Managing Advisors' Expectations


Negotiating About Your Turnitin Score

Advisors sometimes have misconceptions of what Turnitin does. Here is what the official Turnitin site says:  "Turnitin does not determine plagiarism. The Overall Similarity Index is a measure of the percentage of the paper that the system was able to find matching text for, regardless of whether or not the text was properly cited. The determination and adjudication of proper citation and plagiarism are left solely up to the instructor." See

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The Turnitin report, if it shows a high similarity index, should not be a cause for alarm. The report is most useful for pointing out where a direct quote was used and the author forgot to put in quote marks or block the quote. The percentages don't mean that you didn't cite properly; a high score can simply mean that you cited other sources frequently.  If you have correctly cited your sources, you have no cause for concern. If needed, and if you have long and numerous quotes, you might improve the index for your paper by cutting some of the block quotes shorter and using paraphrase instead of quotes. However, there are times when a well-written and concise quote is done a disservice by being rephrased. The best purpose of the program is for assignments that are intended to be original thought pieces, to make sure they do not match existing published sources. Dissertations, on the other hand, are supposed to refer to prior work, so having many quotes is usually quite acceptable. I've seen some universities accept no more than a 20% similarity index, but I believe this is misguided. This low of an index may not permit students to cite extensively and accurately, as one should in a dissertation.

WGU has recommended the following fixes, and you may find your advisor is quite accepting of this approach if you demonstrate this in his or her presence. Once the raw report is generated, click the filter icon that looks like a funnel. There are several defensible options to lower the raw score:

· Exclude the bibliography

· Exclude quotes (i.e., anything between quote marks)

· Exclude trivial matches (in * the word count box, enter 10, and “apply changes”)

· Click on the Apply Changes button to save the settings

· Scan the document to see if there are block quotes that are acceptable (APA guidelines translate to no longer than about a double-spaced page), but it is up to the advisor's discretion as to whether the length and number of block quotes is warranted

· If your advisor insists, break up block quotes into smaller quotes or paraphrases 

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Encouraging Your Advisor to Respond Faster

Understand that your advisors might be under intense time pressure themselves. Getting professional help can reduce the load on them. Have a frank discussion that you are using a professional editor to make their job easier. It is standard to allow APA style editing, and I've only seen one university that disallows use of an editor.

Get your documents in as good condition as you can before each submission, which can reduce the number of submissions needed. Always ask for their timeframe for turnaround, and see if your school has a policy for speed of turnaround. Be the squeaky wheel. 

If your situation is severe and you’ve been delayed months or years, check your school’s practices of payment for dissertation advisement. Unfortunately, there is sometimes a conflict of interest in which advisors drag their feet because they are paid $2K or more per semester for advising whether the student progresses or not. Why would they be motivated to help their advisee speed along? Many feel they are left to sink or swim. I find myself taking the place of advisors, and while that's an added expense to the student, they do get done sooner. A more lasting solution is that schools need to be called out on this, but individual students don't want to rock the boat. They've invested so much. They don't want to be labeled a troublemaker if they might be delayed further. If you have faced this situation, find other students to support you in a formal complaint after your graduation (or before). If you get no response, insist you'll go to the press, which would command attention and might create needed change. 

You can request a new advisor, but this is risky because they may want to change many aspects of the study. Discuss the situation with an ombudsperson if your university has one. If you have been delayed due to changes in personnel or the absence of your advisor due to travels, you might seek out formal mediation services to meet and draft an agreement about the university’s role in assisting you in your progress. There have been several court cases about excessive delays, so universities will take this seriously.

Description of the Downloadable Studies

Abstract for University Corporatization Report

This study compares three private online universities offering an online doctoral degree: Capella University, University of Phoenix, and Walden University. These have been among the highest in enrollment in the past decade. While online study offers convenience, this study shows that the failure to offer adequate support to students, sometimes with a conflict of interest in offering such support, leads to a situation of exploitation. The assurance of support lures many less-qualified students to enroll, convinced of the higher earning opportunities that a doctoral degree will afford them. Yet many flounder during the dissertation process, sometimes turning to external paid sources of help, with sunk costs keeping them working toward and paying toward a goal that remains out of reach for many. Regardless of disapproval by the Government Accountability office, and several lawsuits, the problem persists. The inner causes of these problems are explored by referring to statements made by employees of these universities, gathered from the job posting site