Turnitin users and non-users: Google to the rescue!

Plagiarism sleuths: don’t throw Google out with the bathwater just yet.

I’ve gotten feedback from instructors about their use of Google to detect student paper plagiarism (pasting in some parts of a student paper into Google may identify the Web pages the text came from).

My stance about Google for plagiarism detection has been, Well, now that we’ve got Turnitin, the proprietary Web-based plagiarism detection service, we won’t need Google anymore  (and that’s how instructors probably view this modern marvel called Turnitin).


Several instructors have told me they used Google to catch plagiarism that Turnitin missed.

Wow, is that an eye opener. Turnitin is not perfect? Turnitin is not everything it’s cracked up to be?

Well, yes.

Why? What gives? Well, let’s cut to the chase. Here’s an excerpt from an economics professor’s blog that I found, yes, by googling:

…teachers might think, “I’m using Turnitin, so I don’t have to watch out for plagiarists.”  The instructor quoted on Turnitin’s website certainly thinks so, implicitly arguing that Turnitin is a perfect substitute for her own investigations using Google.  Not surprisingly, Turnitin encourages this belief.  On its website—right next to her quote—Turnitin advertises that it has crawled and indexed “14+ billion web pages.”  Choosing between Turnitin and instructor investigations seems like a no-brainer.

But wait, how many web pages are there on the Internet?

A few years ago, Google announced that it had crawled and indexed a trillion web pages.  That makes TurnItIn’s crawlers look puny, having searched and indexed only 1.4 percent as much of the Internet as Google’s.

I’m not here to debunk Turnitin—I’m one of its strongest supporters. But we have to be realistic that no single tool is perfect or infallible. I teach this to students about information literacy—trust, but verify the information you find. Take everything, no matter how authoritative, with a grain of salt.

Instructors who use Turnitin should consider it just one gadget in their toolbox.

Google is a good supplement to Turnitin, or, for those who don’t use Turnitin, a useful tool by itself. Remember, though, that Google will identify lots of text from Web pages, but little or nothing from periodical articles and books. Thus Google is incomplete without Turnitin. And vice versa.

And even Google is not all-encompassing. No single search engine can index the entire vastness of the Internet. That’s why, along with Google, the savvy plagiarism sleuth will use other search engines—such as Bing, Yahoo!, and Yippy.

I might also mention some free “plagiarism checkers” that can be useful: Dustball and Plagium.

These free tools are useful not just for teachers, but also for students who wish to check their work before they turn it in.


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February 4, 2012 · 7:51 pm

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