Thursday, February 20, 2014

NO FAIR! Three Steps for Avoiding Plagiarism

Plagiarism is far more common in textbook publishing than you might think, even health care educational publishing.

Plagiarism refers to the copying of someone else's work for your own purposes without giving proper attribution.

If you didn't say it, write it, draw it, or research it, it isn't yours to use.

Authors who probably should know better pick up content from a resource and then place it word-for-word, or nearly so, into their manuscript. The publisher does its best, of course, to identify such instances and to steer the authors away from that nefarious activity.

The majority of instances of plagiarism in educational publishing, I believe, stem from a lack of knowledge of the doctrine of fair use.The U.S. Copyright Office identifies four factors in determining fair use:
  1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes
  2. The nature of the copyrighted work
  3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole
  4. The effect of the use upon the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work
In general, works that use only a small amount of someone else's work — such as a quotation or in-line definition — are probably staying within the bounds of fair use, so the work can stay as is.

But picking up whole passages or entire tables, charts, or graphs? No way. That absolutely falls under the term plagiarism.

So, how can you avoid inadvertently plagiarizing someone's work? Here are three tips.

Tip #1  Use your own head, not someone else's

Most textbook authors write with two, three, or maybe four source books splayed around them as they type. They dip into the books as needed for clarity and then write what they've learned in their own words.

That's the way it's supposed to go. The way it's not supposed to go is to splay those books around, dip into the for information, and then write the same stuff you just read into your own own document.

So, get the info into your head and then out again with your own take on it.

Tip #2  Use the concept, not the words 

There's absolutely nothing wrong with looking at, understanding, even admiring the way someone has described a particular concept. It's too easy, though, to go from admiration to imitation.

It's unacceptable to say, well, that description of blood flow through the heart can't be written any better, so I'll just use it myself.

No, that just won't do. Write it again in your own words. You might surprise yourself at how much better your description is over that other one!

Tip #3  Use your own organization 

Let's say you find a list of adverse reactions for a drug in someone else's book, and you're tempted to use the same list. Don't pick up the sequence, change it around and reword the reactions as much as possible.

For example, here's a list of adverse reactions you find in a book you're using as a resource:
  • Palpitations 
  • Anxiety
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Tinnitus
Don't just copy that list. Double-check another source to see if other adverse reactions might be applicable, and if so, put them in the list. Is "headache" too general? Can you find evidence to support, oh, I don't know, "headache, most often frontal"? Then use that.

Once your list is complete, alphabetize it. Or list the reactions by word length, from shortest to longest. Do something different to make the list your own.

Just know that the work you do now to make your book your own could save you money — lots of it — down the road. Any plagiarism in your work could be grounds for a forfeiture of earned royalties, depending on your contract, or even future earnings.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

GUEST BLOG: Grant 'Permission' to Let Go

Every now and then I post an essay from another blogger or author, and I'm proud to do so again today. Sharon Eagle has authored three books for my company, F.A. Davis, and is one of the most caring, intelligent, and gracious people I've ever known, never mind being a remarkable writer.

Sharon has cancer, one that can't be cured. She has been open and honest about it since day one, and the following post is an example not only of her eloquence but also of her compelling perspective on her illness. It is yet another reason why she's one of my very favorite people and will ever be so.

Grant 'Permission' to Let Go

One of the many things I’ve pondered in the time since my diagnosis is the term we hear so often about patients “fighting” against cancer and sometimes “losing their battle” with cancer. The following represents only my own personal thoughts and viewpoint on the matter.

There’s something about the term “fighting” that bugs me when it comes to cancer. But I haven’t figured out exactly why or what term I’d substitute for it. I suspect to most people the term “fight” indicates some sort of physical battle. Yet in my experience, the fight often feels more like an emotional or mental process than a physical one used in reference to the desire that the ill person not give up or give in.

All things considered, I’m doing well and have exceeded my doctor’s expectations. For this I am grateful. Yet on occasion I feel so tired, physically and emotionally, that I can see how a person may arrive at the point that he or she just can’t do it any more. When this time comes, loved ones need to know that the best gift they can offer may be to allow their ill loved one the space to move on with aided comfort of hospice instead of begging them to keep “fighting.” When one's physical, mental, and emotional resources are exhausted, it can feel so difficult, impossible even, to “keep fighting.” Yet ill persons often fear letting their loved ones down and keep on trying.

I realize that I’m treading on sacred ground and that everyone’s situation is different. I also know first hand, what this may cost loved ones. I will never forget the intense pain it cost me and my family when we gave my brother “permission” to go (die), if that’s what he needed to do, even though we wanted him to stay with all our hearts. It was the most difficult, one-sided conversation I’ve ever had. But I remembered countless times as a nurse that my patients seemed to hang on beyond all reason as their family begged and pleaded for them to stay and get well when there was no medical hope of healing. As a sister I realized that it is far more difficult (than I ever appreciated as a nurse) to walk the fine line between realism and hope.

I simply hope in this writing to convey the notion that death isn’t necessarily the “loss” of a “battle,” and that it doesn’t mean the patient has failed. They may in fact be at the very jumping-off point of mankind’s greatest adventure.

So when my time comes I hope people don’t talk about me in terms of fighting or, worse, losing a battle with cancer. I prefer they comment on how I lived without giving so much credit to cancer as a powerful foe that won some victory over me.

I’m in no hurry to go, and yet I no longer fear dying. Further I don’t believe my death will be any sort of failure, but rather a transition to what comes next. And I think what comes next will be pretty awesome.

— Sharon Eagle