Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Shooting Yourself in the Foot: Self-Sabotage in the Workplace

Betsy Garman

Self-sabotage is similar to shooting yourself in the foot—painful and completely avoidable and unnecessary. However, self-sabotage (unlike shooting yourself in the foot) in the workplace is a common phenomenon. Most people have either engaged in some of these behaviors or have seen co-workers or friends participate in the self-sabotage cycle. Recognizing self-sabotage is the first step in preventing it, but before we discuss prevention, let’s discuss the definition.

The concept of professionalism depends upon environment—much like self-sabotage; what is appropriate in some situations is simply not appropriate in others. Some workplaces establish a specific code of conduct and of dress and expect their employees to follow these rules. Unfortunately adhering to these rules alone is not enough to guarantee success. Recognizing appropriate situational behavior and communication is necessary for interpersonal relationships. Self-sabotage can occur at both personal and professional levels.

Self-sabotage at the personal level includes engaging in behavior that criticizes you outside the realm of your particular position. An example is criticizing your intellect (or weight, class, social status, ethnicity, or sex) when speaking with a co-worker. There are no circumstances under which it is appropriate to extensively criticize yourself when communicating with a colleague.

Mistakes are a part of life and it is important to accept responsibility for your actions. At the same time, it is possible to formulate an apology and accept responsibility without putting yourself down. You may be tempted to participate in self-deprecating humor in an attempt to correct a problem. Be wary of this type of behavior, because within each joke is a grain of truth, and your colleagues will have a direct insight into the potentially negative way that you view yourself. It is important to project an image that you would like others to perceive.

Self-sabotage at the professional level may include criticizing yourself directly in relation to your professional position. Refrain from making negative, frequent, and excessive comments regarding the difficulty, the amount, or the quality of your work. Hard work will get you noticed by colleagues and supervisors. Perseverance and determination do pay off—if not in compliments, then in valuable experience. Discussing your successes or your shortcomings in excess will have the same effect on opinions of you.

Personal and professional self-sabotage are alike in that statements that are made within these contexts are often lacking in relevance. It is easier to correct a situation in which you have said too little than to correct a situation in which you have said too much. When communicating in the workplace, take an extra moment and think about a sentence before you say or write it. Evaluate the relevance of this thought, and if it does not directly apply to the situation, do not communicate the thought to others. It is possible to reflect a pleasant, friendly, knowledgeable image without also projecting an image of perfection. Your supervisor and colleagues will appreciate your enhanced attention to your communication skills.

Working with someone who participates in self-sabotage is difficult. Although this person may be friendly and cheerful, his need to focus the conversation on himself and his (positive or negative) traits is destructive. As much as possible, avoid allowing this person to engage in self-sabotage; don't allow yourself to react to or comment upon his statements. Your reaction is an integral part of this cycle and although it may be inappropriate to directly confront a colleague about his behavior, you can shape your interactions and make a difference within your workplace for yourself and others.

Self-sabotage often occurs in an effort to gain acceptance or approval from peers. Unfortunately it has the opposite effect—undermining the speaker and his credibility. Whether you engage in self-sabotage or have a friend or co-worker who does, you now have the tools to change your own behavior and to reduce your own participation in the self-sabotage cycle.

Betsy Garman is a full-time editor with a Bachelor's degree in linguistics and a Master's in English with a certificate in professional editing. Learn more about her here.

A Note From Kristen

Self-sabotage is just as big a problem in writing as it is in day-to-day life and workplace interactions. Don't make things harder than they need to be on your next writing project.
  • Create deadlines for yourself, and put them on your calendar.
  • Keep careful track of your sources, and be sure to label your notes for easy citations later.
  • Familiarize yourself with the expectations of the assignment or submission guidelines, and try to apply them as you write.
  • Start early, and ask for help along the way.

If you need a hand with breaking the self-sabotage cycle, stop on over to Editing for Everyone for some free resources for writers, and peruse our services page to see if we can help you on your next project.

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Tuesday, October 31, 2006

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Thursday, October 26, 2006

Defining and Avoiding Plagiarism
>>>by Betsy Garman

Defining Plagiarism
Plagiarism can be defined as two actions: the attribution of someone else’s words or ideas as one’s own or the failure to attribute words or ideas to their appropriate source.1 Students and professionals alike must strive to prevent plagiarism. The code of ethics in the majority of academic fields is perfectly clear that plagiarism is unacceptable and is often followed by harsh repercussions.2 This article suggests some ways in which plagiarism can be avoided.

The Myths of Plagiarism
Plagiarism is not a matter of counting words. Changing a word or two within a sentence and then failing to attribute it to your source is still plagiarism. Choose a particular word within the sentence that describes the reason that the concept is worth using and look it up in the dictionary and the thesaurus. Its definition and synonyms will inspire you realize why this particular word or phrase describes this concept so well and will help you to refine your thoughts on the subject.

Within research common knowledge and its application often arises. Common knowledge is the concept that if something appears in a very large number of sources that it does not need to be attributed to any one source. For example, if you were writing a book chapter about honesty and you mentioned the story of George Washington and the cherry tree, depending upon the detail and the circumstances, you would not need to attribute this mention to any particular source.3 In general, I think that it is better to attribute something to a source then to leave the source out and end up with an error of omission.

General Suggestions to Avoid and Prevent Plagiarism
One simple way to avoid plagiarism is keep quotations surrounded by quotation marks. Those quotation marks are a reminder that the word, phrase, or sentence is not your own. In addition, a simple parenthetical note with the source name and year is another reminder to attribute the work in an appropriate fashion. The visual cues that the work belongs with or to someone else will keep you from forgetting which concepts and words are your own and which came from your sources.

Knowing how to cite your sources is another important aspect of preventing plagiarism. Whether you are including source information parenthetically or as a footnote, it is important to know what is required for the style and format within which you are working. If you do not own a style guide, consider buying one or photocopy the appropriate reference pages from your local library.

Within the grant writing field there is a practice that I call reverse attribution. Reverse attribution is writing a statement or phrase for your argument and then doing research to find a source that supports your statement. One particularly useful aspect of reverse attribution is there is less of an urge toward plagiarism since your argument is relatively developed upon location of a suitable source.

Another general practice that will make you a better writer is the ability to summarize material well. Whether you are summarizing an article in a couple of sentences or a whole book in one page, I suggest summarizing material as often as possible. I believe that this simple task will help you to refine your writing, recognize the important concepts within the material, and hone your ability to synthesize information without the desire to add a large number of quotations to your work.4

Plagiarism is a serious problem in the world in a wide variety of fields. Knowing the definition of plagiarism and the application of any of these suggestions will help you to avoid it. If you would like additional information about defining plagiarism, avoiding and preventing plagiarism, or actual cases of major cases or plagiarism, please consult one of the sources below.

Defining Plagiarism
Merriam Webster Online: Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary -- Plagiarize.
Hexham, Irving: Academic Plagiarism Defined.

Avoiding and Preventing Plagiarism
United States Naval Academy NIMITZ Library: Avoiding Plagiarism.
Purdue University Writing Center: Avoiding Plagiarism.

Actual Cases of Plagiarism in the Media
People’s Daily: New York Times Top Editors Resign Following Plagiarism Scandals. 6 June, 2003.
Kirkpatrick, David D: As Historian's Fame Grows, So Do Questions on Methods. New York Times. 11 January, 2002.
Wikipedia: Jayson Blair.

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Saturday, October 14, 2006

Question: What can I expect from my college or university writing center? Is it really going to help me, or is it just a waste of time?

Your school's writing center is a valuable (and free!) resource to help you get started or get back on track with a writing assignment. In addition to a library of guides and how-to's on writing for an academic audience, one-on-one tutoring, free critiques, and detailed feedback are part of the typical writing-center fare.

Check out these great websites to get more information on how to get the most out of your writing center:
Colorado State University Writing Center
University of Kansas Writing Guides
Brown University Writing Center

Submit your questions and article suggestions to, and don't forget to check back often for regular updates!

Happy writing,

Your words. Our expertise. Your success.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Coming up soon: A great article from our own Betsy Garman with tips on how to avoid unwitting self-sabotage while you work on your next project. As professional editors, we work with a lot of clients who make things harder on themselves than they need to be, and that's not good for anyone.

Take a look at last week's article on increasing your chances of acceptance when submitting to a scholarly journal, and pay a visit to your institution's writing center as you get ready to start your next project, and check back in the next week for some more great ideas on taking the stress out of the writing process.

Your words. Our expertise. Your success.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

5 Tips for Preparing and Submitting Your Scholarly Journal Article: Easy Ways to Increase Your Chances of Acceptance
>> by Kristen King

Successful submission to a scholarly publication starts before the writing begins. Here are 5 easy ways to get closer to acceptance from the first word.

1. Keep track of your source materials. As you start your notes for your article, keep track of every source you refer to or cite—and make sure that you cite every source you use. If it looks like you’re using information gathered by others and you don’t cite it, the validity of your own research may be questioned. Back up everything.

2. Use an outline. Particularly in the case of original research articles, which typically follow a set structure, outlining is a critical part of ensuring that all of your information is presented clearly, accurately, and in a logical order.

3. Wait until after writing is complete to prepare tables and figures. The purpose of artwork is to support and supplement the content of your article, not to repeat it. Be sure to finalize or at least firm up your article before planning supplementary materials so you can avoid duplicating efforts.

4. Find and apply the submission guidelines for your target journal. Most journals include instructions for contributors either in print or online. Find the guidelines and use them in preparing your manuscript. Adhere to structure and word count, number and type of figures and tables, and format of references.

5. Proofread your article before submitting it. This may seem obvious, but many manuscripts contain serious spelling and grammar errors that could easily have been avoided if the author(s) had run spell check and had a fresh set of eyes review the article.

Thorough research and solid content are definitely the basis for a successful submission, but clear writing and careful preparation can mean the difference between a good article and a great article -- and the best journals accept only the best articles.

Your words. Our expertise. Your success.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Research Paper FAQs

Where should I start?

Start organized. Have your notes and as many resources as possible nearby. Have a brief outline of your argument, choose one section, and write as much as possible on that particular topic. Slowly you will development your argument. You can refine and edit as well as add additional sources once you have started working. I recommend writing your introduction very last because your argument will be finished and it will make summarizing your work much easier.

What should I do if I have writer’s block or I’m not sure what I want to say?

Start writing. The work that you will do as you write and think will pay off and although you may not be able to use the first page or two that you write on this particular topic, they will help you to determine your focus and the points that you want to make.

What should I do if I am having a hard time finding the “right” word?

If you are in a good writing rhythm, do not let this lack of word stop you from continuing to write. Put a placeholder in the sentence that will draw your attention back to the word when you have finished writing or when you are ready to take a break. I usually use the word blank in all capital letters. When you are ready to word on your replacement for your placeholder, think of a word as close as possible to the right word as possible. A term or phrase that describes your thought. Look this word up in the dictionary, on the internet, and in the thesaurus. These resources should help you to find your word. In addition, talk to a someone else and describe the context of the word. Sometimes a simple conversation will stimulate your brain.

Do you have another question you'd like the EfE team to answer? Send an e-mail to, and look for the answer to your question soon!

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