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. For more information, please visit http://infoguides.rit.edu/turnitin/studentpapers.
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.
Buyer beware! If you decide to use a freely available plagiarism checker, keep the following in mind when selecting and using them:
- Some plagiarism checking sites are really paper mill sites in disguise tempting you to submit while taking your content and adding it to their massive database of papers to resell.
- Ask yourself what your document is being compared to. Is the site upfront in telling you? If you cannot answer these questions and your paper comes back saying it is not plagiarized, you may gain a false sense of security about your writing and citing skills.
- Results vary widely using these free tools. Results may be difficult to understand and may simply be inaccurate.
- These sites may start out free but may soon require you to submit content to keep using them or they may begin charging per document or try to sell you a subscription. Or, the free version may only do a so-so job, encouraging you to upgrade to the paid version.
- Following the best practices for avoiding plagiarism in the first place is quicker and easier than evaluating, selecting, and using one of the free plagiarism checkers.
If you want to check the originality of your writing in a paper before handing it in, WriteCheck is a student fee-based tool from the makers of Turnitin. This service allows you to upload a paper which will quickly be checked for “plagiarism.” The service will provide you with a report highlighting the parts of your paper that are matches for content in the WriteCheck database.
***RIT does not promote or endorse this product but we want you to be aware of some pros and cons of paying for this service.***
- Allows students to screen papers before submitting to RIT’s Turnitin System.
- Allows students to screen out the Bibliography and Quotes so students can see Originality issues only in the body of the paper and paraphrasing.
- Though it is the same company, papers submitted to WriteCheck are not added to the Turnitin database so there is no originality conflict through a double submission.
- Students can resubmit the same paper with corrections up to three times under the original purchase of credits.
- The report provides links to WriteCheck’s versions of citation style guides and provides citation tips when viewing paper
- Results usually available in a minute
- Cheap (as of March 2015)
- $7.95 for a paper of 5000 words with 3 resubmissions
- $19.95 for 3 papers of 5000 words and 3 resubmissions each
- Fee service when students have free access to a Turnitin screening in a class when professor uses the service
- Student still needs to understand proper structure of in-text and Reference List citations
- Lots of false matches through proper names/nouns, common phrasing
- Offers percentages of Similarity Score with no guidance of next step