Ideas for formative use of Turnitin

Suggested practice

Studies show that Turnitin (Tii) is best used formatively with tutor support and in conjunction with other methods of teaching academic writing (Emerson et al, 2005; Cheah and Bretag, 2008; Davis and Carroll, 2009). Tii alone cannot teach students how to punctuate or embed quotations, how to reference, paraphrase, synthesise or comment on source texts. Tii is useful in highlighting copied text, but human judgement is needed to evaluate whether such copying is (in)appropriate.

A 2012 pilot study involving 748 LSSC level 6 project students found that students were more likely to access Turntin as a learning tool when this was built into a module (as opposed to free-standing optional workshops), and either compulsory or closely related to a summative assessment (Bailey and Challen, 2015 (


Experience also shows that allowing students to see their Originality Reports before they have been trained in interpreting these may cause anxiety and misunderstanding. The best time to explain to novice users how to interpret their OR is at or shortly before the first time they view one. This could be done in a tutorial (looking at the student’s own OR) or in a seminar/lecture (looking at a range of samples). The page on interpreting Turnitin Originality Reports addresses most of the questions students tend to ask.

One common objection to allowing students formative access to Tii is that this will make them ‘better cheats’. Apart from the fact that this presupposes an intention to cheat on the part of students, there is little evidence to support the assumption (Wright et al, 2008; Culwin et al, 2008). However, the 2012 LSSC pilot study showed that, when allowed multiple upload opportunities, a small minority of students had excessive recourse to the software. For this reason we recommend that you allow one upload opportunity per formative Turnitin enabled assignment.

In addition to the text matching ORs, Tii has some very useful teaching tools. GradeMark allows tutors to provide feedback directly online, without downloading/uploading assignments. There are some ready-made feedback shortcuts, or you can create your own. PeerMark facilitates anonymised peer review of draft assignments. Click on the link for GradeMark, GradeBook and Canvas Peer Review help and guidance. 

In addition to the text matching ORs, Canvas has some very useful teaching tools. SpeedGrader allows tutors to provide feedback directly online, without downloading/uploading assignments. Peer Review facilitates anonymised peer review of draft assignments. Click on the link for SpeedGrader and Peer Review help and guidance. 

Some suggestions for ways you might use Tii formatively on your modules

1.  Require students to submit a short formative task, early in the semester. Feedback could be given individually in tutorials/online, or en masse in seminars/lectures.

Example tasks include:

  • paraphrase and comment on an extract from a set text
  • summarise and comment on an extract from a set text
  • compare and comment on two set texts, using paraphrase/summary/quotations to support your points
  • synthesise and comment on three or more set texts

If you’re working with set texts, make sure they are in the Tii database first. If they’re not, don’t upload them yourself – this would constitute breach of copyright (unless you are the author). Instead please contact CoLT who will ask staff at the Tii Helpdesk to index the required content on your behalf.

With more advanced students, you could ask them to conduct a mini literature review of recently published material, on a set topic/negotiated topic/topic of their choice. It’s possible that the texts students choose to work with may not be in the Tii database. If so, in the case of inappropriate source use you will need to use ‘traditional’ methods such as Google Advanced search to identify the source and establish the degree of copying.

2.  Require students to submit a draft assignment (some time prior to final submission) through Tii. Feedback could be given individually in tutorials/online, or en masse in seminars/lectures, looking at a range of samples. Feedback could focus on one or more of the following: content, argumentation/structure, language, and academic literacy.

When setting a draft upload deadline, consider how much time students will need to revise their work if the draft upload reveals a high proportion of inappropriately copied text. This will depend on the length and level of the assignment. On the other hand, experience shows that students tend to work close to the final deadline, and may not take advantage of a draft upload opportunity if this is set too early

3.  Require students to provide anonymised feedback on each other’s draft assignments, using the PeerMark tool. We haven’t trialled this yet in Wolverhampton, but see Ledwith and Risquez (2008) for an example. This helps students to reflect on the assessment criteria and improve their own/each other’s work prior to the final deadline.

However you decide to use Tii formatively with your students, it is important to check with your school Academic Misconduct Coordinator that your use adheres to School/Institute and University policy. Otherwise you may be laying yourself (and the University) open to complaints and litigation. It is important to ensure that use of Tii is fair and consistent across the institution.


For details of the references above, and further reading on formative use of Tii, see the References section.