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Turnitin Frequently Asked Questions

This is a list of questions and answers about plagiarism and the technology behind the Turnitin service. Because academic integrity is a foundation of the University, it is the responsibility of all members of the campus community to sustain an environment where creativity and intellectual honesty can flourish.

To this end, the university offers Turnitin, an "originality detector" to measure what portion of a submitted paper is a student's original scholarship and what appears borrowed from other sources. Find out more about cheating and plagiarism in CSULA Academic Honesty or at Turnitin's research resources.

Learn more about Turnitin at www.turnitin.com.

What is plagiarism?

Simply put, plagiarism is the use of another person's original words or ideas as though they were your own (this is also called "without attribution"). Any time you borrow from an original source and do not give proper credit, you have committed plagiarism and violated U.S. copyright laws. (See What is Plagiarism? for more detailed information on plagiarism.)

How does Turnitin work?

Turnitin utilizes a technology called document source analysis, which uses algorithms to make a digital "fingerprint" of a text document and compare it against millions of other sources on the Internet. Turnitin continually compiles a database of digital material by cataloging and indexing online academic works using automated web robots. Online paper mills are a major focus of these searches. A complement to the Internet data-mining capabilities is Turnitin's archiving function: papers from participating courses and other academic web sites are also indexed and stored in Turnitin's database.

Faculty are then provided with "Originality Reports" which indicates how much of a given paper is original and how much deserves additional review for academic integrity. The Originality Report also offers comparative sources, to aid faculty in their review.

Is plagiarism really that big a problem?

Yes! According to a 1998 survey by Who's Who Among American High School Students, four out of five college-bound high school students admit to cheating on schoolwork, and a recent Center for Academic Integrity study reports that 80 percent of college students admit to cheating at least once. Additionally, polls from the Gallup organization indicate respondents consider a crisis in education and a decline in ethics to be the top two problems facing America.

What are the consequences of plagiarism for students?

The consequences can be severe. Since students must abide by formal rules of conduct, such as the CSULA Academic Honesty, committing plagiarism constitutes breaking one of academia’s most fundamental rules. Consequences of plagiarism in higher education may include: a failing grade on a paper, a failing grade in a class, a formal university hearing, a mark on your transcript, probationary status, or even expulsion from the university. (Visit Research Resources for more information on the consequences of plagiarism.)

If I submit a paper for one class and then submit the same paper again for another class, can I correctly be accused of plagiarism?

Not plagiarism, but certainly a lower academic standard. If you do not properly reference yourself and the content extracted from your previous paper, then you are recycling work. (Please see Research Resources for more information.) Also, you may be in violation of the standards set by a college, department, or professor. So when you wish to recycle work, you should clear it first with the instructor.

How long does a check take?

The actual analysis takes seconds. Instructors can choose either "FastTrack" or "24-hour turnaround" for Originality Report generation. With FastTrack, reports appear in the instructor’s inbox within minutes. The 24-hour turnaround option allows students to resubmit a paper as many times as they wish within a 24-hour window, giving students the ability to correct any errors or omissions that they may have made.

Does Turnitin check against newspaper articles and books to ensure that students have not cut-and-pasted from them?

Yes. The majority of the world's newspapers and periodicals DO reside on the Internet. Manuscripts are checked against these digital sources along with the billions of pages on the Web. Unfortunately, not all literature resides on the Internet. However, if a book was to be placed somewhere on the Internet, Turnitin would be able to detect future instances of its use.

How do you keep from having too many matches for common papers -- for instance, ones dealing with frequently taught material like Hamlet or To Kill a Mockingbird?

Document source analysis is carefully calibrated to eliminate as many trivial matches as possible, while still identifying relevant matching passages. This calibration makes use of extensive analysis of language patterns, word frequencies, and other advanced techniques to minimize "noise" without losing key information.

How are papers uploaded?

The process is simple. Students or faculty log into their Turnitin.com account(s), find the appropriate class(es), and then either: a) "copy-and-paste" their paper into a text box and click "submit," or b) browse for a file (just like an email attachment) and submit it.
Turnitin accepts file uploads in a number of formats, including MS Word, plain text, RTF, PDF and Postscript. If the paper does not already exist in digital format, it can be scanned with OCR software and then uploaded by either of the two above methods. Take a look at Turnitin tutorials and quick starts.

Are uploaded papers treated confidentially?

Yes. The paper will not be released without author or instructor permission.

Is a paper that receives a high similarity rating necessarily plagiarized?

No. Originality Reports are simply tools to help instructors find sources that contain text similar to submitted papers. There are a number of perfectly legitimate reasons for a paper receiving a high similarity rating. For example, a properly cited paper with numerous references may show a high similarity. Likewise, a paper previously submitted to Turnitin by the student for self-checking prior to final submission (if an instructor allows that capability) will show a high similarity. The decision to deem any work “plagiarized” is still left of to the careful judgment of the instructor.

Are there size or length limitations for uploads?

Turnitin has the capacity to accept approximately 10 MB of text (that's a book length size of digital material).

Can a manuscript written over ten years ago be checked for plagiarized material?

Since it was written 10 years ago, there is certainly a chance the material it could be copied from is not online. However, as the Internet's content increases exponentially, the likelihood of not detecting a copied source becomes less and less.

Where can I get support?

Turnitin is a commercial service coordinated for CSULA by the eLearning Programs and Support. Because it is a commercial service, most support will come directly from Turnitin.com. However, learning materials and training can be found with the eLPS staff.

How do I create a profile for integration with Blackboard (WebCT)?

To create a profile, you must have a class ID and an enrollment password. You can get this information from your instructor. Once you finish creating your profile, you can log in to Turnitin.