Contradictions in Terms (and Use)

Examining contradictory assumptions and language across the different sites sponsored by iParadigms, LLC (which include,,, and Turnitin for Admissions, among others) additionally showcases how iParadigms carefully constructs varying personae based on its assumed audience, what Trimbur (1991) noted as the mastery (rhetorically, if not actually) of cultural anxieties, relationships, and conflicts between groups (p. 286). Note the varying audiences and values embedded in iParadigms’ descriptions of its services:

Turnitin’s OriginalityCheck is software to “check students’ work for improper citation or potential plagiarism”

Turnitin for Admissions offers “plagiarism detection for admissions offices [that] helps schools admit the right candidates” (emphasis mine)

iThenticate is “the leading provider of professional plagiarism detection and prevention technology used [to] prevent misconduct”

WriteCheck “helps students become better writers by identifying grammar errors and unoriginal content in written work. WriteCheck was developed with the guidance and input of instructors who saw the need for a simple service to help students identify and correct writing mistakes in a formative manner.”

All of these services are offered by iParadigms, LLC, but each highlights a different aspect of its services and thereby reinforces the cultural anxieties of the intended user group and the relationships between the individuals who make up the matrix of power within which the product is enmeshed. For example, Turnitin, the most well-known of the four services offered by iParadigms, is careful to describe itself not as a plagiarism detection service (though colloquially and in practice that is indeed its role) but instead explains its role as a means of checking for unoriginality or potential plagiarism. Given the spate of past lawsuits from students wary of uploading their intellectual property to Turnitin’s extensive databases, the site is savvy in downplaying the plagiarism detection aspect of its product, instead reassuring nervous students that it merely checks for improper citation or potential plagiarism.

In contrast, both Turnitin for Admissions and iThenticate forthrightly describe their use as plagiarism detection. Identifying their intended audience members—admissions counselors, members of journal review boards, and so on—as professionals with a gatekeeping role, Turnitin for Admissions and iThenticate verify the authenticity (read: the original authorship) of the materials submitted. These services thereby reinforce power differentials by noting that their use allows schools to admit the “right” candidates and publishers to prevent misconduct in research. As with other branches of the iParadigms empire, iThenticate's website establishes its message in part through user testimonials. Unlike the heavy focus on plagiarism or the attention to spelling and grammar that Turnitin and WriteCheck, respectively, showcase, iThenticate narrows in on research misconduct and, intriguingly, what it calls "self-plagiarism." In a white paper on the subject, iThenticate attempts to define self-plagiarism while also admitting that the concept itself is controversial: "While the discussion continues on whether self-plagiarism is possible, the ethical issue of self-plagiarism is significant, especially because self-plagiarism can infringe upon a publisher’s copyright" ("iThenticate White Paper," n.d., p. 1). Unlike, where plagiarism is constructed as a moral issue akin to stealing, iThenticate poses the idea of self-plagiarism as one caught up in capitalistic understandings of writing as property. iThenticate also offers problematic discussions of non-native English speakers/authors in its discussions of self-plagiarism, with testimonials that tout "re-education of researchers in emerging countries" for authors with "a poor grasp of English." This attitude implies that Western understandings of plagiarism are correct and remediation is necessary for those who fail to comply.

Example of problematic discussion of non English speakers

WriteCheck for Students appears as an outlier when compared to the previous spaces; its friendly, reassuring tone describes how the service will provide a similarity score (rather than an originality check, deemphasizing the role of originality) and will offer feedback and explanations on spelling, style, grammar, mechanics and usage errors, all elements that are familiar and non-threatening if a student has taken a modern composition class before. WriteCheck even provides what they call a Writing Center with resources and best practices to help students write their papers and links to the International Writing Centers Association, providing a claim to ethos that is not reciprocated on the IWCA’s site. Similarly, WriteCheck develops its ethos through associations with unnamed instructors who played a role in its development; given that WriteCheck speaks largely to a student audience, the reassurance that instructors held a role in its development can assuage anxious students' fears. It also differentiates itself from other plagiarism detection services by noting that it does not harvest student works for resale in paper mill sites; instead, it "uses the power of Turnitin to supply students with a report that highlights text matches found in our extensive database" ("Turnitin: Products: WriteCheck for Students," 2012). WriteCheck therefore asserts its value for students through unsubstantiated claims about its authenticity (created with the guidance of instructors), its power ("the power of Turnitin"), and its honesty (unlike others, we don't resell your work).

Throughout each site, messages are presented that rely on particular ideological constructions concerning authorship, misconduct, and relationships between individuals and groups. Examining the nature of these messages through a critical lens allows us to break through the advertisements and more carefully consider whether the values these sites uphold mesh with our own.

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