Can Turnitin be used to provide instant formative feedback?


  • Dr Vivien Rolfe is a principal lecturer at the School of Allied Health Sciences at De Montfort University, Leicester, UK. Her research interests include the use of learning technologies in bioscience education.

Dr Vivien Rolfe, School of Allied Health Sciences, Hawthorn Building, The Gateway, De Montfort University, Leicester LE1 9BH, UK. Email:


New students face the challenge of making a smooth transition between school and university, and with regards to academic practice, there are often gaps between student expectations and university requirements. This study supports the use of the plagiarism detection service Turnitin to give students instant feedback on essays to help improve academic literacy.

A student cohort (n = 76) submitted draft essays to Turnitin and received instruction on how to interpret the ‘originality report’ themselves for feedback. The impact of this self-service approach was analysed by comparing the writing quality and incidence of plagiarism in draft and final essays, and comparing the results to a previous cohort (n = 80) who had not used Turnitin formatively. Student and staff perceptions were explored by interview and questionnaire.

Using Turnitin formatively was viewed positively by staff and students, and although the incidence of plagiarism did not reduce because of a worsening of referencing and citation skills, the approach encouraged students to develop their writing.

To conclude, students were positive of their experience of using Turnitin. Further work is required to understand how to use the self-service approach more effectively to improve referencing and citation, and narrow the gap between student expectations and university standards.