By Dr. Robert Gordon, CPC  |  08/15/2023


Turnitin™ is a web-based plagiarism detection software that is used primarily in academic settings to promote originality and integrity in students' work. The primary purpose of using the Turnitin service is to discourage and prevent plagiarism, which involves using someone else's work without proper attribution.

How Does Turnitin Work in an Academic Setting?

When a student completes and submits a written assignment such as a Microsoft Word document, the submitted paper goes through Turnitin.

The Turnitin software will then detect plagiarism by checking the document against a vast database of internet data comprised of academic articles, books, websites, and previously submitted student papers.

Turnitin's sophisticated algorithms compare the student's written assignment to these sources in the Turnitin database, to identify similarities that might indicate instances of potential plagiarism.

Originality Report

After the check, Turnitin generates an originality report, which indicates the similarity and the percentage of the submitted work that matches the content from the Turnitin database.

However, it's important to note that a high similarity index on the originality report doesn't automatically mean plagiarism has occurred.

The report merely shows the parts of the student’s paper that are identical or very similar to other sources in the Turnitin database.

It's up to a teacher to identify and evaluate what sections that are identical to other sources and to determine if Turnitin is detecting plagiarism or if the tool is simply identifying sources with appropriate citation.

Instructors also use Turnitin's feedback and grading tools to directly provide students with comments, corrections, and grades on students' assignments. Using Turnitin feedback makes it easier for students to see their mistakes, understand the feedback given to them, and learn from it.

Educators Can Offer Detailed Feedback

For example, the GradeMark™ feature allows educators to provide detailed and specific feedback within a paper. QuickMark™ comments can be used to frequently note common issues, while rubric scorecards can standardize grading according to preset criteria.

For more classes, I use GradeMark and QuickMark all the time because they are efficient ways to grade and point out problems in a student's paper.

I find the standard grading feedback very helpful as it offers detailed information to students to better understand what needs to be corrected in their schoolwork. Turnitin also allows customized feedback through the use of free-form text or the creation of customized standard feedback.

In essence, Turnitin helps students to maintain academic integrity, facilitates feedback and grading, and educates students on the importance of producing original, well-cited work.

The goal is not just to catch students who plagiarize but to create a learning environment that emphasizes originality and proper citation in academic writing.

What Students Should Understand about Turnitin

Beyond its utility as a plagiarism detection tool, Turnitin has a role in education and skill development. It encourages students to understand the value of original work, helps them in the development of their research skills, and assists in the development of critical thinking skills that are typically necessary for successful research and academic writing.

There are also ways to filter Turnitin results and to exclude items such as direct quotes and references. For instructors, using these filters can help give a better understanding of what happened.

For example, if a student submits a short paper with several long quotes, the percentage of the originality report could be pretty high. Filtering out quotes will then reduce the percentage on the originality report.

If these long quotes are properly cited, then an instructor can determine that there is no problem with plagiarism. However, this type of filter creates a situation where most of the paper is quotes, making it hard to evaluate what the student actually added.

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

In addition, Turnitin is currently testing to identify whether written assignments submitted online have been created using artificial intelligence (AI). Although this AI detection is a new feature for Turnitin, the more AI is used by the world at large, the better it will become.

I have been monitoring and evaluating this feature within Turnitin and find it does a pretty good job of identifying whether or not AI has been utilized in academic writing. Turnitin advises that very low scores of AI detection are more likely to be incorrect than very high scores in submitted work.

Turnitin can also help to develop students' writing skills for future submissions. For instance, students can submit their drafts to Turnitin to check for possible plagiarism issues, allowing them to learn from their mistakes and correct any errors before final submission.

By integrating Turnitin into their programs, academic institutions can help promote academic honesty, help to preserve intellectual property, and keep access to the educational process fair. Using Turnitin also helps students learn to effectively research, paraphrase, quote, and cite sources.

Can a Student Circumvent Plagiarism Detection Tools Like Turnitin?

Circumventing plagiarism detection tools is unethical, and it can lead to severe consequences. All higher education institutions have a student code of conduct that includes academic integrity, a fundamental value in all educational institutions.

Plagiarism is typically considered a severe offense, as it involves presenting another person's hard work as your own without proper attribution. Most schools, especially colleges and universities, take plagiarism very seriously.

Anyone caught plagiarizing by Turnitin (or other methods of plagiarism detection) may face significant penalties, including failure on assignments, failure in the course, academic probation, or even expulsion. Instructors who are caught plagiarizing someone else’s work in their academic research may face termination.

When students fall behind and lack the time necessary to complete a required assignment by its due date, they may consider using shortcuts such as plagiarism.

Tips To Help Students Avoid Plagiarism

Students should seek help from different university resources. For instance, talk to your teacher or academic advisor if you have trouble understanding an assignment or the subject matter of the course.

Explain your situation and see what they can do to assist you in finishing your written assignment and turning it in by its due date.

The second option is to ask your professor to request an extension as early as possible so that you have sufficient time to be successful with a written assignment.

You will not always get an extension, but often, professors will be accommodating when they are approached with respect and a good reason to justify the extension.

Can Students Re-Use Their Own Work?

Unintentional plagiarism arises from self-plagiarism and poor citations. Self-plagiarism involves reusing previously submitted work. Many students think it's fine because they created it, but that's not always the case. 

Always review your university's policies and seek your professor's permission in writing before reusing any work to avoid problems.

Note, some universities penalize assignments with Turnitin scores over 35%. Another prevalent issue is incorrect or insufficient citations, which can also lead to unintentional plagiarism. Be sure to cite properly and paraphrase accurately to avoid plagiarism and demonstrate your understanding.

Assignments are designed to enhance your learning and research skills, not to find ways around systems like Turnitin. Avoiding plagiarism ensures genuine learning and helps you steer clear of academic penalties.

Resorting to Plagiarism Can Jeopardize Your Future

Earning a degree typically takes several years. A momentary lapse of judgment - or choosing to take a shortcut through plagiarism - can seriously endanger your future. Plagiarizing even one assignment could lead to expulsion from your institution. Depending upon the rules of a college or university, one wrong decision could affect you for a long time.

Always do your own work, reach out for help, and communicate with your professor if you need more time for papers or other assignments. Not turning in one assignment will result in an F or zero, but plagiarism could be much worse.

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TURNITIN is a trademark of TURNITIN, LLC; GradeMark is a trademark of TURNITIN, LLC; QuickMark is a trademark of TURNITIN, LLC.

About the Author
Dr. Robert Gordon, CPC
Dr. Robert Gordon, CPC, is a faculty member of the Reverse Logistics Management and Government Contracting and Acquisition programs at the University. He holds a bachelor's degree in history from the University of California, Los Angeles; a master's degree in business administration from the University of Phoenix; and a doctoral degree in management from the University of Phoenix. Dr. Gordon also holds graduate certificates in information technology project management, information technology security and logistics management from American Public University.

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