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What are word spinners and what do they have to do with academic integrity?

Emerging trends series

Christine Lee
Christine Lee
Content Manager






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Earlier, we touched on new and emerging trends in academic misconduct; it’s also important to take a closer look at each of these challenges and ways to mitigate their impact on student learning.

Word spinners or text spinners are one tool available online that promote short-cut solutions to students.

They often market themselves as being able to “avoid detection” while taking advantage of students who aren’t knowledgeable about the nuances of plagiarism. One word spinning site leverages ambiguous phrases to claim, “Paraphrasing tools can be legit basing [sic] on how you choose to use them. Certain ways make paraphrasing tools legit. When you have little or no time to paraphrase a given work, paraphrasing tools offer the best of help.”

Struggling students may miss all the ambiguity in such qualifying statements, and so explicit instruction is crucial in mitigating this particular form of misconduct.

To that end, let’s go deeper on the topic of word spinners.

1. What are word spinners?

Word spinners go by different names: they include text spinners, rewriting tools, article spinners, or paraphrasing tools. They take existing text and make changes with the purpose of evading plagiarism detection software. Word spinners vary in the ways they offer their services; some are subscription-based while others are free internet sites.

2. How do they appear in student work?

While the goal of word spinners is to retain the meaning of the original text, they don’t always succeed. And they certainly don’t replicate the student’s authentic voice. However, if a student uses word spinners throughout a course, instructors won’t be able to have insights into the student’s authentic writing style and voice.

For example, when run through a text spinner, the previous paragraph reads:

“While the objective of word spinners is to hold the significance of the first content, they don't generally succeed. Also, they positively don't reproduce the understudy's credible voice. Be that as it may, if an understudy utilizes word spinners all through a course, teachers will not have the option to have bits of knowledge into the understudy's genuine composing style and voice.”

The word replacements are inaccurate--student becomes “understudy,” for example. The introductory phrase, “Be that as it may,” is an awkward substitute. The phrase “positively don’t reproduce” doesn’t make sense. And so on.

3. How do they impact academic integrity?

Simply put, when students use word spinners, they aren’t producing their own original work. Original work means that even when paraphrasing, students regenerate the ideas of another person into their own words and voice to express their own understanding of concepts.

Word spinners impact student learning because they are a shortcut solution that prevents students from learning the skill of paraphrasing, a primary way for students to show that they understand ideas and concepts.

4. Ways to mitigate word spinners

By acknowledging their existence via explicit instruction, educators can take the first step towards mitigating the usage of word spinners. Vulnerable students often engage word spinners because the services use ambiguous language; showing students that using paraphrasing sites is detrimental to their learning provides a foundation to prevent this form of misconduct.

Supporting students in their workflow to strengthen paraphrasing skills is another form of direct instruction to prevent this particular shortcut solution. Paraphrasing is a linguistically challenging and sophisticated skill because it involves reading the entire source, understanding main points, drawing from a deep vocabulary, and possessing an awareness of academic integrity and citation.

According to research, “The development of reading, summarising and paraphrasing skills are not the sole responsibility of learning developers. Educators need to embed academic skills in lectures and tutorials and provide feedback on student progress measured through effective assessment (Sambell et al. 2013). Clear assessment requirements and use of rubrics indicate the importance and differences to grades for the various levels of academic skills (Atkinson & Lim, 2013) providing students with a reason to develop their skills. Effective feedback assists students in identifying where they have achieved certain levels of academic skills and which skills require further development (Evans, 2013)” (Rogerson & McCarthy, 2017).

Use a formative approach and scaffold assignments to enable transparency into student work and open up opportunities for feedback loops. Make students feel seen and consider one on one meetings after the assignment to assess a deep conceptual understanding of the topic at hand. Or just to check in on student wellness.

Turnitin Draft Coach enables formative feedback within the student workflow and learning journey and an advanced integrity tool like Turnitin Originality can check for text and code similarity as well as address contract cheating and deliberate text manipulations designed to bypass plagiarism checkers.

Want to deeply support students throughout the writing and revision process? Check out our Turnitin webinar on Coaching Conversations on Tuesday, April 27, 2021, at 3 pm (CT). It will feature Larissa Wright-Elson, a Language Arts Curriculum Coordinator from Anchorage, Alaska. She will offer thoughtful insight and actionable suggestions on structured, coaching conversations for every type of writing need.