As you may know, Turnitin can be described as an electronic text matching system that compares text in a student assignment against a database of sources. Once compared and processed, the system generates an originality report in which ‘matched’ text is underlined and colour coded. These indicators are then linked to either the original source or a similar document on Turnitin’s database. As a result, Turnitin also gives an indication of the proportion of the submitted work that matches other sources.

So, while many would refer to using Turnitin as a plagiarism detection tool, it is not actually detecting plagiarism as such. When used correctly – Turnitin flags articles that have a large portion of text that is similar to what is already published. It is then up to the moderator or lecturer to investigate whether the academic work is indeed plagiarised.

Turnitin as a time-saving tool

In South Africa (and in the world) there has been what is called a ‘massification’ of education. High student enrolment as part of the motivation for students to build a better future for themselves. The high numbers in classes impact the teaching and learning space. This means less contact time with students, leading to a compromise on quality assurance (Mahabeer and Pirtheepal, 2019). The large numbers of students in the classroom often lead to a lecturer who is overwhelmed with the volume of assignments that need to be marked. With the help of Turnitin flagging similarity, students are forced to review and amend articles that do not score well. When used correctly, this can contribute to quality control and more refined assignments being handed in. Consequently, the lecturers’ assessment load is lifted.

Turnitin as a teaching tool

The sentiment of students is often that Turnitin instils fear – acting as a policing that is out to get the student. When in fact, Turnitin as a tool can actually benefit both the student and the institution. Recent studies have shown that many students in South Africa plagiarise because they are not well equipped to write academically. Often language barriers play a larger role. Often students in fact commit plagiarism unintentionally, simply because they do not know how to cite and report the ideas of others in academic writing.

This is where Turnitin can benefit students and institutions. If used as a teaching tool, Turnitin’s reports can contribute to enhancing students’ writing skills, building their confidence and in the long run reduce pressure and anxiety when it comes to submitting work.


Diagram 2 (Source: Rogerson, 2014)

Turnitin as a creator of a culture of integrity

It is this system of reviewing, amending and uploading that helps a student to improve on their writing abilities. Students also become aware of the difference between arguing their own, original ‘case’, supported by other authors’ reasoning – as opposed to writing an article that is filled with the opinions of others. Learning what plagiarism entails and building confidence while developing a specific writing style, students learn to reap the rewards of original writing. This is the ultimate benefit of Turnitin as a tool for preventing plagiarism. Not catching out students, but rather creating a culture of academic integrity through its processes.

Is your institution already using Turnitin? If not, and you would like to find out more, please get in touch with us for an obligation free demo. Work towards a culture of Academic Integrity, starting today!

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Sources consulted:

Rogerson, A. 2014.‘Turnitin Overview’ PowerPoint presentation, University of Wollongong, viewed 27 October 2014.

Mahabeer, P and Pirtheepal T. 2019. Assessment, plagiarism and its effect on academic integrity: Experiences of academics at a university in South Africa. S Afr J Sci. 2019;115(11/12), Art. #6323, 8 pages. sajs.2019/6323