How Anne of Green Gables and Little Women taught me a lesson about Plagiarism 1

I love old movies. Growing up I watched all the classics and watching them now as an adult not only revitalises my love for their beauty and intrigue but takes me back to my childhood and the feelings I had watching them.

On Saturday afternoon, we were lazing on the couch during a rare moment when both kids were napping at the same time. Flicking on the tv, we thought how wonderful to put our feet up and switch our minds off. Little Women was on (not the awful 1990s version with Winona Ryder, but the classic starring Elizabeth Taylor and June Allyson).

It was the scene of Meg’s wedding. Jo stands off to a corner watching the festivities with a disgruntled, sombre face. Unable to bear any more, she walks off followed closely by Laurie who seems concerned. Enter the awkward proposal and rejection scene.

It wasn’t the scene that made me pay attention. All of a sudden I recognised the words, and they weren’t a reminder of my childhood. They were verbatim the same words Gilbert spoke to Anne on the bridge when he asked her to marry him in the movie Anne of Green Gables the Sequel… OMG!

Unable to tear myself away from the screen, I waited for the next advertisement break to announce this shocking revelation to my husband – who by now had retreated to his study to do his ‘man stuff’ as he was not interested with a movie he hadn’t seen before, nor heard of (I know, I know, don’t get me started!).

I spent some time researching via Google wanting to uncover who had plagiarised whom. Was it the authors of the books? The screenwriters? I returned to the couch and continued to watch the rest of the movie, in shock at the unfolding similarities between the two movies and the unravelling of my cherished memories watching them.

  • Jo decides to travel to New York, giving her reasons to Marmee. When Anne discussed with Marilla Miss Stacey’s offer to travel to Kingsport their dialogue was eerily similar.
  • Jo and the Professor go to the opera and so too does Anne and Morgan Harris
  • Jo writes a book that the Professor says isn’t real and offers a critique; Anne and Gilbert quarrel over his honest opinion of her writing, telling her to write ‘real stories’.
  • and so on and so on, ad nauseum…


Plagiarism in medical writing

I started thinking about Plagiarism. In medical writing, plagiarism is the most common ethical issue and can be intentional or accidental. It is has ramifications for the trustworthiness of the publication, the effects on readers and the reputation of all parties. Long-term consequences may involve apology letters, retraction of articles, suspension or authors and even legal action.

The World Association of Medical Editors (WAME) defines plagiarism as

“… the use of others’ published and unpublished ideas or words (or other intellectual property) without attribution or permission, and presenting them as new and original rather than derived from an existing source.”

Clear, honest, concise and accurate presentation of a medical or scientific idea remains central to good medical writing¹. As a freelancer, I remind myself that my reputation and the likelihood of repeat work or even referral rests firmly on this central principle.

Consider these tips for avoiding plagiarism:

  • Always acknowledge and cite the original source accurately
  • Add quotes for verbatim text
  • Precise comprehension is crucial when referencing other work

What makes writers plagiarise other people’s work?

This was the question most on my mind after I finished watching Little Women on Saturday; what made the ‘copycat’ plagiarise? Confidence in your quality and original thoughts seems to be at the crux of the problem. Medical writing requires facts to be supported with evidence, but there is a fine line between supportive evidence and stealing it and re-writing it as your own.

Medical writers have a wonderful platform to create and craft a story using medicine and science to thread through their words. Having confidence in our skills and believing in the story we are writing will help us deliver content that is original, thought provoking and most importantly evidence-based.

Do you have any tips to avoid plagiarism? Have you ever resisted the temptation for plagiarism?


¹Das, N et al. Plagiarism: Why is it such a big issue for medical writers? Perspect Clin Res. 2011 Apr-Jun; 2(2): 67–71.

About Dinethra Menon

Dinethra Menon is a freelance medical writer based in Sydney with over a decade of medical communications expertise. She has a Bachelor of Science from the University of Melbourne and a post graduate diploma in genetic counselling.

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