

Pamela Hazelton is an avid writer, marketer and business consultant. She’s an editor of 2 Minute Madness, Small Business Strong, The Work+Life Balance and Write, I Must, and manages the Small Biz Strong Substack. Find her on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Parler.

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Pamela Hazelton

Written by

Avid writer, marketer & business consultant. // Reward yourself a little every day. 🆆🅾🆁🅺 + 🅻🅸🅵🅴 🅱🅰🅻🅰🅽🅲🅴

Write, I Must

On finding great ideas, overcoming hurdles, and digitally publishing.

Pamela Hazelton

Written by

Avid writer, marketer & business consultant. // Reward yourself a little every day. 🆆🅾🆁🅺 + 🅻🅸🅵🅴 🅱🅰🅻🅰🅽🅲🅴

Write, I Must

On finding great ideas, overcoming hurdles, and digitally publishing.

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