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April 07, 2020

Turnitin and the Delights of Locating Student Papers

Writing about web page https://exchanges.warwick.ac.uk/about/journal-policies

Let’s talk about one of the earliest steps in the editorial journal of a submitted manuscript to our journal. One of the very first things we do for manuscripts submitted to Exchanges is to run them through Turnitin. This tool primarily provides us with an outline check to see if the script has been published elsewhere previously, which alongside breaching the Inglefinger originality rule [1], would also likely contravene another publisher’s legal rights and is to be avoiding. Moreover, it also lets us spot where an author might be running the risk of breaching good scholarly guidelines on the reproduction of someone else’s work as their own. The more closely the text matches with previously disseminated work, the higher the percentage score Turnitin ascribes. It’s not a perfect system, and you cannot rely on the score alone, but it is a very valuable tool for the scholarly editor [2].

Most papers pass through with a fairly low score, although commonly used references within a field can sometimes boost a perfectly legitimate paper’s percentage score by a few points. A handful of submissions though score big, and it’s at this point that I have to do some more investigation. Thankfully, to date under my editorship we’ve not (yet) had any manuscripts which have been clear plagiaristic efforts. Nevertheless, it remains something myself, my editors and reviewers do have to keep a constant, watchful eye out for as part of our quality scrutineering activities.

Some submitted works score highly because they’re making use of attributed quotes, which because they’re taken from or have appeared in prior works are flagged up for attention. A lot of my own published scholarship falls into this category, and I’m acutely aware this means my work would be highlighted in this way. Naturally, provided authors have clearly cited the original work, blocking it out from the main text for long quotes as appropriate, after I’ve read through the Turnitin detailed report, there’s usually little to prevent us from progressing the material towards peer review.

Well, that is, of course if it passes through editorial scrutiny in terms of essential quality. Sending very poor-quality materials to peer reviewers tends to irritate scholars; much as I’d prefer to send everything to review.

However, some submissions don’t use quotations and still shine brightly with very high Turnitin percentages, with the highest I’ve seen scoring 99%! Thankfully, in my experience these high scoring submissions (the 99%er included) tend to be work based on non-formally published student work. For example, essays, thesis or dissertation chapters and even conference talks can commonly cause Turnitin to sound the alert. Like most journals, our policy is ‘Accepted manuscripts will be published on the understanding that they are an original and previously unpublished piece of work’ [3], which we take to mean ‘has not appeared in another published journal or collection’. Where items might have had an earlier digital public existence, like a blog post for example, we expect authors to notify us on submission and we do include a caveat if published to direct readers to the earlier work.

Unlike published papers or blogs though, Turnitin doesn’t have permission to share the text of any identified student papers with us, which creates a state of initial uncertainty as to the author of the prior work. Naturally, if the author is repurposing their own earlier institutionally submitted coursework, this is usually not going to be a problem. We don’t consider student essays for example to be ‘prior publications’ However, we do need to check in case a different person is seeking to pass off someone else’s work as their own.

This is where the ability to request permission to view the matching student work via Turnitin is a valuable additional tool. It helps in identifying if the submitting author, and the student paper author, are one and the same. I only need to use it a few times each year, but it is so helpful when fellow scholars reply and share a requested paper. What has been a relief, is to date, every time I have received access to the student paper, the authors have been perfectly aligned. Great to see people taking good quality work they’ve developed for assessment and converting it into a paper, although by the time it’s passed through review and revision the finally disseminated work will likely be a fair bit more developed.

So, a tip of my hat to all those scholars around the world who’ve responded to my requests, you make my life as an editor and the progress towards publication of your former students an easier one.

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References

[1] Relman, A.S., 1981. The Inglefinger Rule. N Engl J Med, 305, pp. 824-826. DOI: 10.1056/NEJM198110013051408

[2] Turnitin, 2013, 15 Misconceptions About Turnitin. 23 May. https://www.turnitin.com/blog/top-15-misconceptions-about-turnitin

[3] Exchanges, 2020. Journal Policies. https://exchanges.warwick.ac.uk/about/journal-policies


May 30, 2018

Becoming a Peer Reviewer with Exchanges

I contributed to a very enjoyable seminar and workshop yesterday focussing on becoming a peer reviewer, targeted mainly at Warwick's STEM post-graduate researchers (PGRs). As I've been recently updating and re-formatting the guidance Exchanges gives to our peer reviewer community, it was a rather timely opportunity to talk with some emerging scholars about their own reviewing experiences. Alongside this, it was also a great opportunity to hear from some of my Warwick colleagues who are also involved in other journals’ editorial processes and research funding panel review boards. I’ll blog about my reflections from this part of the event, in a subsequent post.

One thing which came out of the event was a reminder that it’s not always obvious how to register with Exchanges as a potential member of our peer review community. Becoming one of our peer reviewers, is a role where we’re keen to recruit any qualified member of the global Academy willing to participate: from professors down to PGRs, all are welcome. At Exchanges, we often tend to use quite experienced reviewers alongside less experienced ones, which in some respects provides the same nurturing development we offer to emerging and new authors who publish with us. I certainly believe early career researchers (ECRs) and PGRs can often be most discerning and insightful reviewers. Their hunger for knowledge and relative freshness of exposure to aspects of the literature, often give them a keen eye for detail along with an excellent breadth of view. Having been peer reviewed by just such a community of newer scholars myself in recent years, I can certainly report the experience was a positive one; even if they didn’t always see eye-to-eye with me on aspects of my particular paper.

All of which leads me to the question: how does one register as a potential peer reviewer on Exchanges? Well, it’s a simple online process [1], as detailed below.

  1. Firstly, go to: https://exchanges.warwick.ac.uk/user/register.
  2. Next, fill in your details and click on the Yes, request the Reviewer role option [2].
  3. Then fill in the box which appears with key words of your area of scholarly interest. How you define this interest might be as broad as engineering, biology or cultural studies. Alternatively, you might want to enter a range of (comma-separated) keywords such as nano-scale processes, electrical engineering, materials science.
  4. Then finish off the required information on the form and finally click Register.

Congratulations! You’ve just joined the Exchanges peer reviewer community[3]. When we get papers which are in your potential area, myself or one of my Editorial Board will then get in touch to discuss a potential reviewing assignment. And believe me when I say, we’ll be very grateful for your contribution to maintaining Exchanges’ quality assurance and academic standards.

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[1] You might want to speak to one of my Editorial Board or myself, initially, to get some more background on what the role entails.

[2] Privacy notice: The Editorial Board will only use these personal details to contact you about new publications which you may wish to review for us, or to notify you of journal publication related announcements. We certainly treat any information you provide in confidence and do not share it with other organisations.

[3] Before we use peer reviewers the first time, the Editorial Board will review applicants, to confirm they are scholars. Hence, don’t be surprised if we follow up with you ahead of any reviewing assignments to ask for some verification of your status.


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