How TurnItIn Really Works?

As much as the internet access made everything easier, it didn’t take long for students to figure out that they can simply copy and paste what they found. It was only a matter of time when anti-plagiarism software would appear and today, schools and universities use them to discover whether students submitted original work or not. One of the most popular anti-plagiarism tools in the world is, definitely, TurnItIn.

How does TurnItIn work?

According to its official website, more than 30 million students and 15,000 institutions use it. TurnItIn is quite simple; students submit their papers through the tool’s official website. After that, TurnItIn’s algorithms compare strings of text against its database that includes works and articles published online as well as papers that students submitted to the website. Yes, TurnItIn just removes your name, but the text you wrote stays in its database. Then, the teacher gets a report with percentage of the paper that matched other sources in the website’s database. Here’s a good thing about TurnItIn, the feedback sent to teachers doesn’t say some parts of the text were plagiarized, it simply says they are similar to other sources.

The tool also uses color codes to distinguish unoriginal content in the text which allows teachers to work with students who struggle with quotations and paraphrasing. Furthermore, teachers have the opportunity to respond to students’ writing directly on the website and to create pre-made feedbacks for the most common mistakes e.g. You have misplaced a modifier in this line or Proper way to quote is…  

Is the use of TurnItIn justified?

Opinions on the use of TurnItIn and other types of anti-plagiarism software are divided. While some students and teachers assume these tools break the bond based on trust, others prefer to consider TurnItIn as a wonderful learning tool. It all comes down to the teacher or professor’s approach to the results they see on the screen. For example, TurnItIn can be used to explain students what plagiarism is and how to avoid it. This is particularly useful because a vast majority of students find it difficult to differentiate paraphrasing vs. quoting. After all, plagiarism isn’t always intended.

There are, also, students and teachers who appreciate the detailed feedback TurnItIn provides. The tool makes it easier for teachers to assess students’ works, while students get a detailed insight that helps them correct their mistakes in future projects. Although debates regarding these tools will never end, one thing is for sure – TurnItIn and other anti-plagiarism software are here to stay and the only thing we can do is to accept it, and learn how to take them to our advantage. It’s important to take plagiarism reports as an opportunity to learn, instead of thinking of them as our personal defeats.

On the other hand, teachers should use TurnItIn as an additional tool that helps them evaluate submissions thoroughly, instead of allowing the software to conduct the entire process by itself. There’s a growing concern over the superior role of computers in evaluating student writing mostly because regardless of how big the database, these tools still can’t detect absolutely everything.

For example, Susan E. Schorn, a writing coordinator at the University of Texas at Austin, came up with a little test to assess TurnItIn’s efficacy. She composed six essays that copied and pasted text from 23 sources that were chosen after librarians suggested examples of the most commonly cited works. Of the 23 sources, TurnItIn identified only eight. However, it produced six other sources that Schorn didn’t use to create these essays.

Common misconceptions about TurnItIn

In order to form your opinion about TurnItIn and whether its contribution is positive or negative, you have to know all the facts about the tool. Unfortunately, there are many misconceptions about the software that prevent individuals from getting a “clear picture”. Here are some of them:  

  • TurnItIn detects plagiarism – as already discussed, the tool marks content as “similar” and leaves the final judgment to the teacher or instructor.  
  • Teacher or instructor can determine whether the paper is OK or not from the Similarity index and doesn’t need the Originality report – the teacher or instructor has to interpret the Similarity index in the context of the assignment and the only way to do is to check the Originality report.  
  • Papers submitted are easily accessible to others – incorrect. TurnItIn protected papers and doesn’t allow access to the student database.  
  • The source named in the Originality report is the exact same source used by the student or writer – not necessarily. It’s important to bear in mind that some particular content can have numerous duplications online.  
  • It’s easy to trick TurnItIn to avoid detection – when the student receives the Originality report; he or she has to wait for 24 hours in order to submit the paper again. This prevents students from re-submitting their papers constantly and spinning content.  
  • Matched text can be common knowledge in most situations – the tool comes with the feature to exclude small matches, in instances when a teacher or instructor wants to exclude common phrases.  
  • TurnItIn automatically grades papers – not at all; the tool evaluates the similarity in text and matches it to sources in its database. The grade is up to the teacher.  

TurnItIn pros  

  • Discourages plagiarism
  • Teacher comments can be recorded or typed
  • Grades are transferred directly to NEO
  • Detailed feedback to students
  • Accepts different file types
  • Automated searching tool
  • Detailed
  • Reports provided within 24 – 48 hours
  • Detects when students try to “trick” instructor or teacher by spinning content, adding sentences, reorganizing papers

 TurnItIn cons  

  • Unable to export NEO rubric to TurnItIn
  • Requires internet access to grade
  • Slow to refresh sometimes
  • Focuses students’ attention on achieving the figure (of similarity percentage) rather than developing their writing skills
  • Doesn’t accurately distinguish correctly cited content from plagiarism
  • Unable to check whether tables or figures used in the assignment are plagiarized or original
  • Pricy

Although TurnItIn poses as the most popular anti-plagiarism software, it’s not the only one. If you don’t want to pay ongoing fee to use TurnItIn, you can always opt for free tools such as RobotDon. The software is Google search based and provides text analytics, style and readability suggestions to develop your writing skills, and plagiarism check. While in most cases anti-plagiarism tools only flag parts of the text that are similar to other sources, RobotDon focuses on the quality of your work.  

The Bottom line

TurnItIn is the most popular software for detection of plagiarism in the text. It’s largely used by schools and universities to check the originality of students’ submissions. The software is very simple; upon the submission of the work it compares the text to sources in its massive database and sends Similarity and Originality report. Although it’s quite practical, the tool does have some shortcomings that come in the form of inability to identify all similar sources and it puts focus onto reaching the certain percentage in the report rather than improving writing skills. According to educators, the program should be used by both teachers/instructors and students only as additional tool that will help them to their job/assignment more efficiently. There are, also, free tools that can help you improve writing skills and avoid plagiarism.    

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