Turnitin plagiarism software can be beaten with technical tricks


I haven’t blogged in ages, sorry. It’s been hectic with essays and the dissertation so finding the time has been hard. However, I read this interesting piece on the Turnitin plagiarism scanner used by most universities in the UK. Basically, with a few easily learnt technical tricks, you can fool the scan!

I don’t really panic about the Turnitin scan my essays get at university because I know I wrote them myself, what are the chances of someone writing in exactly the same way and about the same subject, not high I’m thinking. When I first heard about these plagiarism scans I did think it might be a good idea to scan my essays before handing them in. However, Turnitin charge and I was damned if I was paying. I ended up using a free plagiarism scanner called Viper which seemed to do a fairly good job. After a while though I stopped bothering, I figured I know it is not plagiarised and that’s good enough for me, if Turnitin decides it is, I’ll be interested to see why!

As for tricking the system, that’s all well and good, but what’s the point? Whatever you have plagiarised stands a good chance of being spotted by your lecturer anyway, they do read quite a bit around their subjects you know! If you can be bothered to trick the scan, just do the essay is my thinking.

I think a bigger problem for the universities and these scanners are the essay writers, like those at ukessays.com. These guys will simply write your essay for you, they even say they will run it through their plagiarism scanner so you know it isn’t plagiarised! How do the scanners and universities deal with that? Not easily I’m guessing. You have to rely on the students’ good conscience. Remember, not all students are trying to cheat, some want to learn 🙂

4 Replies to “Turnitin plagiarism software can be beaten with technical tricks”

  1. Are you aware that Viper was started by an ‘essay writing service’, and that this suggests that Viper is indeed a harvesting tool. Essays submitted for checking to one service may be resold to those using the other.

  2. Hi Martin, yes I read this in the comments of the Times article. I’ve had a look and yes, Viper is associated with http://www.allanswers.co.uk (an essay writing company) in some way. In fact, it looks to me like they have responded to your very point in the comments section of the Times article (see the comment from Jen, is she from All Answers?).

    Whilst I’m not defending them, their software is free (a big decision factor for students). Also, it seems to me that these companies say they sell custom written essays, if they just resold other people’s essays wouldn’t it quickly get back that all their essays are plagiarised as they are caught by Turnitin? Once the student that wrote the piece scanned by Viper handed the work in, it would be scanned and indexed by Turnitin, then if it was sold on and handed in again, wouldn’t it immediately be flagged as plagiarised? I could be totally wrong of course and all my essays are now being sold across the web 🙁 Have you thought of contacting the company direct and asking them, could be interesting?

    • Fair enough, they probably all use a glorified Google/Bing search anyway. You can’t get cheaper than checking yourself in Google 🙂 I guess you just take an extract and paste it in to see what you get, good idea!

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