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The student view of Turnitin—particularly on social media—is often surrounded by a shroud of negativity, being privy to comments such as: “Turnitin is bad vibes”, “12% similarity rate on Turnitin… thank goodness”, or “Turnitin is so annoying”. This misconstrued image can unintentionally generate stress for students at a pivotal point in their academic schooling and we want to debunk some of the most common misconceptions to get students off to a better start with Turnitin.
Being a second-year student at Durham University, I regularly use Turnitin to submit my assignments, but I have never given much thought to the real purpose of the software and why my institution chose to adopt it. This changed when I became one of Turnitin’s summer interns.
Fact: The amount of plagiarism in a paper is not reflected in the similarity score. In fact, the word ‘similarity’ already indicates what is really measured. The score reflects how similar your work is to other items in the Turnitin database. The only way to identify plagiarism is for your lecturer to look at the report in more detail.
For example, a Similarity Report with a score of 20% could suggest that a paper matches 20 different sources at only 1% similarity. Therefore, similar sources must be explored to identify whether the text is plagiarised. In reality, there may not be a plagiarism problem at all. Human interpretation is key when it comes to similarity scores.
Fact: This is false! Since working at Turnitin, I have had the opportunity to meet many Turnitin employees and, I can safely say, that the focus is on making life easier for both students and lecturers.
For instance, one of Turnitin's newer programs, Draft Coach, enables students to run three Similarity Reports before submitting their final paper. This allows students to develop referencing and grammar skills before the final deadline. The ultimate goal of Turnitin is to support learning and encourage students to become confident critical thinkers, essay writers with high integrity. Have a look at this handy checklist created by Turnitin around academic research and writing.
Fact: There is more to Turnitin than the software. It has employees, values, goals and many other objectives. This might seem obvious, but for me, it came as quite a surprise. In reality, there are hundreds of people working at Turnitin trying to improve, educate and implement the importance of academic integrity such as through hosting webinars and workshops. The passion that I have seen at Turnitin has therefore shifted my view of the company from just software to a living and breathing entity.
Fact: This is not true. Your lecturers can manage their own settings. Turnitin's settings can differ between universities, faculties, and even individual classes. For example, lecturers can choose to include or exclude references in the Similarity Report which can make a huge difference to your final similarity score. Your references can exist somewhere else and thus will always be highlighted as similar, making your total similarity score much higher.
If you think your similarity results seem incorrect, this could be due to the settings chosen by your professor and may come with a quick fix. To understand how your instructor has chosen to assess your work through Turnitin, I suggest speaking to them about it as it’ll help you to resolve any issues and improve your writing and research skills along the way. This feedback can be beneficial in gaining a deeper understanding of the intricacies in how your instructors use Turnitin. Requesting personalised feedback also demonstrates initiative and a passion for learning; both of which are traits that will serve you well during and after university.
Fact: This is not true. There are many types of plagiarism ranging from serious to not so serious but it can be difficult to understand and draw the line of what counts as plagiarism. We have displayed the severity of both traditional and emerging forms of plagiarism on an infographic called The Plagiarism Spectrum 2.0. This resource identifies twelve types of unoriginal work and has been designed to provide clarity on what constitutes as plagiarism as well as to support the development of original thinking skills in students so that they can do their best, original work. I suggest you use this infographic to broaden your understanding of plagiarism and to ensure you maintain academic integrity in your essays.
This blog post was designed to debunk the five most common myths about Turnitin—misconceptions that can often cause stress to students at a crucial point in their academic career. You should now have a better understanding of how Turnitin aims to support learning in students and provide insights to lecturers on their students knowledge gaps, from writing to researching and referencing.