Katie Cruger, Ph.D. Communications

Using Turnitin’s “Grademark” features to Increase Efficiency and Efficacy of Written Comments

Dr. Katie Cruger
Assistant Professor, Communication
Director, Professional Writing Program


While I used this first year as technology fellow to tweak my courses (online, on ground, and hybrid) in many different ways, I’ve chosen to use this space to share my success incorporating Turnitin for efficient and effective paperless grading at the undergraduate level.

I wanted to achieve the following outcomes:

  • Decrease the amount of time I spent downloading papers, making comments, uploading feedback to moodle, etc., which was much greater than hard copy grading practices
  • Increase usefulness of comments to students
  • Increase the likelihood that students would actually read/incorporate electronic feedback in future work or revisions
image 1

Image 1: The grademark screen in Turnitin.


Beginning in Summer of 2013, once Moodle 2.0 was available, I used Turnitin Assignments for all student submissions of written work (both group assignments and individual papers and proposals). I utilized the following key features of Turnitin:

1)    Originality Report: This is the part of Turnitin that faculty members are most familiar with, and we often use it as a way of catching/proving plagiarism. However, in lower level courses, this is also a great tool for reinforcing information literacy. It lets students see, in a relatively low-stakes environment, when they are relying too heavily on any particular source, when they haven’t done enough to move from a quotation to a paraphrase, etc.

2)    Quickmarks: This feature allows an instructor to drag and drop a standardized comment anywhere in the document. You can edit or make additions to any of these comments, as well as create your own quickmarks for feedback you provide often to students. For sentence level errors and suggestions, it both decreases the time spent giving comments and increases the amount of information students receive about a punctuation rule or the difference between there/they’re/their.

Image 2: A customized quickmark with additional comments for the student.

Image 2: A customized quickmark with additional comments for the student.

Image 3: The quickmark as it appears in the paper. Students hover over the mark or click to read full comments.

Image 3: The quickmark as it appears in the paper. Students hover over the mark or click to read full comments.

3)    Grademark General Comments: Turnitin allows instructors to leave overall feedback on the paper either in text format or as a voice comment.

Image 4: General Comment view, including text feedback, voice comment, numerical grade, and percentage similarity with other sources.

Image 4: General Comment view, including text feedback, voice comment, numerical grade, and percentage similarity with other sources.


When I compared the amount of time I spent grading a Turnitin Assignment (vs. a regular moodle assignments the previous semester, or using iAnnotate and a stylus to mark PDF copies of papers two semesters ago) I spent less than a third of the time (7.5 minutes vs. 25 minutes) per 5-page paper.

Furthermore, I was much happier with the quality and quantity of feedback I was able to provide students. Quickmark comments are thorough, and offer students enough information (in clear text they can read easily) that they are able to incorporate changes in future writing. Their customizability allowed me to tailor a few comments to the style of writing we were working on for a particular assignment without recreating the feedback each time. Voice comments (which limit me to 3 minutes) allow me to quickly talk through the good and the bad of student work and convey enthusiasm and emotion through my voice. This felt particularly important during online courses, where I didn’t have the same face-to-face connection to students.

However, Turnitin does require a little bit more effort from students to retrieve my comments than some other forms of electronic grading. They must first log into moodle, then click on the actual assignment, at which point they are directed to their paper on Turnitin’s server. The process takes about 1 minute, but we know this might be too much effort for some. Once there, students need to toggle between different views in order to see general comments, specific Quickmarks, and the originality report. Although we think of our students as technologically savvy, this has not been my experience when it comes to instructional technologies. Anecdotally, I know a few students struggled to gain access to my comments and asked for help. I can only assume that others struggled and chose not to pursue the matter further. However, I was able to address some of these challenges in productive ways.

Overcoming Challenges

1)    Student User Error: Many students said they “couldn’t see” my comments in Turnitin. This was usually because of one of two problems: either they hadn’t actually clicked on the link and entered turnitin (meaning that they expected all the info to be present in moodle) or they were using a browser that was not compatible. Both were relatively easy fixes. I provided students with instructions for how to use the Grademark feature in Turnitin (see “Resources” below) and stated explicitly in assignment descriptions and in the syllabus that Firefox is the optimal browser for use with moodle and Turnitin. In the future, I may devote classtime to showing students a sample and getting them familiar with the platform.

2)    Instructor User Error: Moodle isn’t always the most user-friendly interface. One quirk with the Turnitin Assignment plugin is that, unprompted, it creates randomized deadlines for all assignments. These parameters are not something that an instructor can amend or disable while they are creating a new assignment. Instead, they must go in and amend the assignment after the fact, so there are two steps to this process. Until I recognized this, students were erroneously notified that their submissions were late, which created some panic.

Next Steps

I will continue to use Turnitin for all my grading in all courses in the future; it’s the best option for my needs and the needs of my students. Additionally, I’d like to incorporate the Peermark feature in my writing-intensive courses, where students must often review one another’s work. Currently, I use Moodle forums or hard copies of papers for these exercises.

I’m also continuing my work exploring VoiceThread to increase student engagement and interaction around course readings in hybrid and online courses.


Student training and GradeMark overview for students

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