Turnitin detects plagiarism in your research paper

Turnitin (“turn it in”) is a web-based service that college admissions offices and teachers use to check for plagiarism in a college admission essay or term paper. More and more college students are plagiarizing essays and research papers.

Turnitin checks for plagiarism in students' essays and research papers. (Credit: Vasudev Singhchawla)

Turnitin checks for plagiarism in students’ essays and research papers. (Credit: Vasudev Singhchawla)

While cheating and plagiarism have been around for centuries, easy access to the web makes copying, purchasing, sharing and pasting papers far more easy. Turnitin began as far back as the 1990s.

Teachers confront plagiarism with Turnitin

Today, college teachers can simply scan their students’ papers for common phrases and strings of text against Turnitin’s collection of 45 billion web pages; 110 million content items from publishers, scientific journals and other sources; and 400 million student papers, according to Turnitin’s vice president of marketing Chris Harrick. After analysis, Turnitin produces an “originality report” on how much of the student’s paper matched other papers and information in its database. Every paper submitted to Turnitin stays in its database; that comes to adding 300,000 student papers a day.

Turnitin teaches students to be better writers

Hunter College at City University of New York is one college that uses Turnitin to help guide students into writing better papers. Students are told up front that the college uses Turnitin to detect plagiarism. Students are also encouraged to submit the first draft of their paper to Turnitin to see how much of it repeats phrases used in other sources. Teachers provide instruction and examples of how to present information from well-documented sources in a different, unique way and in the student’s own style of writing. Teachers are encouraged to discuss the ethical problems of plagiarism with their students and to promote academic integrity.

Some colleges reject Turnitin

While Turnitin is a modern tool for a modern problem, some colleges find inherent problems with the service.

• Turnitin places teachers in an adversarial role with students.

• Turnitin cannot distinguish intent to plagiarize versus simple mistakes or use of common phrases.

• Turnitin can create false positives of plagiarism.

In “Turnitin And The Debate Over Anti-Plagiarism Software,” by Cory Turner, posted August 25, 2014, on NPR, Rebecca Moore Howard, a professor of writing and rhetoric at Syracuse University, argues that Turnitin is policing without probable cause. “The students have to prove themselves innocent before their work can be read and graded,” she says. Likewise, Tom Dee, a professor in the graduate school of education at Stanford, cautions, “These tools are like a hammer or a scalpel. Whether using them is helpful or hurtful depends on the care and discretion with which they’re used.”

Turnitin also used for college admissions

In addition to term papers, college admissions essays also get the Turnitin treatment. Thousands of colleges and universities have adopted the tool for detecting plagiarism primarily in graduate school admissions essays. For example, in 2009, Pennsylvania State University’s Smeal College of Business was the first business school to use Turnitin for admissions essays. In 2012, the school uncovered 48 applicants—about 8 percent of the pool—who apparently plagiarized their admissions essays since October [2012].

In “Penn State cracking down on plagiarism among MBA applicants” by Susan Snyder posted on Philadelphia Inquirer, February 20, 2013, Carrie Marcinkevage, admissions director of Smeal’s MBA program in 2009, said, “We look at all of [the essays], so it’s still a human decision,” she said. “But [Turnitin’s] a whole lot faster than searching Google for something that looks familiar.” She added that it’s “disheartening but not surprising” to find that much plagiarism.

Turnitin not appropriate for all colleges

Not all colleges use Turnitin for admissions essays. Smaller colleges have decided not to use Turnitin due to the fees the service charges. Others don’t see the need for it. Larry Gordon wrote in “Copy, Paste, Caught: Plagiarists, Beware,” posted in Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, February 3, 2012: “Rather, plagiarists can be discovered when admissions officers notice mismatches between strong application essays and weak grades, interviews and SAT or ACT writing samples,” said David Hawkins, public policy and research director of the National Association for College Admission Counseling. “Schools also fear wasting time on false positives triggered by clichés and platitudes,” he said.

To research more information on plagiarism, check out Questia’s library on plagiarism and literary ethics. 

Do you think colleges should use Turnitin to check student papers for plagiarism?

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