Home Page

Section 2 Becoming a Researcher/Scholar / Chapter 8 Reviewing and Improving Writing

Plagiarism is often referred to as stealing the written words and ideas of another and passing these words and ideas off as belonging to the current author.

5. Turnitin and Plagiarism


Plagiarism is a tricky subject for new learners and one that requires diligence to address as revisions occur. In simplest terms, plagiarism is the act of copying someone else’s thoughts, ideas, and writings, and in some manner, whether directly or indirectly, indicating that those thoughts, ideas, and writings are the learner's own. Plagiarism is often referred to as stealing the written words and ideas of another and passing these words and ideas off as belonging to the current author. Federal copyright law and state statutes have attempted to address plagiarism by assigning ownership to the original author. This classification often appears vague, thus highlighting the current storm of plagiarism issues. Only high-profile instances of plagiarism seem to make it into the court system and with only a few violators being held accountable through this venue.


It is left up to the learner to hold high ethical standards, screen his or her own writing for plagiarism, apply appropriate formatting to avoid the perception of plagiarism, and continually monitor the appropriate regulations and laws for any additional limitations in order to avoid plagiarism and the corresponding ethical issues resulting from plagiarism. Although new information regarding the types of plagiarism and outcomes of plagiarism issues dispel the previous one-size-fits-all mentality for the penalties of plagiarism, many new learners find that their professional integrity and ethical presences are tested with even minor-level plagiarism issues.


With plagiarism on the rise over the past several years, studies have been conducted to address the differing types of plagiarism. The Plagiarism Spectrum (Turnitin.com, 2012) study, conducted by one plagiarism software company, found there were several types or levels of student plagiarism. In this study 879 secondary and higher education instructors were surveyed regarding different types and levels of plagiarism. The results were defined as 10 descriptive levels of plagiarism and the severity of each. Of the ten descriptive levels, new learners may find that the struggle is most likely with these four:


• Cloning—copying word for word. This might consist of using the exact wording written by another author or copying and pasting a sentence, paragraph, etc. into the learners own work.


• Remixing—improper paraphrasing. Learners who change or swap a word or several words within a phrase or a sentence, such as by using a thesaurus, which captures exactly the same meaning of these words, will find this to be a plagiarism issue under this description.


• Mashup—many source quotes mixed together. An example of a mashup might be the intermingling and blending of phrases from several sources to create a sentence or paragraph.


• Hybrid—including the source in the references section but omitting the in-text citations. Since the references listed under APA style are an extension of the citations within the content, all citations must be listed in the reference list and all items listed in the references list must be represented with a citation.  (American Psychological Association, 2009, p. 174).


Learners who are familiar with all 10 levels of the spectrum and are able to recognize the levels in their own writing will be better equipped to address and eliminate all plagiarism from drafts. The Plagiarism Spectrum is just one tool that can be used effectively in combatting even simple plagiarism.


Style manuals can also be applicable in preventing plagiarism (Galvan, 2006). The APA manual addresses various types of plagiarism through citation and referencing examples. The APA manual sets a high standard for both quality and formatting. Consistent use of APA formatting provides reliability and a sense of trust in the writing. Formatting can address plagiarism by ensuring that the original author is given credit and allows learners to better understand and locate primary and secondary sources cited in other sources. Learners who refer to and understand the APA manual can avoid most common plagiarism issues.


Another tool that learners can utilize to help locate, define, and eliminate plagiarism at any level is a plagiarism software program. Programs, such as SafeAssign, Grammarly, or Turnitin (TII) are effective in both pinpointing plagiarism issues and guiding learners in areas that need revision. TII submission is required for all doctoral course assignments and provides information regarding the direct phrase that has been plagiarized, the source or website where these phrases can be located, and a percentage from one location and total percentage compared to the word count.  Phrases that are over-used or have become cliché are sometimes identified, and learners should steer away from utilizing these type of phrases. References lists, citations, and quotes may also pose an issue within the reported TII percentage and learners will want to discuss TII percentages and options for addressing TII issues with their chair early in the process to avoid any challenges or issues a high TII report score might present. Reviewing the TII component and incorporating the chair’s preferred policy will be advantageous to a smooth and timely completion of the dissertation process.


Learners who use citation tools should be cautious because many of these tools do not align properly with the current APA manual. This may lead learners to make formatting and plagiarism errors. When using TII or other software to avoid plagiarism, learners should discuss TII report expectations with the instructor or chair, submit assignments and papers to TII early, thoroughly review the TII report for areas to revise or improve, and revise the draft accordingly before submitting.