Why I Won’t Use TurnItIn to Check My PhD Thesis
Travis Holland
636

Cloud legalese aside, as a professor (who has no affiliation with Turnitin other than having done a trial at my university), I see many benefits to students and to universities:

  • Turnitin detects similarities, which is not yet plagiarism. At my university, it’s plagiarism only when the re-used material is not properly cited and it’s been submitted.
  • The way we’ve considered its use at my university, Turnitin gives you the student a chance to correct any issues it finds before your advisor or defense committee sees them. This is to everyone’s advantage. Turnitin can do a better job than I or even you (who was probably sleep-deprived and under pressure) in checking for problems with re-used content. Without Turnitin, I (and probably you, if you had the energy) would still check portions of the text using Google. It’s not efficient. When I find true plagiarism after you’ve submitted, I’m annoyed for obvious reasons. I hate the discipline committee process, or even having to tell a colleague I think his/her student plagiarized some parts. But it’s unfortunately necessary because our reputation (professors, university’s, etc.) will suffer if we let the plagiarism go. With a tool like Turnitin, we’re all able to devote more time to the quality of the dissertation and research.
  • If someone doesn’t check it thoroughly before your defense, someone will likely be checking it thoroughly after, when Google (or some other academic database) indexes the dissertation. Just ask Monica Crowley or her defense committee members how they feel about the issue. Her dissertation is from 2000 and was on microfilm indexed by ProQuest, according to Politico. Had Turnitin existed in her institution, all the yellow you see below would have shown up to her in a Turnitin report before she submitted, and surely she would have corrected it! This is just a partial screen grab:
Screen grab from http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/01/monica-crowley-plagiarism-phd-dissertation-columbia-214612 (used without permission).
  • All the efforts in place to prevent plagiarism at my and other universities (providing workshops on how to cite sources properly, publicizing the sanctions for academic dishonesty, making students sign integrity contracts, etc.) have much less effect than the cold, hard results provided by a ruthless search algorithm. Again, with Turnitin (or similar models), students can get this before they submit their work. They take ownership of their issues before they become plagiarism.
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