Turnitin is a web-based tool that checks for originality in a written work. Often mislabeled a "plagiarism-checker," Turnitin does not detect plagiarism; rather, the tool checks to see how much of a written work represents the author's own, original ideas.
Turnitin is typically used by instructors for class assignments through the myCourses Dropbox; it is not available for individual student use with the possible exception of graduate theses or capstone projects.
How does Turnitin Work?
Papers that are submitted to Turnitin are anonymously checked against a database of current and archived internet webpages, scholarly literature, and periodicals, as well as student papers previously submitted to the system. Based on the number of positive matches and the length of the submitted document, a "Similarity Score" is calculated. This score indicates the percentage of the submitted work that is highly similar to other sources; in other words, the percentage of the total document that may not be the author's original ideas.
What Students Need to Know
- Turnitin does not detect plagiarism, but rather originality – a high score does not necessarily mean that plagiarism has occurred (see "Reasons for a High Score" below).
- Faculty may require that students submit course assignments to Turnitin. No consent is necessary.
- A 2008 court decision (upheld in 2009) determined that Turnitin's continued use of submitted student papers to check against new submissions was not a violation of copyright, but rather a qualified "fair use."
- Some faculty allow students to submit one or multiple drafts to Turnitin through the myCourses Dropbox before a final submission report is created. Ask your professor if this option is available for your course.
- RIT Libraries, University Writing Commons, and Academic Support Center all provide techniques and resources that can help you avoid plagiarism. See our page of "Additional Resources" for more details.
Reasons for a High Score
There are several reasons you may end up with a high "Similarity Score" in Turnitin. If you do, do not panic! Instead, look through some of the reasons outlined below to see if any apply to your paper. Then, start a conversation with your professor if appropriate.
Incorrectly formatted citations
Poor or insufficient paraphrasing
The University Writing Commons can help you improve your writing skills and answer questions you may have about common writing struggles such as proper paraphrasing.
Too many direct quotes
While it is important to use quotations when you are including another author's direct words in your own paper, too many quotes – particularly those without proper citations – can increase your Similarity Score. Try to find a balance between your own words and those of others.
High use of commonly used phrases (e.g. "The purpose of this experiment...")
There are bound to be some phrases in your paper that match another person's writing. For help removing extraneous wording from your paper, contact the University Writing Commons.
It is against RIT's Student Academic Integrity Policy to submit the "same or similar work" in more than one class without permission from both instructors.