When it comes to conducting research for your book, not all sources are created equal. Freelance editor Shirarose Wilensky offers an easy rule of thumb to steer you toward reputable sources: start with print-based materials such as books, newspapers, journals and magazine articles, then move on to online sources. This is because although some web-based publications have high journalistic standards, many (perhaps most) others simply do not.
Misinformation and unsubstantiated claims are rampant online. Inevitably, you will come across information that has been distorted by the grapevine, passed on from one article to another until it is wildly off-base from the facts. Always-controversial Wikipedia is generally considered to be more accurate than it once was, but it’s best to use it as a jumping-off point to deeper research rather than a primary source. If you find a fact there that fascinates you, check the original source and follow up on it to confirm the findings instead of taking Wikipedia at face value.
Internet research carries a second risk: it has also made it frighteningly easy to unintentionally plagiarize the work of others. Cutting and pasting is so easy, it’s no wonder bloggers and online content creators borrow heavily from each other all the time. Although this is totally illegal, it is also incredibly hard to enforce, which is why Internet plagiarism is so widespread. When you’re accustomed to seeing the same content blatantly repurposed all over the world wide web, it’s easy to be seduced into thinking that this practice is sort of ok now. (It’s not.) You might think to yourself, “Well, this is the best or only way to explain this thing / person / place. And anyway, I would have expressed it the same way myself.” You might even feel tempted to lift a line that explains or describes the thing you’re writing about and insert it into your manuscript.
Don’t do it. Passing off someone else’s words as your own is not only unethical, it is also against the law. (And it’s extremely easy to get caught for it.) Book authors must uphold a much higher standard of accountability when it comes to their research, so don’t be tempted to fall into the internet’s shady practices. Plagiarism is stealing, and can result in fines, lawsuits, or even having your book pulled from the shelves.
Be equally vigilant against committing unintentional plagiarism, which can often be attributed to plain old laziness or confusion. You can avoid this by keeping careful notes on all your source material as you research. Don’t assume you’ll remember to go back and gather citations for your sources when it comes time to publish the book—not only is it a pain to track down that article you glanced at two months ago, you might just simply forget that you got a particular statement from an article in the first place. Research carefully, question your sources, and keep good notes. Your reputation – and your book’s credibility – depend on it.
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