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RNJ Corner: iThenticate, a plagiarism detection software

Each submitted manuscript to RNJ is processed through iThenticate, a plagiarism detection software. As the editor, I receive the manuscript as well as a percentage score from iThenticate (1-100%).iThenticate calls the score and accompanying phrases a 'similarity report'. The software compares the submitted manuscript with a database of web pages - 70 billion active and archived ones; works from scholarly publishers representing every discipline from online and offline content - 90 million (including PubMed/Medline, EBSCOhost, and a host of others); newspapers magazines, encyclopedias, periodicals and books – 170 million; and 300,000 theses and dissertations that are available through ProQuest. The result (percentage) measures to what extent the submitted manuscript matches writing from previously existing sources. The software then highlights the phrases that match the text in an existing source and provides links to those sources. iThenticate and Turnitin are part of a parent company called iParadigm. Turnitin is similar to iThenticate in that it searches the same sources, but in addition, searches 1 billion student papers.

A lower percentage indicates that most of the manuscript is original, while a higher percentage indicates that much of the content matches content found in other sources. The iThenticate website does not identify what a 'safe' percentage is, as the percentage, in and of itself, cannot fully evaluate whether the text has been taken from another source. Although the percentage score is very helpful in identifying potential plagiarism or self-plagiarism issues, one must look carefully at the phrases that have been highlighted. For instance, there are a number of research manuscripts that might use the same phrases. For example, the phrase "this retrospective design study was carried out in an in-patient rehabilitation facility" could show up in many rehab-focused journals. Replace the words retrospective design with randomized controlled trial, quasi-experimental or other design. These are common phrases in research articles and thus would show up as a match with many articles. Obviously, those phrases aren't problematic or seen as plagiarism. However, if similar content, more than a phrase or a sentence, shows up as a match, there could be a problem. Typically what I have seen is that if there is a match or two in the first couple of pages, there will be more 'similar' phrases continuing throughout the paper. Again, as mentioned previously, the similar phrase is linked to a source so it is easy to compare phrases and sentences. At times with a high score of 40-60%, it becomes apparent early on that there are problems with a manuscript. As I enter my 3rd year of being the editor of RNJ, I've seen three manuscripts with evidence of plagiarism or self-plagiarism. Each manuscript was returned to the author with a letter explaining the situation that the iThenticate score of the manuscript suggested that some of the content may not be the author's own work.

If you would like more information, please watch the iThentiacte demo.

Pamala D. Larsen, Editor

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