In order for things to move from one place to another, there should be a medium that connects the two places together and through which what needs to move can move. For instance, cars move on roads. Planes fly in the air. Ships sail in the sea. Without a medium, movement cannot happen.
The same is true for ideas. For ideas to be transferred from one person to another, we need to express them in words. Words can be either written or spoken. In this case, writing or speaking is the medium through which words move.
In this article, we are going to look into writing in particular and how it evolved throughout history.
How did writing originate?
Between 5500 BC and 4000 BC, the Sumerian Civilization flourished in Western Asia in the area that is now southern Iraq. Because some cities lacked important resources that people needed for daily life, trade trips started between cities to buy the missing goods.
The Sumerians then needed a way to communicate with other distant people, deliver messages, remember what items they needed to buy, and count things up.
At the time, writing mostly used signs instead of letters. The different signs meant different things. When signs were placed side by side correctly, they would complete a sentence that told specific information.
The Sumerians first used to write on rocks. The ancient Egyptians for instance used to write, paint, and tell detailed stories on the walls of their temples—they are believed to be the first to have invented graffiti.
However, if the written script needed to be transferred while a person was traveling, it would be hard to carry along heavy rocks, especially if the text is long. This is when the need to invent something else to write on was born.
Who invented paper?
The ancient Egyptians were pioneers in this. They were the first civilization to invent paper from a plant called papyrus in the fourth century BC. In fact, the English word paper came from papyrus.
So instead of heavy rocks, they then had small light-weighted sheets on which they could write whatever they wanted however long it was.
With the development of the writing material, the written content also underwent some changes. As we mentioned earlier, the content was mostly items a person needed to remember or important messages they wanted to send others. However, writing started to be widely involved in prehistoric societies.
Officials used writing to record workers’ wages, give instructions, teach people, and then document famous events. On the walls of the ancient Egyptian temples—most of which are located in the modern-day cities of Luxor and Aswan in Upper Egypt—kings used to tell the stories of their battles and document the development they made in the country during their reign.
As time went by, humans continued to document their knowledge and life-long experiences for the next generations. Besides, they recorded the important events that changed the face of the world which are now collectively known as history.
How were books copied?
The writing system never stopped evolving since then. After the wide use of paper, humans started collecting them in books. Then came the copying and translation processes to make up versions of the same book in different languages.
So when someone needed to have a translated copy of a book, they had to travel to the country where the author lived, and take their permission to translate and copy their original ideas. After that, they would read, translate the book, and then fully write it on new sheets of paper.
When books were large, such a copying process used to take a lot of time and money as well to buy papers, ink, and pens. And if many copies were needed, the process got even more wearying.
Why was the printer invented?
Nowadays, if someone needs to read a book originally written in French, they can easily find a perfect translation in their native language. All they need to do is browse Amazon and with just one click, they can have the hard copy of the book delivered to their door in a few hours or start reading an electronic version right away on their Kindle or iPad.
Centuries ago, people still copied books by hand. Once the need for many copies emerged, a means for producing many versions in short amounts of time was a must. That is exactly when the printer was invented
In Germany, in the mid-15th century, an inventor called Johannes Gutenberg came up with the first moveable printing press. Over the years, his invention developed so much to allow the mass production of books in way less time.
For a long period of time, the writing process was still only exclusive to documentation and communication. Facts were only written and people believed all written content was facts.
But since humans are distinctive among other creatures by their ability to think, process information, and imagine things, they started to apply this in writing. Instead of just imagining or visualizing things in their heads, why not write them down? Why not describe, organize, and make a story out of them?
So fiction writing was born. Writers started to tell written stories completely based on their imagination. As such writing developed, the fiction structure was introduced and later evolved.
Nowadays, a fictional story needs to have certain elements such as characters, plot, settings, theme, point of view, and style.
Genres were also born to classify books into different types. They also give the readers a clue of what type of story they were about to read. Such genres included adventure, thriller, romance, fantasy, and science fiction.
Nowadays, millions and millions of books are written, copied, translated, printed, ordered, shipped, and read every year. Writing evolved from a way to document facts and events to become a source of entertainment for people.
Every written content is the property of its writer. When you come up with an idea, this idea is completely yours and everybody has to respect that. No one has the right to steal your ideas, use them, or claim they are theirs.
That being said, people are more likely to believe in this fact but rarely do some of them put it into practice. Unfortunately, many people in old times as well as modern ones, still steal others’ work.
To protect written words from being copied or stolen by other people, copyright was invented to give the author of a written text only the right to copy, distribute, or apply any changes to the text. According to this law, anyone who was proven to copy a book without permission from the author was punished.
The first copyright law was issued in the US in May 1790 within the then-new constitution of the USA. This law was intended to protect copies of books, maps, and charts from their authors.
Nowadays, writers mostly grant their copyrights to their publishers by agreement or license. Publishing houses are now not just responsible for publishing and distributing books but also for protecting them on behalf of their authors.
Coming from the Latin word plagiarius which meant kidnappers, plagiarism refers to the action of stealing or ‘kidnapping’ someone’s written work and pretending it is theirs.
In the first century AD, the term was used by a Roman poet to refer to other poets who stole his words. Sixteen centuries or so later, the English language had a new word ‘plagiarism’ which was listed in the dictionary as ‘the crime of literary theft’.
One might say that it is too harsh to think that using someone else’s words is a punishable crime. In fact, it is. Plagiarism is not different from regular theft. Both words and money are owned by people. When any of them is stolen, it is called theft.
Plagiarism also comprises a great deal of disrespect and unappreciation for the true owner of the content. It cancels the great effort they put in to come up with it, let alone the knowledge they gained over the course of their life.
But has this always been the case with plagiarism as a crime? Well, not really.
During the middle ages in Europe, plagiarism existed but was considered a normal thing that was not violating any rights. Some authors were known to copy others’ work and merge it with their original work.
As time went by, writers, poets, and even painters started signing their work or publicly declaring ownership of their words. When the first copyright law was issued in America in the 18th century to protect such ownership, plagiarism started to be viewed as an unethical act and even a crime to be punished for.
Plagiarism as a crime was not meant only to protect authors’ work but also to warn them against using others’ words. Authors who copied their counterparts were expected to come up with entirely original works of writing.
Since then, authors and academics started to view others’ works as resources to be treated very carefully. In case something was required to be copied, a citation came up to properly refer quoted text to its original author. Anyone who did not align with the standards of citation was at the risk of being accused of plagiarism.
Citation refers to the act of quoting someone else’s words or ideas with the reference to the author or the source of the information. This way, everyone reading a paper with citations will know who exactly wrote what.
Nowadays, plagiarism in academia is a severely punishable crime. Students who commit an act of stealing others’ work with no citation can get expelled from college. Not only that, it destroys their professional reputation and negatively affects their entire career.
Furthermore, according to some universities, students who plagiarized might be fined large amounts of money from $100 to $50,000 and can even be sent to jail.
Plagiarism is not just disrespecting the real author or content. But its consequences are no joke.
Why is plagiarism so common nowadays?
Resources from all over the world started to be widely available in the first days of the Internet. Now, we float in oceans of knowledge and information. They record almost everything that had happened on the planet ever since it was formed 4.5 billion years ago and to the moment this article is being written.
With such huge knowledge, people are supposed to be better educated and knowledgeable. Ironically, they are not. On the contrary, people are becoming more and more ignorant about the world. The most they can do is copy information from different websites and repost them as theirs.
Plagiarism is mostly now associated with academia where students have to do research and write papers on the topics they are studying. And there are several reasons why it is very common.
One of such reasons is that students are unaware of why plagiarism is illegal. Sometimes, if they happen to share the same opinion about something with other authors, they think there is no need to cite the source since they have the same ideas.
Another reason is students being lazy. Some students do not dedicate much effort to their classes. So when they have assignments, they are quite too lazy to put in the time and effort needed to finish them. Instead, they copy the original text from online resources with no citation. This seems easier and does not take more than just a few minutes.
In addition, students are more likely to plagiarize if they have a short amount of time to finish their assignments. Furthermore, if they do not really understand the assignments or are unable to know where to begin, they start to feel worried or may even panic. That leads them to plagiarize.
How to reduce plagiarism?
By working on each of the reasons just mentioned, students’ plagiarizing can be reduced dramatically. Teachers must educate students about plagiarism, how much of a nasty and unethical act it is, and why it is necessary to appreciate others’ work.
In addition, making sure students understand what they are studying, what their assignments are asking them to do, and giving them enough time to do them will surely reduce plagiarism. It will also guarantee students have a more efficient learning experience.
How is plagiarism detected?
In the past, when the amount of written content was limited, it was not hard to know if someone copied someone else’s work. However, now, with millions and millions of resources about the same or similar topics, how can teachers and university professors know if their students have plagiarized?
Well, this can somehow be detected if the teacher is familiar with each of their students’ level of knowledge, writing styles, and even their most common grammatical, spelling, and punctuation mistakes.
This is a natural plagiarism checker based on students’ writing styles. But what if students are perfect writers? Well, teachers then will have to detect plagiarism based on the content; the information students wrote.
That being said, it means the teacher has to be aware of the most common resources of the topic being researched. This way, they can spot which paragraph was taken from which book. But given the huge virtual library available on the Internet nowadays, this seems like a mission impossible!
Such necessity urged the invention of a plagiarism detector. Luckily, engineers were able to develop computer software that can detect whether or not a text was plagiarized. This only happens by scanning databases.
But what are databases in the first place?
An online database is storage of well-organized information. Simply, a plagiarism detector finds databases that have information about the same topic of an assignment. Then it starts to scan both the assignment and the content for any similarities between them. When some text is detected to be copied as-is, the plagiarism detector highlights it.
Plagiarism detectors are a great help to teachers and university professors to find plagiarized text in a few minutes. The invention of plagiarism detectors has helped many students too to check their assignments before submission to avoid any unintended plagiarism.
Writing is a unique skill that helps people communicate with one another, phrase thoughts and ideas, and transfer them to the next generations. Books are a great means of learning that is mainly intended to help humanity go forward.
Since prehistoric times, writing underwent huge development as long as the need for it accumulated. From writing on clay and temple walls, the invention of paper and books, to the first printer and the modern mass production of books.
Writing was first used to transfer facts throughout history. But then humans started exploring their imagination and turning the imaginary worlds in their heads into words. That is when fiction writing was born.
With the widespread of written content and either the ignorance or dishonesty of some people, the stealing of others’ own words or ideas started to spread. This was referred to as word kidnapping or plagiarism.
It was not until the American constitution was issued that the first law of copyright was created to help protect the works of authors. And this is when citations started to merge in.
Nowadays, plagiarism is mostly common in academia among students who are quite unaware of the unethicality of plagiarism. Besides, when students have a huge number of assignments with little time to do them or happen to be too lazy to do the assignments, they tend to plagiarize.
Several ways are used to help reduce plagiarism among students. The most straightforward solution is the knowledge that any act of plagiarism will be revealed by the plagiarism detector.
On the other hand, the most severe solution is the consequences students who plagiarize will face. Such consequences include suspension from college, fines of large amounts of money, a bad reputation, and the probable destruction of a career.