I‘ve decided to revamp an old article about Turnitin due to its unexpected popularity (it’s the most viewed Teche article of all time, over 5000 hits!). On reflection, the title may have inadvertently created click-bait with a question that remains highly topical. It seems many people (most probably students writing an essay they are submitting to Turnitin) have Googled this question to find out if their work is above or below a certain ‘limit’ deemed as plagiarism.
Despite this revamped article and several years of Turnitin experience behind me now, my answer to this question is still the same: there is no simple answer and no set number exists. However, I do have some additional advice and great new resources for both staff and students who may have stumbled across this article in search of guidance for using Turnitin and to ensure the academic integrity of their work.
How does Turnitin work?
Turnitin is a system that looks for matching text in an assignment from its massive database of academic publications, websites and other submitted papers. Any matches and their sources are highlighted in different colours in the Feedback Studio Originality Report, along with the similarity score percentage.
What is the similarity percentage?
The similarity percentage figure represents the proportion of the paper found to be matched elsewhere. It is not a rating or judgement of how much the paper is plagiarised. There are many examples where a high percentage is absolutely fine. An assessment that calls for research using several sources, direct quotes and a large bibliography (if not excluded by the instructor) will naturally find several matches in the database. As will simple short answer questions where most students’ answers will be alike.
How do I tell if there is plagiarism?
The only way to really tell if plagiarism has occurred is to look at the Originality Report and use your own academic judgement. If there are several different coloured matches but each is written and cited correctly then that is fine. However, if there are large blocks of text highlighted in the same colour, it is worth checking for the different types of plagiarism that commonly occur.
Things that can artificially increase an Originality Score is a template that all students have to use or a cover sheet and the bibliography or references.
How is Turnitin used at Macquarie?
At Macquarie, Turnitin can be used as a tool for ensuring the academic integrity of electronically submitted assessment as required by the Assessment Policy. There are plenty of staff quick guides to show you how to set up and use Turnitin for originality checking, as well as how to use Feedback Studio for providing online feedback to students. The student quick guides are also useful in helping students navigate Turnitin to submit their assignments and access feedback.
If you are concerned about a particular Originality Score, please contact your Associate Dean, Learning & Teaching.
What is the future for Turnitin and ‘plagiarism detection’?
At the recent Turnitin Summit (I know, bet you wish you were there!) Turnitin outlined their vision to position themselves as an academic learning tool, rather than a ‘plagiarism detection’ stick. For example, allowing students to see their originality report and resubmit drafts, especially at first year level can be helpful in highlighting to students where they might need to improve (There is a 24hr delay of originality report generation for resubmitted papers, meaning that students must prepare well in advance if they want to use this feature).
Having said that, they are also developing new ways to identify different forms of plagiarism such as contract cheating where the actual work might be original but written by someone other than the student. I can imagine how desperate students may turn to such an extreme measure, but Turnitin hope that if used in the correct way their tools can assist in building students’ awareness and skills in academic writing.
There are no simple answers here to the complex issue of plagiarism, but used in the correct way Turnititn can be a useful learning tool.