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Using Turnitin: Considerations when using Turnitin

Considerations for Teaching

(Modified from Penn State University's Teaching and Learning with Technology Department at tlt.its.psu.edu/turnitin/teaching)

Using Turnitin.com most effectively requires some preparation and planning on the part of the instructor, and is most successful when used to teach students correct uses of sources rather than being used surreptitiously for surveillance of students' work.

The following information can help instructors maximize the effectiveness of Turnitin for both evaluating results of an Originality Report and minimize plagiarism in AQ classes.

Integrity Statement

Aquinas College's syllabus template strongly recommends that instructors include the campus Integrity Statement on each of their syllabi. This statement reminds students that the college considers academic integrity to be a serious educational issue.

For more information about the AQ Integrity Statement and campus intregrity, go to the Campus Integrity website.

Tell students you'll be using Turnitin

Whether you use Turnitin as a detection tool, a teaching tool, or both, it's a good idea to place a statement in your syllabus to notify students of your intent to use Turnitin.com in your course and how the results will be used in determining grades. Following is a suggested statement (from Penn State):

In this course we will be using a tool, Turnitin.com, to confirm that you have used sources accurately in your papers. If you have any questions about how to cite your sources, please review the materials available on the Plagiarism page. Students are responsible for ensuring that their work is consistent with Aquinas's expectations about academic integrity. Additional information about the Turnitin plagiarism prevention tool is available on the Turnitin site.

Discuss the use of Turnitin and the consequences of plagiarism with your students

Giving students information about what plagiarism is and how to prevent it can help prevent cases of "accidental plagiairsm" including inappropriate paraphrase and mistaking information requiring citation for "common knowledge".

The resources on the AQ Plagiarism Resources page points to information for both students and faculty.

The library also has plagiarism and academic dishonety tutorials to help explain that they are and how to avoid them.

Provide instructions to students in uploading papers

Probably the simplest method to add student papers to the Turnitin database is to have students do the uploading into your Turnitin course space.

Here's how an instructor would set up a CourseConnect page: 

  • Go to your CourseConnect page and log in
  • Go to the course and the appropriate week/module/segment
  • Click on Add an activity or resource
  • Select Turnitin Assignment 2 from the list
  • Click on Add
  • Fill in the CC form, including General, Assignment Part 1+, Originality Report Options, and GradeMark Options (ignore Common Module Settings and Restrict Access) 
  • Save
    • This will create a link on your CC page, where students can go to submit papers

Here's what a student would do:

  • Go to the CourseConnect page for the class
  • Click on the appropriate link on that page
  • Click on Submit Paper (green arrow icon)
  • Fill out the Turnitin form that will pop up (including student name and submission title)
  • Attach the paper to be uploaded (much like attaching a document to email) -- or click and drag the file
  • Check the box confirming the student is submitting his/her own work
  • Click on Submit
  • Receive a digital confirmation of submission
  • If the instructor allows it, the student can look at the originality report

The instructor can then get into CourseConnect and review the originality reports and the full text of the submitted document.

Understand the Originality Report

How the Originality Report Works

Text in paper submitted to Turinitin are compared to sources within the Turnitin.com database. This database includes other course papers submitted to Turnitin.com as well as a large store of content available on the Inernet and material from other sources.

The Originality report flags passages similar to text in another source, but it does not mark it as plagiarized or unplagiarized. The higher the percentage, the more text similar to another paper Turnitin has identified. Note that for the reasons listed below a high percentage score is not "proof" of plagiarism. Faculty must evaluate passages individually to make a more accurate determination that a case of plagiarism may haveoccurred.

Quotations and Originality Report

It's important to note that properly quoted and cited text will be included in the report. For this reason alone, all papers should be reviewed. If an assigment relies on quoting from outside sources, a paper could include multiple text matches and still not be plagiarized. An additional benefit of Turnitin is that instructors can evaluate the quality of a citation.


Note: An instructor should determine what the score of an acceptable assignment would look like ahead of time. One option would be to submit a test paper of a good assignment.

False Positives

A false positive, that is a paper with a high similarity score that is not the result of a student committing plagiarism, can occur for the following reasons.

  1. If a student submits a paper to Turnitin.com independently of the course to check for plagiarism, the version uploaded for the course will be a "copy."
  2. It is possible your student is being plagiarized. The Originality Report identifies matches, but does not necessarily identify which is the "copy" and which is the "original."
  3. A student could be expanding previous research for a new assignment, but copying text from the original research.

False Negatives

A false negative, that is a paper with a low similarity score, but actually plagiriazed or incorporating some other form of academic dishonesty can occur when the source is not in Turinitin. For instance this can happen if

  1. The student dishonestly "comissions" the paper from another student or a custom paper writing source.
  2. The source is a rare resource, especially a print resource.
  3. The source is from an electronic Library database not included in the Turnitin.com database.

Note that in both instances, an instructor may suspect plagiarism because the writing style is different from what is seen before. This type of academic dishonesty is one reason that it is advised that instructors collect research notes, drafts or early bibliographies in the paper writing process so that there is more documentation of the process.

Additional suggestions to reduce plagiarism

In addition to using Turnitin.com to review final assignments, you may want to consider these strategies to reduce plagiarism.

  1. Develop more unique assignments. Examples of generic term paper assignments are easily found, but assignments which are more focused or more customized have fewer sources which can be copied. Meeting with students about topics can also help motivate students.
  2. Require drafts, preliminary bibliographies, study notes. These preliminary steps can help students maintain a proper timeline and also show where a problem could be occuring.
  3. Elaborate on the difference between collaboration and academic dishonesty. The prevelance of group work in the modern academic environment can create ambiguities for some assignments. Explain what students must each submit and what is acceptable collaboration.