Turns out Turnitin Might Not Be Doing What You Thought

Christen Palange Published 15 Mar 2016

Plagiarism software is doing its job, but probably not the way you think it is.

Plagiarism. It’s a plague preventing students from learning. For this reason, there is software that captures plagiarism and even detects how much is copied. I used this in one of my high school English classes. We submitted our work through the system and it would look at how much was plagiarized and provide a report. It also highlighted the areas that were considered too similar with a link to the source. This compared your paper with anything on the web and even past papers that had gone through the system. My teacher emphasized this and warned us not to hand in our sibling’s past papers.

It makes sense to do something like this to ensure students are working to the best of their own ability. The argument is if you are not cheating you have nothing to worry about, but that’s not human nature. Every time I sent a paper through the system I got nervous. Not that I was trying to get away with anything, but I was concerned my paper would be just a little too much like something that was already written. I mean, how much can you say about the Grapes of Wrath that hasn’t already been said? I never failed an assignment, because I never plagiarized. The system is not meant to catch people who are just trying to do the right thing, but as a student, I can say that it always felt like it would. 

In Higher Education

I haven’t used any plagiarism software since starting college. I don’t know anyone at my college who has had to use it. However, a friend at a different college does use software like this and shared the significance of it. She said there is value as it stops students from doing the wrong thing, so as not to even accidentally cheat. However, it’s difficult to prevent yourself from accidentally doing anything. In her case, any kind of plagiarism would mean failing the assignment and further repercussions as well. Another friend said it adds great value for the teachers, but it can be a bit much for the students when you’re just trying to write the paper to the best of your ability. Neither had heard of anyone actually being caught plagiarizing.

Nevertheless, students and teachers agree upon the value that this type of software adds. It takes less time for the instructor to figure out whether or not something is plagiarized. At small schools like my own it is typically more obvious when a student is not doing their own work. It may be harder at larger schools though. Most professors don’t have the time or means to accomplish this themselves.

It also provides the professor with back-up information if they suspect a student is cheating. This tool protects the student and the professor. But, some have wondered lately if it is harsh enough. There is speculation that students are still getting away with directly copying information from a source. Is it possible? I’m sure it is. I would be surprised if the software caught everything that is going through it.

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But Mostly… It Works

I think anti-plagiarism software serves its purpose. If you’ve ever had three papers to write and two exams to study for, then you know that sometimes, even when you don’t mean to, you might write something down that sounds a lot like the original work. Hopefully, you go back and revise it. I always do. But what if one time you forget to look back and see if you really put it into your own words. Maybe, in fact, you didn’t revise it at all. In this case, you send it through the software and it picks it up. 

Maybe you fail the assignment, or maybe some points are taken off, depending on the professor, school, and offense. Well, you’ll never make that mistake again. It keeps you on your toes, makes you think ahead and not wait until the last second, forcing you to write the paper with enough time to fully read it over. It also creates a fair system of ensuring students are always doing the right thing.

Does it deter the students who want to plagiarize a whole paper? I would think so. I don’t know for a fact as I wasn’t in a position to find someone who would be willing to do this, but I think if a student knew there was a chance of software finding the offense, they would not risk plagiarizing.

Is plagiarism software really doing the job it was meant to? I guess that depends. It may not catch every case of copying, but I think it makes students really think about the consequences of what they are putting in their papers. If you are writing your own work, then there really is nothing to worry about (but we still will worry).

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