Advice on Best Practices for Using TurnItIn.com
by Star Muir, Senior Director of DoIT, Learning
George Mason University has purchased a site license for Turnitin, a service that processes student papers and provides
an Originality Report indicating a percentage of matching material on the internet and several other databases.
Our license currently includes only Plagiarism Prevention, not any other features of the Turnitin system.
The best way to prevent plagiarism is to create assignments that engage students step by step in the researching and
writing process, as Shelley Reid, Director of Composition, pointed out in the spring 2005 issue of Writing@Center.
(See also “Defining and Avoiding Plagarism: The WPA Statement on Best Practices at
http://wpacouncil.org/node/9.) Used effectively, TurnItIn
will complement other teaching strategies and will also provide learning experiences about proper source attribution.
Help resources at http://www.turnitin.com include Instructor Manuals,
Quick-Start Guides, and instructional videos.
Use Multiple Strategies for Reducing or Preventing Plagiarism
- Use new topics each semester, and consider using only very recent topics.
- Get a writing sample within the first week of class for future comparison.
- Time permitting, require papers to be completed in stages; perhaps a thesis first, then an outline, then a draft,
then a final version.
- Place source or material constraints to reduce Internet temptation.
- Require a specific source, or an annotated bibliography (possibly due before the paper), or even copies of the
first page of all references.
Communicate Expectations Effectively
- Provide prior notice to students of intent to use TurnItIn in your syllabus. Experience at other
institutions and common sense indicate that prior notice is an important part of maintaining trust in the
classroom as well as an essential pre-requisite for deterring plagiarism. Consider adding a brief clause
in your syllabus near the reference to the Honor Code: The instructor reserves the right to use TurnItIn,
a plagiarism-detection service.
- Use some class time to review assignment expectations and proper citation style, particularly for assignments
being turned in through Turnitin.
- Provide clear and useful online resources for reinforcing expectations for source attribution and use of
- Emphasize the value of doing your own work and proper source attribution.
Maximizing Learning Experiences
- Allow students to view Originality Report scores, either once or multiple times. Instructors
have the option to prevent students from seeing the reports, to allow students to see the report but only
after a final submission, or to allow students to submit multiple times and then only have the last Originality
- Consider using consultation time to review originality reports with students individually.
- Use online tutorials or supplemental books to enhance student understanding.
Maximize Clear Decision-Making
- High matching scores don’t necessarily mean plagiarism. By default, TurnItIn’s Originality
Reports include all matching materials, even if quoted or in the bibliography. Select the links at the top
of the originality report to recalculate the report: Exclude Quoted, or Exclude Bibliography.
- Exclude specific web sites if appropriate. If a student paper is legitimately listed on a web site,
that URL can be excluded from the report by clicking the gray X to the right of the source.
- Computers can track 1s and 0s, but don’t have judgment. While TurnItIn can help make direct
comparisons to matching material, only faculty can make a final determination of plagiarism.
Make Choices About TurnItIn Options
The Instructor’s Manual has information about a variety of options which may be of interest or use to
faculty, for example :
- Single paper submission vs. student online submission. Instructors can create a class and assignment
and then submit selectively themselves or require every student to submit online.
- Student self-enrollment vs. Instructor batch-enrollment.
- Student paper database vs. Comparison to internet and external databases only. Under advanced options
on assignment creation, faculty may exclude submission and comparison to the TurnItIn student paper database.
- Master Class (with subsections) vs. Single course section.
To learn more about all of these options, see TurnItIn Instructor Manuals, Quick-Start Guides, and instructional
videos at http://turnitin.com.
RETURN TO TEACHING WITH WRITING: PRACTICES