Turnitin Reviews Student Papers for Plagiarized and AI-produced Work


Turnitin is a similarity detection software application that was founded in 1998 by four University of California-Berkeley students, using pattern-matching technology developed from their doctoral research. The educational services company sells its licenses to high schools, colleges, and universities.

If you are taking an English class at the community college or online, you will likely be required to submit your papers through the Turnitin platform. When you submit a paper, Turnitin compares it to existing text in its massive database of written content and online sources (student work, websites, books, articles, etc.) for the purpose of identifying plagiarism. Your paper will also then become part of the document repository.

The appropriateness of any copied content that is found will be left up to the educator’s discretion. Results can be used for grading purposes and can also be used in formative assessment to help students learn to avoid plagiarism and improve their writing.

Similarity Detection

Turnitin highlights sentences or phrases that are similar to works or papers that have already been published, submitted, or found online. The first time you use Turnitin, you may be alarmed when part of your paper is flagged for similarities with existing content. However, minimal text matching of common subjects does not equal plagiarism. In general, a Turnitin similarity score of 25% and below shows that your paper is original.

Even if you copied something word-for word does not necessarily mean that you have plagiarized. For example, you might have used a direct quote. If you put quotation marks around that direct quote and cited it, you have not plagiarized. Items on your references list are also going to show up as similar, because these are citations, which are all done the same way. Such similarities do not equal plagiarism.

If the highlighted area in your similarity report contains information or wording that you have obtained from a source, be sure you have properly summarized, paraphrased, or quoted that material and you have cited the source. If you do not cite outside sources, then it is considered plagiarizing.

Turnitin recognizes that plagiarism is a common problem that is often the result of a lack of knowledge and skills. That’s why Turnitin runs the informational website Plagiarism.org to support the education community with a comprehensive set of resources to help students write with integrity. Turnitin also offers a plagiarism-detection service for newspaper, book and magazine publishers.

AI Detection

Turnitin now includes AI detection technology that supposedly can distinguish between AI- and human-written text. According to a press release, over 2 million out of 65 million student papers that were checked by Turnitin’s AI detection tool – accounting for 3.3% of all papers reviewed – were flagged as containing 80% or more text produced by AI writing tools such as ChatGPT. Additionally, more than 6 million papers, or 10.3% of all those reviewed, were flagged as containing at least 20% AI-written text.

These are pretty high numbers, which highlight the already widespread use of generative AI by students. However, the AI model could get it wrong. A study from Stanford University reveals that these AI detectors can be easily fooled, particularly when students employ more sophisticated language. This has raised concerns about the effectiveness and fairness of using AI detectors in the classroom. Remember that there is no “right” or “target” score with the AI indicator, just like with a Similarity Score.

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