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Guidelines for Agent Columns

Sharing ideas and expertise while avoiding plagiarism:

Guidelines for agent columns

One way Extension agents reach out to people in their communities is through columns they place in local newspapers and on their Web sites. For some readers, this may be their only connection to Extension and its educational resources. Thus, columns can be important marketing tools, providing valuable information and raising readers’ awareness of Cooperative Extension. But educators can send the wrong message when their byline accompanies a story that another agent actually wrote. In today’s connected world, where readers and newspaper editors have access to stories that appear around the world, people do notice. Writers who use others’ words without proper attribution may be accused of plagiarism, which in the journalistic world is considered a serious offense.

HOW TO AVOID PLAGIARISM It’s permissible to use the same factual material someone else has used. If for example, an agent writes a column about fall lawn care, there’s nothing wrong with another agent seeing the column and being inspired to write a similar piece. And in all likelihood, the two columns will contain much of the same information. For example, information about subjects such as soil testing and fertilizer applications may be the same.

What’s not permissible is using the same words the first writer used without attribution. The key phrase here is without attribution. Attribution means giving credit to the original author for his or her words. Generally, the way an author attributes material in journalistic writing is by putting quotation marks around the material, then identifying the person who spoke or wrote the words. For example:

Fall, when the leaves turn and the air freshens, is the optimum time to revitalize and invigorate North Carolina lawns,” wrote Jack Turfexpert, North Carolina Cooperative Extension agent in Piedmont County, in a recent article in the Piedmont County News.

It would not be necessary to attribute the factual information that fall is the best time of the year for lawn maintenance.

Copyright works much the same way. You can use the facts presented in copyrighted material. You cannot, however, present those facts in the same way the owner of the copyright did without the owner’s permission.

Material may be attributed in different ways -— quotes longer than a sentence or two may be indented, for example — so you may want to consult a style manual or ask the editor about the publication’s attribution style.

It’s also a good idea to ask permission to use someone else’s words, particularly if you use more than a sentence or two. The same principles should govern material on Web pages. So don’t be afraid to look to others for ideas, but don’t use someone else’s words without attribution.

SHARING OTHER’S COLUMNS There’s nothing wrong with encouraging your local newspaper to reprint another agent’s or specialist’s columns — if you have that agent’s or specialist’s permission, of course. When submitting the material, make sure the editor understands that you are submitting material that you did not write but were given permission to use. With permission, you may submit the column crediting the author and using your name address and telephone number as a local contact.

The same principles should govern how you display on your Web page materials that other agents and specialists have written.