In my third version of this article originally published in 2015, I continue to address this highly Googled question. I believe the ongoing popularity of this article (over 6800 hits!) reflects just how pertinent the issue of academic integrity in higher education continues to be. From plagiarism to the increasing sophistication of file sharing sites and contract cheating, academic integrity is an evolving and complex field we must keep up with.
As to the question of a neat percentage cutoff for plagiarism, there remains no specific answer. After many years of experience with Turnitin, I can however offer plenty of guidance and support on how to interpret the Turnitin similarity score and similarity report in order to make your own judgement about plagiarism. In addition to this, there are many resources available to help both staff and students make the most of Turnitin as a tool for improving academic writing.
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 Similarity 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 Similarity 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.
Some things that can artificially increase a similarity score include having a template or cover sheet that all students have to use 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 assessments as required by the Assessment Procedure (Section (6) under Designing for Academic Integrity).
In iLearn, Turnitin can be used as the standalone Turnitin activity, and also in the iLearn Assignment and Forum activities.
Can students check their assignment before submitting to Turnitin?
Yes, MQ students have access to Turnitin Draft Coach, a tool that allows students to check the similarity score and similarity report for their work themselves. This can be a valuable step in the assignment submission process by highlighting to students where they might need to improve their writing. MQ students can access Draft Coach through Google Docs when logged in with their MQ OneID.
This 2.5 minute video shows you the student view of Draft Coach.
In addition to this, Turnitin’s default setting to allow student to see their similarity report in iLearn was set to ‘yes’ to encourage the use of Turnitin similarity reports as a learning tool for student academic writing.
Where can I get more help?
The Turnitin and Feedback Studio Staff Quick Guides show you how to set up and use Turnitin checking, as well as how to use Feedback Studio for providing online feedback to students.
The Student Quick Guides help students navigate iLearn and Turnitin to submit their assignments, access feedback and use Turnitin Draft Coach.
This article was originally published in 2015. It was updated in November 2017 and now again in September 2022.