It was original I tell you, it was…

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Photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash

A story of a personal perspective and recollection.

With the imminent release of AI detection tools within Turnitin, I am reminded of an incident over ten years ago after we introduced a plagiarism checker tool into the college I worked at. I was responsible for a lot of the initial training in the tool. For each training session I would create three pieces of content to be put into the tool to check for originality. One was a straight copy of something from the web, usually a blog post of mine, or wikipedia. The second was an original piece would contain (and correctly) quote third party content. For the third piece I would always create a new original piece of content.

So, there I was delivering the training and I put the first piece into the plagiarism checker tool. It straight away identified that this was copied from the web, and showed the original source.

The second piece went in, again it identified there was non-original content in the submission. However I used this piece to demonstrate the limitations of the tool, as the academic would need to check the submission themselves. They would then see that no plagiarism had taken place.

I always had to create a new piece of content for the third (original) submission so that it would be identified as original.

However one time I did this, the plagiarism checker tool, identified the third original submission has having been copied. I was astounded, as I knew I had only written it that morning.

Upon further investigation I found out what had happened. The originality report indicated that my original piece of work had been “copied” from a university website. Well I hadn’t done that I had written it that morning.


Doing some more Google searching, what I found out, was that the university did indeed have some content on their website. They had in fact “lifted” it from an article I had written a few years previously.

So what had happened was that. Back in the 2000s I had written an original piece of content. The university had taken and used that content.

I in the 2010s had then written an original piece of content, well so original that it was very similar the content I had written years earlier. Obviously I based my new original writing on something I had forgotten I had written about before. 

Putting this “new” content into the plagiarism checker tool resulted in the “new” work been seen as a copy of the earlier work. The plagiarism checker tool only checked originality, so didn’t know (or realise) that the university had copied me. The plagiarism checker tool doesn’t tell you the source.

The key lesson here though was that the plagiarism checker tool was insufficient on its own. It only told part of the narrative. Further investigation was needed and further checking was required to get to the actual truth, and not the perceived truth of the plagiarism checker tool.

What does this mean? Well if your plagiarism checker tool has AI detection in, then you will need to recognise that whatever the plagiarism checker tool tells you, this isn’t the end of the story, it is only the beginning.

The other thing I learnt was that I needed to be more creative in my writing going forward…

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