Put What Where? Lost in the Turnitin Vortex
By Hillary Wentworth, Writing Consultant
Many students are scared of Turnitin, others are angry that they have to use the program, while still others are utterly mystified by it all. Turnitin is an interesting tool—if you know what it really does. It’s important to remember that a high Turnitin percentage does not necessarily indicate plagiarism. The software is simply matching your paper—word for word—to other documents in its database. These documents (literally millions of them) are journal articles, college papers, web pages, and books. Amongst those millions, there will be matches. After all, there is no truly original way to refer to differentiated instruction or evidence-based practice, right?
So, when you are looking at a Turnitin report, don’t scream and run around the room or dissolve in tears. Instead, take a long, deep breath, sit down on the couch, and read these tips:
- Don’t worry about matches in your reference list. There is only one correct way to format an APA reference, and chances are, someone else in the database has used the same source as you. Especially if that source is a college textbook. Therefore, don’t spend time agonizing over the highlights here; they do not mean you are plagiarizing. They just mean you are using a popular source!
- Don’t worry about matches in your title or headings. At Walden, students taking the same class are likely titling their papers similarly and maybe even using the same prescribed headings. After these papers are submitted to the course-based Turnitin, they become part of the database. Unless you are indeed copying a fellow student’s paper (and I certainly hope you aren’t!), you can disregard these highlights.
- Don’t worry about matches of common terms or phrases. It’s possible that Turnitin will flag common phrases in your field, for instance No Child Left Behind, the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, or even cognitive-behavioral therapy. Because there is no other way to describe these particular terms, these highlights are not considered violations of academic integrity. You are simply using the language of your field.
Now, there are some cases where you should be nervous.
- When reviewing your Turnitin report, if you see long highlights without quotation marks and a full citation (Author, year, p. xx), you need to jump into action. And by that I mean either adding those elements to reflect a direct quotation from a source or paraphrasing more effectively.
- Note: Even if you do correctly use direct quotes in your paper, your Turnitin score will be high. The only way to lower your score is to paraphrase.
- A percentage of 90-100% means one of two things:
- you are reproducing a fellow student’s work, or
- (more likely) a previous version of your paper was submitted to the course-based Turnitin, which logged it in the database. Therefore, you are matching your own writing. If this scenario happens, don’t fear! Your instructor can disregard that match (see image to right).