Using Turnitin.com most effectively requires some preparation and planning on the part of the instructor, and is most successful when used to teach students correct uses of sources rather than being used surreptitiously for surveillance of students’ work. The following information can help instructors maximize the effectiveness of Turnitin for both evaluating results of an Originality Report and minimizing occurrences of plagiarism.
Summary of Steps
- Include a statement of Academic Integrity in your syllabus.
- Announce that Turnitin will be used in your course for all students.
- Discuss the use of Turnitin and the consequences of plagiarism with your students.
- Provide instructions to students in uploading papers.
- Understand how the Originality Report functions and evaluate each paper marked with a high similarity score manually.
- Additional suggestions to reduce plagiarism.
- Final Policy Notes and Policy Notes
Senate Policy 43-00 (Syllabus) requires instructors to provide a statement on academic integrity within a syllabus. This statement reminds students that the university considers academic integrity to be a serious educational issue.
Your college or department may have a statement they want instructors to use. See Penn State Policy Links on Plagiarism for links to information for individual colleges and campuses.
Whether you use Turnitin as a detection tool, a teaching tool, or both, it’s a good idea to place a statement in your syllabus to notify students of your intent to use Turnitin.com in your course and how the results will be used in determining grades. Following is a suggested statement:
In this course we will be using a tool, Turnitin, to confirm that you have used sources accurately in your papers. You will retain all copyright use of this paper (http://turnitin.com/en_us/privacy-center/copyright-protection). If you have any questions about how to cite your sources, please review the materials available on the following pages:
- University Libraries Plagiarism and You
- iStudy module on Academic Integrity, Plagiarism and Copyright
- Plagiarism Tutorial for Students page
Students are responsible for ensuring that their work is consistent with Penn State’s expectations about academic integrity. Additional information about the Turnitin plagiarism prevention tool is available on the Turnitin site and on the Student Paper Upload into Turnitin page.
Giving students information about what plagiarism is and how to prevent it can help prevent cases of “accidental plagiarism” including inappropriate paraphrase and mistaking information requiring citation for “common knowledge”.
The resources on the Plagiarism Resources and Links page points to information for both students and faculty.
Probably the simplest method to add student papers to the Turnitin database is to have students do the uploading into your Turnitin course space.
Detailed student instructions are available in Upload Instruction Information for Students. Should any students have a problem with having their work submitted to Turnitin, their concerns should be addressed by the instructor on an individual basis.
Other options for adding students are listed on the FAQ page.
Note: If a student submits a paper, the teacher can allow the student to view the report; if the instructor makes the submission, the report is not available to the student.
How the Originality Report Works
Text in paper submitted to Turinitin are compared to sources within the Turnitin.com database. This database includes other course papers submitted to Turnitin.com as well as a large store of content available on the Internet and material from other sources.
The Originality Report flags passages similar to text in another source, but it does not mark it as plagiarized or unplagiarized. The higher the percentage, the more text similar to another paper Turnitin has identified. Note that for the reasons listed below a high percentage score is not “proof” of plagiarism. Faculty must evaluate passages individually to make a more accurate determination that a case of plagiarism may have occurred.
Quotations and Originality Report
It’s important to note that properly quoted and cited text will be included in the report. For this reason alone, all papers should be reviewed. If an assignment relies on quoting from outside sources, a paper could include multiple text matches and still not be plagiarized. An additional benefit of Turnitin is that instructors can evaluate the quality of a citation.
Note: An instructor should determine what the score of an acceptable assignment would look like ahead of time. One option would be to submit a test paper of a good assignment.
A false positive, that is a paper with a high similarity score that is not the result of a student committing plagiarism, can occur for the following reasons.
- If a rough draft is stored in the Turnitin repository, you may get a false positive for a final draft.
- If a student submits a paper to Turnitin.com independently of the course to check for plagiarism, the version uploaded for the course will be a “copy.”
- It is possible your student is being plagiarized. The Originality Report identifies matches, but does not necessarily identify which is the “copy” and which is the “original.”
- A student could be expanding previous research for a new assignment, but copying text from the original research.
A false negative, that is a paper with a low similarity score, but actually plagiriazed or incorporating some other form of academic dishonesty can occur when the source is not in Turinitin. For instance this can happen if:
- The student dishonestly “commissions” the paper from another student or a custom paper writing source.
- The source is a rare resource, especially a print resource.
- The source is from an electronic Library database not included in the Turnitin.com database.
Note that in both instances, an instructor may suspect plagiarism because the writing style is different from what is seen before. This type of academic dishonesty is one reason that it is advised that instructors collect research notes, drafts or early bibliographies in the paper writing process so that there is more documentation of the process.
In addition to using Turnitin.com to review final assignments, you may want to consider these strategies to reduce plagiarism.
- Develop more unique assignments. Examples of generic term paper assignments are easily found, but assignments which are more focused or more customized have fewer sources which can be copied. Meeting with students about topics can also help motivate students.
- Require drafts, preliminary bibliographies, study notes. These preliminary steps can help students maintain a proper timeline and also show where a problem could be occuring.
- Elaborate on the difference between collaboration and academic dishonesty. The prevelance of group work in the modern academic environment can create ambiguities for some assignments. Explain what students must each submit and what is acceptable collaboration.
Read more on the Plagiarism Guide.
If you believe a student has committed plagiarism or another infraction of the University’s Code of Conduct related to Academic Dishonesty, you should schedule a time to meet with the student, review the information that has lead you to believe that a violation occurred, and provide the student with the opportunity to respond to the allegation.
If after this meeting you still believe the student is responsible for a case of plagiarism, follow the guidelines that have been established for reporting an Academic Integrity violation which are outlined in G-9 Academic Integrity. More information on the procedures can be found through your College/Campus Academic Integrity Committee.