by Nomsa Chirisa

When you put your mind to it, writing is fun! As fun as it is, writers may feel the need to express themselves through other authors’ published work and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, provided all legal obligations and specifications are met. Becoming a seasoned writer takes up almost a lifetime’s work and authors embrace such a milestone in their career. It takes hours of thinking, reading, writing, and rewriting to successfully complete a manuscript. Surely, after such an investment by an author, using their work in your writing without their consent or acknowledgement would be undermining them as creators of content and it is a serious offence. How would you feel if your work was to be abused as such?

Why is it wrong to use other people’s published work unacknowledged?

When one creates their work, the work is considered intellectual property (IP) and it is their possession, hence it should not be used without their permission. It’s like taking your neighbour’s rack and personalizing it to become yours. Doing this may cause legal entanglements that are not pretty and could drag for years and lead to the payment of heavy fines amounting to thousands of dollars, hence should be avoided at all costs.

When to use other authors’ work

Writers express their ideas through the work of other authors for a number of reasons.

You can do this in order to complement your own writing. For instance, your work may sound richer when you incorporate excerpts by authors such as the famous William Shakespeare.

In most cases, you may include other authors’ excerpts in order to refer to or expand on the topic under discussion.

Another reason writers use other people’s work is due to the nature of their writing. Scholarly and research work embodies literature, and that is what differentiates it from other forms of writings. Essay-writing also makes use of this but it is for academic purposes and is accompanied by proper acknowledgements of the author.

Safe ways of using people’s work in your writing

A writer may safely use another author’s work in their writing by choosing any of these safety buttons:

1. Paraphrasing

One way to go about it is paraphrasing the words of an author. This way, you bring out another author’s idea in your own words, which ultimately keeps you clear of verbatim reporting.

2. Free use and its provisions

Free use is the use of copyrighted work without the need to seek permission from the copyright holder but it is entirely used for purposes which include criticism such as book reviews, parody, news reporting and education – teaching, learning, research and scholarships. The provisions under fair use include the stated purposes which do not generate financial gain for the user as well as the length of the work to be used.

3. Seeking permission

Another way to stay away from copyright infringement is contacting the copyright owner of the work to seek permission for use of excerpts or illustrations in your own writing. This is common with long form content authors who write textbooks and general books. Among other things, the copyright owner will require the author or permission-seeker’s full details, the title of the book where their work is to be used, its purpose, audience, specific position of the work in the original publication and that of the book in development, the extent as well as the estimated selling price of the book. This will acquaint the copyright owner with the specifications of the use of his work in another publication. One thing to note is that permissions should never remain verbal and when granted, the document should state all the finer details of the agreement such as the conditions of grant and should be signed by all parties involved. It would also be wise to send a complimentary copy of the finished work to the author who would have granted you free use of their work.

4. Acknowledging and referencing

This technique is mostly associated with tertiary essay-writing, but scholarly publications also utilise it fully. If you are to use another author’s work in your writing, credit the author and do it properly. This will distinguish you as a responsible writer who gives credit to work which is not yours, at the same time avoiding plagiarism and copyright infringement which are a sure attraction for a legal battle. Different types of citation and referencing styles are available for the purposes of acknowledging the author of the work used and it doesn’t take much time to familiarise with one of them. It is such an investment worth your while as a writer. I recommend the APA style.


Seeking and clearing permissions remains the duty of the writer unless otherwise agreed with the editor. Technological advancements that are taking over the literate industry have availed vast sources of information to the world, and authors are at risk of using work by other authors without permission. However, the writer should ensure that their writing does not have plagiarised material and that they have properly credited the author of the work used. Prudent authors should steer clear of copyright infringement and plagiarism.





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1 thought on “4 ways to use other authors‘ work in your writing”

  1. Pingback: 26. Copyright vs. Publishing Rights – Raincemba

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