With Turnitin being on the market for over 15 years now, there’s no wonder that the software is known almost to everybody in the field of education. However, new plagiarism detection tools do emerge and strive for progress taking into account all drawbacks of the experienced market leaders.
Thus, in 2014 another alternative was launched. It’s Unplag. In contrast to Turnitin, Unplag is positioned as an online plagiarism detection service with possibilities for customization and on demand features development.
Nevertheless they both belong to the same niche and have a number of similar basic features, there are still many things that differ them. Here the functionality developed for educational institutions will be compared, since Turnitin is for corporate use only.
So, read on to learn how accurately they check papers for text matches, which interface is more user-friendly, how smoothly they can integrate with LMSs, and many more other details.
Who are Turnitin and Unplag for?
Both checkers are primarily designed to fit in with the needs of academic institutions. However, unlike Turnitin, Unplag is also available for personal use and is gaining in popularity among individual users including writers, educators and students.
Turnitin and Unplag exist as online standalone solutions, plugins and LTI apps. There are a few common LMSs the checkers can integrate with like Canvas, Moodle, Sakai and Blackboard. Additionally, they suggest using their APIs. However, in some LMSs (like Canvas) Turnitin switches over from API to LTI, which is making users grow increasingly discontent due to numerous bugs. The latter will be featured in the paragraph about integrations.
What databases are checked?
Turnitin scans through offline repositories with thousands of academic journals and publications as well as a local repository with already submitted student papers. It also checks papers across the internet (including archived data) and has its own web crawler which collects information about already indexed online sources. However, if students lift just published materials online, the tool often fails to show accurate similarity percentage. Sadly, the overall quality of the internet checks is weak, since not all the matches are spotted.
Currently, Unplag doesn’t have such a vast offline academic database. Still, the Unplag team keeps on creating a database with open access repositories and archives (which is not supported by Turnitin). The process does take time, since there are about 3,000 open access academic repositories and their number is increasing. Besides, publishing houses are gradually becoming part of open access repositories, which means that Unplag’s database may get a lot larger.
What sets Unplag apart is its possibility to check papers across online sources in real time. Thus, even if a student has just copy-pasted a passage from the news posted an hour ago, Unplag is able to detect the match. Real-time checks also let users get more relevant list of matching sources without outdated information or broken links. In addition, Unplag allows academic institutions to scan across their own databases and compare documents or folders against one another.
How the text matches are shown?
Turnitin and Unplag highlight similarities and list all matching sources after each check is completed. They are sorted from highest to lowest similarity index, which is convenient.
Turnitin spots all text matches with different colors and numbers (each of them corresponds to a certain source from the list), but it doesn’t detect citations and references unless instructor enables these options. Once activated, Turnitin notifies users that any text inside a quote can be omitted and provides a new report with updated plagiarism percentage. It means that citation and reference exclusion isn’t accurate. What does it mean for an educator? Obviously, s/he will need to look through all the cited material on his/her own.
Unplag highlights text similarities, citations, and references in different colors after this option is activated. If quotations and references are properly formatted, they won’t be considered plagiarism. The tool proved to spot them more precisely than Turnitin. Unplag allows excluding each matching source from search results and immediately updates plagiarism and originality indexes. All the excluded sources will be then listed in a separate section in the report.
Both checkers let users comment on the checked paper (instructors are allowed to do this), and download reports in .pdf with no changes in formatting.
Which checker is more user-friendly?
Turnitin is far more complicated for users to handle than Unplag. Since the date of its launch, Turnitin has extended its functionality a lot and evolved into a mini-LMS with its own grading, revision, and peer-review modules. Though the truth is that academic institutions don’t require the full range of options offered by Turnitin, since LMS has its own functionality for grading student papers, creating assignments, exchanging feedback with them, etc. But Turnitin’s users have no other way out, but to pay for the wide range of features.
Unplag has been upgraded much since the day of its official launch. But it cannot boast about having such an extended list of features. The biggest efforts were made to improve the quality of plagiarism checks, enhance reports, and ensure security of users. Unplag claims not to store full text documents in its internal database like Turnitin.
There are some features the tools share. Users can adjust search settings by omitting sources with minor text matches, upload documents from GoogleDrive and DropBox or check .zip files for plagiarism.
The checkers both support a resubmission option (instructors should enable it first), however Turnitin often fails to recognize resubmitted paper and shows 100 percent matched content with the previously submitted one. With Unplag, no similar issues occur.
Which checker can integrate smoothly?
Turnitin suggests integrating its tool mostly via LTI which isn’t fully compatible with LMS native functionality and has numerous bugs that aren’t fixed immediately. Thus, there are lots of user complaints in Canvas community saying that Turnitin switch over to LTI makes educator-student workflow complex. As of January 2017, Turnitin users in Canvas keep finding new bugs including issues with assignment dates, already submitted works (if papers are submitted prior to enabling LTI, all the works will be lost), or creating new courses (this action requires a user to copy a course and only then create a new one), and so on and so forth.
With integrations through API and LTI Unplag seems to be working way more efficiently than Turnitin. Since it uses cloud-based technologies, all newly released updates become immediately accessible to all the Unplag current users without extra costs and setup. Unplag aims at making the workflow simple and quick. Thus, it has already rolled out on demand checks which allow Canvas users to run scans without creating assignments (it’s given for free to all corporate users).
Wrapping it all up
New alternatives to existing tools are always worth trying, since the bigger the company is, the less time is dedicated to its clients and their needs. The same is true about Turnitin. Its users in the Canvas community repeatedly complained about not receiving feedback in time.
The Unplag team tries not to repeat the same mistakes and quickly responds to users’ questions or suggestions. Of course, presently Unplag lacks such features as online editing or grammar checking, but its initial goal is to help users spot and avoid plagiarism, which is done efficiently.