Turnitin is web-based software that matches a submitted student work to the texts in its database. The Turnitin database consists of: live and archived internet documents, papers previously submitted to Turnitin from your own and other institutions, and paid for publications to which Turnitin subscribes. When a document is submitted to Turnitin, it will return a Turnitin Originality report, highlighting any pieces of text that exactly match anything in its database, noting which text in its database the submitted text is similar to.
Turnitin is often used to identify possible instances of plagiarism. It is, however, a very rough tool in this regard. Turnitin only tells you that two pieces of text match - it cannot tell you why they match. For example, two student texts may appear to match, but this might be because they both paraphrased in similar ways a third text, such as a popular course reading. If used thoughtfully, Turnitin can be a useful tool for helping students to recognise when their writing is too reliant on the texts of others.
Enabling students to view their work more critically by providing them with a tool to identify possible instances of “copying and pasting” from an original texts, is one way of helping students to take responsibility for and ownership of their writing. It also reinforces the idea that writing is an iterative process with the writing and editing of multiple drafts. A careful reading of a Turnitin report can also help students to see when they, their voice, ideas and argument, are missing from the text.
The easiest way to use Turnitin with your students’ texts is to work through Vula. The lecturer creates an assignment on Vula, and in the set-up process selects the Turnitin option. Students submit their assignments. Vula submits the assignments to Turnitin which matches individual student texts to texts in their database. Turnitin then returns an Originality report to Vula, which makes the report available to the author and lecturers on the site. The lecturer can then use the Turnitin report to support their grading and comment process. You can find a video on how to interpret the originality report here. Lecturers can also use the Turnitin grading suite which supports the creation of rubrics and marking codes.
To support the development of student writing, we recommend that lecturers opt for at least one re-submit option when setting up the Vula assignment. This would allow students to submit their text, receive their report, edit their text in light of the report, and resubmit a better draft. Over time, and with additional support, this is likely to support better writing outcomes in student writers.
- For postgraduate (Masters and PhD) students working on dissertations, please see this online guide
- Interpreting a Turnitin Similarity Index (video)
- Fixing writing and skilling writers: What Turnitin reports can do for your students - CILT workshop (video)