Plagiarism & TurnItIn

Plagiarism – Department of Political Science Policy on Academic Misconduct

Students taking courses in the Department of Political Science must adhere to the UBC Academic Regulations. The department does not tolerate Academic Misconduct.

Plagiarism is a form of academic misconduct.  To prevent plagiarism, the Department of Political Science now requires that undergraduate papers be submitted to TurnItIn.

We recognise, however, that TurnItIn is unfamiliar to many of you, so this memo describes the service itself, how it is used in courses, and how it fits with the university’s policy on academic misconduct. Some of the material in this memo is adapted from UBC’s TurnItIn website.

To help you avoid plagiarism, please consult Research Help at the UBC Library.

What is TurnItin?

TurnItIn is a web site that checks for the originality of material. The site is used in many universities in North America and the UK. UBC has subscribed to the service for some years now, and since the subscription began all essays submitted in UBC courses have been liable to screening by TurnItIn.

TurnItIn works as follows:

  • Students upload the text of their paper to the TurnItIn website or electronically submit papers to instructors.
  • TurnItIn software scans the paper and reports on originality on a scale from 1 to 5. Using a variety of algorithms, the program compares the paper to material on the Web and in its databases. It will detect copying even if a student replaces up to 50% of the words in a paragraph. Instances of copying are flagged in a report.
  • Faculty use their course code to sign on to the website and review the reports for their students. This involves scanning down a screen where a thumbnail report for each paper appears in 2-3 lines, with a colour-coded graph. More detailed reports for papers with low originality scores can then be studied, including the sources of any passages of text that are flagged as matching the student’s paper. Faculty members can then identify whether material used in a student’s paper is properly cited or not. As the site is password protected, privacy and security are high.

What does it check?

This service scans papers submitted by students for:

  • material copied from public websites
  • papers purchased from paper mills
  • essays/assignments previously or concurrently submitted to Turnitin
  • some published works, e.g. journals

Why does UBC subscribe to this service?

TurnItIn reinforces academic integrity as a core value of the university and responds to a growing concern about a “level playing field” for all students. The primary purpose of the service is to discourage plagiarism to lessen its frequency rather than to produce more cases of disciplinary action.

Can “false positives” be flagged; that is, could my original paper be falsely flagged by the program as potentially problematic?

This is extremely unlikely. TurnItIn does register textual overlap, so almost anything–even your reference list–will trigger an indication. But TurnItIn does not dispose of a case by itself. If a paper seems problematic, the instructor is required to follow standard university procedures for plagiarism (see next question).

What happens if a paper is flagged as potentially of concern?

TurnItIn is only a tool, although a formidably efficient one, for instructors to identify originality or its absence. Low originality scores from TurnItIn alone are not sufficient evidence of plagiarism for the purposes of disciplinary procedures. The instructor who encounters low summary scores will check the detailed record for the paper. In most cases, the paper will show that copied material is properly referenced. If the detailed recorded indicates that plagiarism has occurred, then the instructor will embark on the university’s standard procedures, which have been in place for many more years than TurnItIn has existed. These procedures require a high standard of proof and incorporate many safeguards for students. The existence of TurnItIn affects neither the standards nor the safeguards.

What happens to my assignments when I have submitted them to TurnItIn?

Once submitted to TurnItIn, assignments are simply not accessible to the public. You, as the author, retain ownership of your original material. Your work will be added to TurnItIn’s archive for comparison against subsequently submitted material, thus ensuring that your work is not plagiarised. From this point of view, TurnItIn is actually a protection for you. Should a match be found between subsequently submitted material and your earlier submitted material, TurnItIn will inform the instructor that a match has been found with an archived document, and provide contact information for your instructor. The two instructors will have the option of collaborating to ascertain whether your work has been plagiarised. You should understand that “self-plagiarism” is also deemed to be academic misconduct. Your material will not be released to other TurnItIn subscribers, however, even if such a match is found.