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Ten Signs of “Lifted” Text

April 19, 2019 By Adrienne Montgomerie Resources
Goh Rhy Yan 472415 Unsplash
Photo by Goh Rhy Yan on Unsplash (Photo by Goh Rhy Yan on Unsplash)

Now, now, let’s not go throwing around words like plagiarism. There could be a very innocent (or cultural) explanation of why you’ve spotted text in the manuscript that was copied from a source. I get it a lot in curriculum correlations and teacher guides because the ministry of education wording was copied from their PDF to make sure the wording was exact and the workflow was efficient.

But, BUT, even if you want to keep the verbatim text, identifying the pasted copy can alert you to the need to strip pesky formatting and background code from the selection. And, sometimes, these telltales will alert you to the need to “freshen up” some of the prose, or seek out the proper citation and permissions.

Watch for these telltale signs that text has been copy–pasted there:

  1. Non-breaking spaces, which result in erratic line breaks.
  2. Manual line breaks, which may look random.
  3. Straight quote marks and apostrophes.
  4. Embedded hyperlinks (often leading back to the source).
  5. Font size, type or color changes.
  6. Margin width or line spacing changes.
  7. Running text set in a table.
  8. Language setting changes (in spellcheck preferences).
  9. Tone, voice or style changes.
  10. Particularly polished prose.

Why should the editor care? Because adhering to ethical publishing practices is part of the official Professional Editorial Standards of the Editors’ Association of Canada (see sections A5.1 and A9.1). Enforcing changes may be beyond the scope of the copy editor’s authority, but should flagging potential legal concerns be part of the copy editor’s ethical guidelines that Erin Brenner has been building?

Before flagging a passage for a rewrite or citation, however, it’s best to locate the potential source. A simple web search of a key phrase often does the trick. Just place the phrase between quote marks in the search field. Or you can try a plagiarism detector.

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