The internet is all a-buzz with the latest scandal to involve the ever-entertaining Donald Trump presidential campaign, this time involving his wife’s first major appearance. Slovenian-native and third wife to the Republican hopeful, Melania Trump spoke at the largest party event, the Republican National Convention, showing off both her support for her husband and her likeability to those who would put her in the First Lady seat.
As most of the people on the planet now know, her speech was plagiarized from one made by current First Lady Michelle Obama back in 2008. Entire paragraphs were quoted, with whole strings of phrases copied verbatim. The comparison has been made available by countless news outlets, and more than a few top-notch professors have already stated the amount of copied content would have gotten her an automatic failing grade for the course in their classrooms due to the blatant plagiarism.
If only Mrs. Trump had known about TurnItIn.com…
Ina Fried of Recode.com first made the connection for the hapless speech giver by tweeting an offer of this technological lifeline while the airwaves were still reverberating with the copied words. TurnItIn is (on the surface) a Grammarly-type tool with a focus on making sure you don’t “inadvertently” copy someone else’s brilliant thoughts, as the Trump campaign first tried to state (apparently, Melania is such a brilliant mind, that it’s only natural she would write something as profound as the work of a Princeton and Harvard-educated attorney like Michelle Obama, or so they claimed). It’s far more extensive than that and has serious implications in scientific publication, for example, but the basic function is to help ensure you don’t help yourself to someone else’s body of work.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking the function of TurnItIn is just to avoid passing off someone else’s work as your own and getting away with it; in fact, the opposite is true. It’s quite a viable tool, especially if your professor is on the more stickler-end of the spectrum. With educators swaying so far with the pendulum–from “try to source it if you can” to “don’t even use an old cliche in your writing because cliches are inherently plagiarized thoughts”–it would serve students well to run a check before submitting any work that affects your college career.
Be warned: TurnItIn is a subscription-based service that makes life easier for faculty members, not students. It will weed out several types of plagiarism, from the blatant word-for-word to simple rewording of others’ works in order to squeak by without stealing it word-for-word. Many a last-minute student has been guilty of this method of plagiarism, and TurnItIn lets your professor call you on it.
Recode did have some important advice for students hoping to avoid career-ending accusations. While there are other services that individuals can use, like Grammarly, free sites will not necessarily save you since they’re searching for existing strings of complete wording, not “close to the original” wording. If there’s ever any question that your work could be too-heavily-influenced by someone else’s, invest in some software that will let you know before a disciplinary board does it for you.