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TurnItIn vs. SafeAssign

May 17, 2009

During the usual semester-end mad dash to finish grading I became dissatisfied with the limits of my university’s plagiarism software. We had been using TurnItIn but mysteriously switched to SafeAssign in the middle of the 2008-9 year. The net result of this change from my end was that I went from finding 2-3 cases of plagiarism per semester to zip, zero, nada. What’s going on here?

Now, it is possible that somehow word has gotten out that I find and punish plagiarists, that I consider academic honesty one of the sacred trusts that academicians have been assigned to guard and protect, that violating this fundamental tenant of Western civilization is tantamount to destruction of society, that plagiarism is letting the terrorists win. But I doubt it.

Rather, I’ve begun suspecting that TurnItIn was just better at catching these kids than SafeAssign. As a philologist, I’ve gotten pretty good at hearing a change in voice. P vs. H; J vs. E, Joe vs. Wikipedia, it’s all about the same. Running some Google searches has turned up some problems this semester that SafeAssign has missed, but still nothing as useful as good old TurnItIn.

Has anyone else noticed this problem?

  1. May 17, 2009 3:33 pm

    I have never used TurnItIn, so I cannot compare it to SafeAssign.

    In my experience, SA is certainly a time saver: it produces plenty of genuine positives, and the “false positives” are easily glanced over and dismissed (usually the matches are either to cited internet sources or to online Bibles).

    That said, I have occasionally found glaring examples of pilfered internet content that SA failed to detect. Like you, I am curious about what gives rise to the error. It is a very small number though. What is more, it almost only comes up with a paper for which SA has already caught examples of plagiarism. (I had one paper that was 97% plagiarized according to SA: I went and found the other 3%!)

    It does sound like you are seeing more SA-missed plagiarism than I have, but I lack the tech skills even to know what questions to ask about causes.

    So, yeah, I am definitely still wearing my own plagiarism glasses, but in an easy, once-over mode.

  2. June 2, 2009 11:48 am

    I teach writing, and this cracked me up: “P vs. H; J vs. E, Joe vs. Wikipedia, it’s all about the same. “

  3. Compared permalink
    October 9, 2009 3:11 am

    Dear James,

    From my knowledge the reason you find the change in the percentage of plagiarism is that your previous papers are on teh Turnitin database and the new ones are on the SafeAssign database.
    This article might help aswell.

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