Turnitin launches iThenticate 2.0 to help maintain integrity of high stakes content with AI writing detection
Learn more
Blog   ·  

How to Identify Contract Cheating Early Across Your Organization

When Original Work is Unoriginal

Gretchen Hanson
Gretchen Hanson






By completing this form, you agree to Turnitin's Privacy Policy. Turnitin uses the information you provide to contact you with relevant information. You may unsubscribe from these communications at any time.


This blog series about Turnitin Originality has focused on finding text that matches or closely resembles other known text and flagging it as potential plagiarism. But what about documents that look like original work - but are not actually the student’s own original work?

The process of having someone else write original work on behalf of someone else is known as contract cheating (Lancaster & Clarke, 2006). Both contract cheating and essay mills are seeing a surge in use among students who are stressed, struggling, or otherwise just looking for help. In many cases, students aren’t always aware that getting help from an online site is a serious misconduct issue. These sites position themselves as approved, safe, and “your friend that’s here to help.” Our research has shown that students who engage in contract plagiarism and aren’t identified tend to make recurring engagements with contract cheating or essay mill sites.

One of the main promises of these sites is that their work will “pass Turnitin.” This promise relies on the document being original writing, done to spec for the student. It’d be easy to believe that if there isn’t any text similarity found, Turnitin wouldn’t be able to identify that the work wasn’t done by the student.

However, just as instructors can get that “gut feeling” when reading a paper that doesn’t seem like the student’s work, Turnitin is using advanced forensic linguistics and probability algorithms built on years of research to identify when work is likely not written by the student.

Identifying Unoriginal Work

So how does it work? Every student submission to Turnitin is not only compared to the databases of known content to discover text similarity, but it is also compared to the student’s past work. This deep analysis can reveal differences that start to paint a story of the student’s work over time--and how that work strays from their norm.

As papers are submitted, those that exhibit the most characteristics of unoriginal work are elevated to a dashboard for Investigators and Administrators at the institution. An “Investigator” is someone at the institution who is responsible for reviewing integrity cases and determining how to action them. This role could be an Academic Integrity Officer or an interested dean or faculty member.

The dashboard helps administrators understand the scope and scale of cases at their institution. A prioritization ranking of cases into Critical and High can help them know where to start, so they can work with the students that need the most help first.

The administrator or investigator can select a student from the dashboard to review their Authorship Report. This report does the heavy lifting of collecting all of the student’s work and analyzing them against each other. Turnitin provides a summary panel that surfaces some of the most relevant flags found across the documents, to provide a quick overview of the potential issues. Investigators can go deeper with a series of charts featuring customizable fields and labels to provide a flexible space to review the information.

A Report Review area lets the investigator capture their notes and apply a status such as “Inconclusive” or “Investigate.” With the data and information in hand, the investigator can determine the best way to move forward, whether that’s a conversation with the student, disciplinary action, or dismissing the case.

Turnitin’s goal is to reduce the burden of collecting information, surface interesting insights, and enable investigators and administrators to follow their institutional policies and help students as early as possible. Finding students, cohorts, or courses that need attention earlier rather than later will help instill academic integrity principles and keep your students on a positive path forward.

Watch this short video.