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The internet is full of articles listing tricks to “beat Turnitin.” They lead students through complicated hoops to manipulate their assignments in order to bypass the similarity checking algorithm. Unfortunately for them, we read these articles too, and have long been identifying when text has been manipulated. We have also provided guidance on how instructors can identify these issues, for example, by downloading a text-only report or selecting all to normalize font size and color to reveal any hidden text. 

With Turnitin Originality, we’re making it easier for instructors to be notified of any text manipulations through the new Flags Insight Panel. The Flags Panel identifies potential issues and allows instructors to isolate their view to just the problematic areas. Today the Flags panel will show replaced or hidden characters with evolving plans to show other types of deliberate text manipulation, such as text that has been paraphrased or gone through a text spinner. 

Flags Provide Focus

The Flags panel indicates if any text manipulations are found within the assignment. Today there are two types of flags: Replaced characters and Hidden characters. Both of these forms of text manipulations illustrate a more deliberate effort to bypass similarity algorithms.

Replaced characters happen when a letter is replaced with a symbol or letter from another alphabet that looks like the letter it is replacing. For example, a Cyrillic “a” looks just like a Latin “a” to the naked eye - but to the computer, it is a completely different letter. This difference can trip a similarity algorithm so that a match is not found. Replacing characters in the written text takes some effort to do properly. One of many requirements to execute this form of academic misconduct is that students must find and install another character keyboard and painstakingly replace the matching character with their foreign-language doppelganger.  

Hidden characters identify characters that are in the same color as the background (e.g., white font on a white background). Hidden characters are also in very small font sizes,inserted between letters to break words, and intended to circumvent the matching algorithm.  

The Flags panel will tell the instructor how many instances of each flag appear, and highlight the questionable characters within the document to show where and how they are being used.  

Keeping Integrity Front and Center 

By gaining insight into text similarity matching, instructors can evaluate student understanding and development of skills such as proper citation and source credibility, thereby fostering original thinking and writing. The Similarity Report can help instructors and students to have valuable conversations to keep academic integrity skills growing.  

The Flags panel surfaces a different kind of information and offers a look at student intent. Flags help identify when students are struggling, looking for shortcuts, or deliberately taking steps away from integrity. Having this information in a focused area such as the Flags Panel keeps the conversation about intentional plagiarism separate from formative conversations about text similarity. Performing these text manipulations is rarely done accidentally, so when instructors discover incidents around text manipulations, it’s an important opportunity to work with the student to keep their education on a positive track forward. 

The Flags Insight Panel enables data-driven conversations, which is an important component of academic integrity and helping students’ positive growth. So we’ve made the Flags Insight Panel a standard part of all of Turnitin’s integrity products. 

Learn more about Turnitin Originality

To learn more about how the Flags panel and see it in action watch this short video.

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