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Tips for researching



5:55 pm on Aug 14, 2005 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Although I know a fair bit about my website topic, I'm by no means an expert and often turn to books and magazines to research new articles. Many of the books are very old (it's a timeless topic) and I can often be using quite a few books to write one article.

My question is how do you prevent 'thought-creep'? i.e. using the information that you've researched, without plagiarising the content from the books/magazines. It seems to be a fairly fine line to tread (for me anyways)!

After reading texts, I often find that I start writing, read what I've written and then find that it's got a very similar structure to the texts I've researched. Often different words, but a similar structure and thought-process.

I'm not wanting to get into a copyright debate, but I would like to know if there are any tips or a simple rule for knowing when I'm following a text structure too closely. I don't want to violate the copyright, but would still like to be able to use this source for info for my articles.


6:01 pm on Aug 14, 2005 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

You make a good point Zulu-Dude. Plagiarism is an academic no no. Copyright is a business and legal no no. However, there is little published anywhere that does not in some way refer to current or public knowldege in some way. Of course do not lift directly from a book on 'widgets.' Use a number of books, articles, magazines, etc on widgets and write your own version and interpretation. You can reference sources if need be. Try adapting for your target audience e.g. widgets for dummys, or widgets for professionals.


9:14 pm on Aug 14, 2005 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

simple rule for knowing

Here's an idea that may help you prevent the problem.

Start by writing your own outline, without consulting any external sources. You're writing about widgets (aren't we all?), so you might have:

* Precursors of the widget
* Early widgets
* Widget types
* Widgets today
+ Widgets in Europe
+ Widgets in the U.S.
* Widget trends and developments

(of course, you'd have much more detail)

Next, you do research (using at least two sources) and start to flesh out your outline.

Needless to say, you'll use your own words to express each idea, so the original phrase in the book: "Dr Seuss invented the hairy widget" becomes: "Meanwhile, in the sleepy town of Hanover, a former college professor conducted experiments with widgets and wool. One afternoon, as he left his lab, he accidentally forgot..." (Sorry, got carried away!)

By starting with an outline of your own, I think you can avoid ending up with "a similar structure and thought-process".



9:30 pm on Aug 14, 2005 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

I am by no means even an amateur writer. I barely passed the layman class for writing.

But.. just for giggles -

I have a big notebook.

First, I write a short sentence or paragraph on a single page, which is the interest of the topic.
Then I start throwing words, or single line sentences on that page.

This process can take a few hours, to several weeks. I have pages that have started last year, yet still only half way down.

I can have multiple topics going at the same time, and I can toss the thought or related information, or reference on the appropriate page.

Once both sides are filled for a single topic, I decide if the topic is ready for writing.

I simply do the single page, because otherwise I would be researching constantly, ad infinitum, or would get bored with it and abandon it.

The next step is organizing it. I go back to my original thought, and one by one if the added piece is not directly related, I cross it off, although make it still readable.

The rest is deciding what the articles purpose is. Is it to educate of factual information, present a hypothesis, or something else... I make sure I mark it accordingly. This will define what elements I need within the article.

I refer back to page while writing to make sure I do not creep on topic, on style, or content.

That's it. I guess there are better ways, but this works for me. Well, most of the time.


9:43 pm on Aug 14, 2005 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Awesome, these are some really fantastic tips... will definitely keep them all in mind when writing my next article!


1:51 pm on Aug 15, 2005 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

Just to add a couple more thoughts--

Neither ideas nor facts can be copyrighted - only how they're expressed. OTOH, occasionally citing a knowledgeable source can add credibility, especially if not everyone agrees on a particular subject (According to Jon Smythe, in his article "Widgets Are Forever"...).


3:24 pm on Aug 15, 2005 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Mmmm, Beagle, I'm not sure if I totally agree with that.

I think that ideas can be copyrighted. What about teaching methods for example? There are new ways of training people in widgeteering coming out every month, surely one wouldn't simply be able to re-word those ideas and pass them off as one's own?

I do agree that facts can't be copyrighted though.


3:56 pm on Aug 15, 2005 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

I think that ideas can be copyrighted

No, that is not correct, IMO: it may be possible to patent certain "ideas" (or rather: certain methods, systems and processes), but they cannot be copyrighted. (Alternatively, the ideas may qualify as "trade secrets"; yet another topic.)

AFAIK, it is the expression of the ideas that can be copyrighted, i.e., the wording used to describe them; so it is typically quite possible to take an idea, express it in your own words and not infringe upon any copyrights!

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer, consult a qualified lawyer for all legal business, etc.


4:29 pm on Aug 15, 2005 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member bigdave is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

from [copyright.gov...]


Several categories of material are generally not eligible for federal copyright protection. These include among others:


Ideas, procedures, methods, systems, processes, concepts, principles, discoveries, or devices, as distinguished from a description, explanation, or illustration


9:46 pm on Aug 15, 2005 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Nice quote BigDave, always good to get an offical view on things like this!

AFAIK, it is the expression of the ideas that can be copyrighted, i.e., the wording used to describe them; so it is typically quite possible to take an idea, express it in your own words and not infringe upon any copyrights!

So, basically, pretty much anything (as far as written material goes) is up for copying, as long as the words are changed? I mean, pretty much anything that you can read is made up of facts and the way in which those facts are used/interpreted (which includes ideas, discoveries, processes and methods).

I'm not arguing the point (you can't mess with da law!), I just have a hard time accepting that this is the way it is. But I suppose that the law and what is right aren't always the same thing. I think that it seems wrong that someones own original thought processes and methodologies can be rewritten in a different way and presented as something original.

On the other hand, if every thought was able to be copyrighted, soon no-one would be able to think thoughts that had already been thought because someone else would already have copyrighted them.


10:26 pm on Aug 15, 2005 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member bigdave is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

No, you can't simply copy and change the words. That could be a derivative work, which would be covered by their copyright.

What you should do is consider what you are doing to be research. You learn from what you read, then you write your own work based on that.

Take notes on what you read, preferably from several sources, the write from those notes. Writing directly from you research source sounds likt it is too direct for you.


10:37 pm on Aug 15, 2005 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Extract the facts and join them up with your own words... and you should be alright.

I do this by starting with a list of bullet points - which are useful for the reader in themselves.

Bear in mind that people don't read and reading from a monitor is not easy on the eyes.

So bullet points followed by detail is a good way for you to get it down and good for the reader too.


btw write it, leave it and read it again. It's very easy for you to read what you intended to write when you haven't.


12:41 pm on Aug 16, 2005 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

In another thread ([webmasterworld.com ]) I mentioned how I create content for my creative writing website. Here's what I wrote (it's written in the context of Adsense income from original content by the way but I've taken out most of the irrelevent stuff for this post):

"I run a creative writing website and try and write regular original features. I pick a subject, such as "creating fantasy worlds", and then search the web for articles and info about this subject. I use various search terms and try and go way beyond the first page of Google's results (I also try and use less popular search engines), just to try and get to the undiscovered gems of content out there.
I then write an article, basically outlining the content of the sites that I've found. They all tend to fall into little sub-categories of sites (for the example above, I found sites about drawing maps, creating languages, how climates work etc.) so the feature then has some structure. The "filler" content surrounding the links is written based upon what I've learnt from the sites I've found.

I find this approach very easy...

Finally, each of these features that I write has a link to an area on my forums for people to discuss the feature and suggest more links."

I think the key thing is that I look at the content that supports the main focus of the feature. Some of this content may not be 100% directly relevent (i.e. how to produce a Mercator Projection when drawing a map) but can be useful to support the main content. I try and get into the nitty-gritty of the supporting topics, instead of just giving an overview (although in the example of my features, I tend to link to the nitty-gritty content rather than adapt it but you can adapt it for your content - my features are jazzed-up lists of links on a common theme, linked by a narrative).

I tend to learn a lot about the topic myself when writing these features and this knowledge is what I use to write the narrative. For other people, the knowledge you learn from looking at this supporting content, in the context of the main topic, will be your original content.

Hope this makes sense, and is useful!



8:33 pm on Aug 16, 2005 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

No, you can't simply copy and change the words. That could be a derivative work, which would be covered by their copyright.

Yes, the expression of the idea/fact is protected, and that includes more than word-for-word copying. I found it interesting that an example given on the copyright office's site for derivative content is a painting made from a photograph: two very different media, but the painting is still considered a copy of the original expression of the photographer. The fact that I'm not a lawyer is probably obvious from how surprised I was to read that; I wouldn't have thought that derivative content protection would extend that far. So I assume that written derivative content extends farther than I thought it did, too.

Eltiti -- Thanks for the reminder that there are other legal protections to consider besides copyright.


12:37 pm on Aug 17, 2005 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member


plagiarism is making use of others info without so much as changing any of it or makeing a direct referance to the site they are stealing from. Note the word steal. A thief is what you are if you do this .. this is the copy and paste bregade that quite frankly I appaule ... these people should burn in hell without being peeed on for all eternity.

A more concrete definition is available @ [turnitin.com...]

Legitamte research is the use of one and hopefully more sources to make new out of old. If google could understand in any way the differance betwen two the world would be a much better place. But .. it is a robot .. it cant and doesnt .. complaints to it only get auto responces and quite frankly are only there to drive one up the wall.

The lack of any easy to use laws is this area are appauling and realy need to be addressed. The lack of any grain of morallity in the copy and paste web master bregaed is disgusing as is the lack of a spell checker on tis website. In fact I am not sure which one of these items needs looking at first.


8:19 am on Aug 18, 2005 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

This seems to back up everything that has been said above:

All of the following are considered plagiarism:
...changing words but copying the sentence structure of a source without giving credit

And another one:

Changing the words of an original source is not sufficient to prevent plagiarism. If you have retained the essential idea of an original source, and have not cited it, then no matter how drastically you may have altered its context or presentation, you have still plagiarized.

And just so that this post isn't regarded as plagiarism, my source for these quotes is the website in the previous post :-)


4:01 pm on Aug 20, 2005 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

...changing words but copying the sentence structure of a source without giving credit...

The quick brown fox jumped over the fence.

The slow red cow dug under the building.

Presuming the first line was 'copyrighted', I am sorry, but that just doesn't sound like copyright violation. Am I missing something?


5:08 pm on Aug 20, 2005 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

The slow red cow dug under the building.

You've also changed the meaning of the sentence, so I don't think it would be a copyright violation. It's a totally different sentence.

I think they are assuming that one is wanting to keep the basic message of the sentence the same.


11:13 pm on Aug 20, 2005 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

So, you are saying if the meaning remains the same then it is copyrighted?

Hmmm... I think there has been several cases where people took the yellow or white pages, and reformated it, and published it. The original document owner sued them and lost most of the time.


3:31 am on Aug 21, 2005 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member bigdave is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

To start with, there are different strengths of copyright. One of those short sentences is unlikly to be copyrightable.

The structure of a work is not copyrightable, but a similar structure, combined with very similar meaning, as well as showing access to the original can lead to the conclusion that it is a derivative work.

When you have a compilation of facts as part of a copyrighted work, then when are looking for copyright infringement, you have to remove those facts from the equation before coming to any conclusions. If the list is all facts, and is put together in some standard format, such as alphebetical order, then you do not have much left to go on when comparing such works as white pages.


9:00 pm on Aug 29, 2005 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

I think several of the posts in this thread confuse
plagiarism with copyright. Plagiarism is stealing an
idea and presenting it as your own. It is not illegal.
It is morally wrong, but not even Google or the gods
of Microsoft can do anything about it. It can be good
for business (again, ref. Microsoft)

Copyright, on the other hand, protects expression of
those ideas, and is legally enforcable. Usually a quick
note to any reputable webhost with evidence of copyright
infringement will get the offending site removed.


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