Turnitin

Turnitin is a web-based text-matching software that checks the originality of written student assignments against a range of publicly available sources, e.g. internet data, previous student assignments, publications databases.

When students submit their assignment electronically, Turnitin produces a similarity report highlighting any sections of text in the submitted assignment that match other sources.

This provides a targeted mechanism for students to check their work, and make any changes necessary to written expression or referencing before submitting their final assignment for marking.

Additionally, Turnitin is integrated within Blackboard learning sites and includes GradeMark, allowing for the online marking of Turnitin submissions.

Text matching software

Southern Cross University policy states that text-matching software is used in all coursework award units unless the Associate Dean (Education), in consultation with the relevant course coordinator and unit assessor, grants an exemption.  It is also required before higher degree theses are submitted for examination. Text-matching software allows comparison of electronically submitted papers with internet content, published works and related proprietary and commercial databases, and other works submitted to the software, such as papers by other students in Australia and overseas.

At SCU text-matching software is used to:

  • assist students in developing their academic literacy and good academic practice
  • support the University's rules, policies, procedures and guidelines concerning academic integrity and academic misconduct
  • allow students and staff to identify text matches in student work and locate these on the internet.

Interpreting Turnitin similarity reports

This video for staff explains a 4-Step process for interpreting Turnitin similarity reports to identify possible breaches of academic integrity: Video (10 min 40s).

These videos for students can be used in your unit site to explain how to use Turnitin similarity reports to check their assignment work and build their academic integrity skills, prior to final submission.

  • Meredith Kayees, from the Student Learning Zone, explains how to use Turnitin similarity reports to check assignment drafts for potential academic integrity issues: Video (3 min 12s)
  • Dr Liz Goode, from SCU College, explains how to interpret a similarity report and use it to improve an assignment's academic integrity and the key points for using Turnitin: Video (5 min 44s).

See the FAQs below for how to set up Turnitin or the article on how to set up Turnitin assignments.

Frequently asked questions

The following Q&As will answer many questions academics have on setting up Turnitin and interpreting similarity reports


How does Turnitin work

Can Turnitin detect plagiarism?

No. Turnitin is not a plagiarism detecting software. Turnitin is a text-matching software. This means it works by comparing student submissions to sources held in its repository to identify matched-text (e.g. strings of words). The similarity report is a summary of the matched-text found by Turnitin.

However, Turnitin does not have the capacity to make any judgements about the nature of matched-text it identifies. Turnitin cannot tell whether paraphrasing, summarising or referencing are correct. This is why Turnitin cannot detect plagiarism or any other kind of academic misconduct. This means it is up to teachers (and students) to carefully interpret similarity reports based on their understanding of disciplinary writing conventions and academic integrity.

It is important to remember:

  • not all matched-text is problematic
  • the similarity score is not a measure of plagiarism
  • the key is to scan every highlighted section of text in the report to ensure academic integrity is being practised.

This video clip outlines a 4-step strategy for interpreting similarity reports. Learn more on how to interpret similarity reports.

I heard that a similarity score of less than 30% means student work is free of plagiarism. Is that right?

No. There is no 'safe' score that indicates a submission is free of academic misconduct.

The similarity score indicates very little in terms of academic integrity. This score is an indication of the percentage of the entire submission that matches sources in the Turnitin repository.

It is important to keep in mind that not all matched-text is problematic and that the similarity score is not a measure of plagiarism.

Instead, the key is to scan highlighted sections in the report to check the student is practising academic integrity (e.g. quotes, paraphrases and referencing are correctly used).

When should I make Turnitin available to students?

Unit assessors should make Turnitin available on the unit Blackboard site at least 2 weeks prior to the assignment submission date. This strategy gives students time to use Turnitin as a learning tool (e.g. to check and improve their use of sources).

I don’t think Turnitin is appropriate for my assessments. Can I get an exemption?

Yes. SCU policy states that while text-matching software needs to be used in all university coursework award units, the head of faculty, in consultation with the course coordinator and unit assessor, can grant exemptions.

In practice, this means setting up an optional similarity checking link (e.g. that does not submit student work to the Turnitin repository) and using Blackboard Assignments. Learn more about how to set up Turnitin.

Should I set up Turnitin assignments so that students only submit their work once?

No. At SCU Turnitin is used educatively. SCU policy states Turnitin settings must be set to allow students to check their own work before submitting the final version.

At SCU, this means allowing students one submission prior to their final submission. Students are expected to submit a 'good draft' for similarity checking and then use their report to check and improve paraphrasing, quoting and referencing.

Are there SCU similarity checking settings I should use when setting up Turnitin assignments?

Yes. At SCU academics are encouraged to use educative settings that:

  • help students to develop academic writing skills by using their similarity report as an editing tool
  • help markers to identify breaches of academic integrity.

Learn more about how to set up Turnitin.

Can I use SCU letter grades and avoid students seeing raw marks when using Turnitin assignments?

Yes. The default setting in Turnitin is to show students raw marks/percentages. However, there is an easy workaround that will ensure students only see their SCU letter grade (e.g. P, C, D, HD). See this guide

How do I use rubrics with Turnitin?

Using Turnitin rubrics is recommended. It is not recommended that you use Blackboard rubrics with Turnitin assignments because of the workflows they create. If you do wish to use a Blackboard rubric to return feedback to students for a Turnitin assignment, you will need to create a second column in the Grade Centre and attach the Blackboard rubric. Learn more about rubrics.

Will using Turnitin impact my Grade Centre?

Yes. Setting up Turnitin will add a new column in your Grade Centre. This is the case whether you set up a Turnitin assignment or optional link. 

Can I copy Turnitin assignments from previous Blackboard sites?

No. It is not possible to copy Turnitin assignments when rolling over unit learning sites from one study period to another. You will need to set up new Turnitin assignments (and optional links) for each study session/period. Learn more about how to set up Turnitin.

Should I remove digital assignment cover sheets to reduce similarity scores?

No. Instead, educate your students about how Turnitin works and how to use this software to their advantage (e.g. as an editing tool). Remind students that not all matched-text is problematic, and that they need to focus on double-checking highlighted sections where they have used sources. The idea is that students submit a good version of their assignment for similarity checking, make changes, and submit their final version.

What should I do if I get a request from an outside institution to share a student’s similarity report?

Ignore the request. Do not allow other institutions to access student assignments. However, reply to internal (SCU) requests if you are the unit assessor for the unit.

Where can I learn more about how to use Turnitin?

Visit the Turnitin Instructor Studio. This searchable web site offers helpful guides, FAQs and online seminars.

Is it best practice for unit assessors to scan the Turnitin assignment in-box on assignment due date?

Yes. This strategy allows unit assessors to identify potentially concerning submissions, investigate, and contact students early.

Remember, the similarity score does not indicate much. Even so, a score of 0% or over 60% are both causes for concern and deserve quick investigation. This is especially important in introductory units so that re-submissions can be identified early.

Where can I learn more about using GradeMark?

GradeMark is part of the Turnitin suite of tools and allows your team to mark assignments online and draw from a pool of shared comments. Learn more about GradeMark.

Supporting students to use Turnitin as a learning tool

Should I tell students about the Turnitin similarity checking settings used in my unit?

Yes. Students need this information in order to use Turnitin as a learning tool. Many unit assessors add an 'item' in the Assessment Tasks and Submission area that provides this information.

Students always ask me what score they should aim for. What is the best way to respond?

Avoid giving students a 'safe' score/percentage. Students can prioritise reducing their score instead of addressing assessment requirements, following disciplinary writing conventions, and ensuring that sources are used correctly.

Instead remind students that:

  • the similarity score is a measure of matched-text (not plagiarism)
  • there is no 'safe' score that indicates their assignment is free of plagiarism
  • the key is to double-check the nature of every highlighted section where they have used sources
  • there are resources that help them use Turnitin as an editing tool.

FAQs for assessment markers

Is there a safe percentage (similarity score) that indicates an assignment is free of plagiarism?

No. Turnitin does not detect plagiarism. It detects matched-text. Not all matched-text is problematic.

The similarity score is an indication of the percentage of the entire submission that matches sources held in the Turnitin repository. The same score could indicate an assignment with no issues or an assignment with significant instances of academic misconduct.

While there is no 'safe' score, the similarity report is a useful source of information. The key is to scan highlighted sections in the report to check whether students are practising academic integrity.

Is there an easy process I can use to check similarity reports quickly?

Yes. While each marker develops their own strategies for interpreting similarity reports, starting with this process can save time while identifying potential issues.

  • Note the similarity score (top right corner), but don’t overly focus on this information. This score is an indication of the percentage of the entire submission that matches sources in the Turnitin repository. This score can be easily skewed.
  • Then, systematically scan all highlighted sections where the student has likely used sources (e.g. not the cover sheet or headings, etc.). Use your disciplinary expertise to check whether the student has practised academic integrity appropriately. As you scan the report:
    • expect unproblematic matched-text in the form of disciplinary language, common headings, assignment questions and properly referenced and formatted direct quotes
    • use disciplinary expertise in relation to the use of quotes and whether quotes are correctly formatted, referenced and integrated as evidence
    • keep an eye out for patch-work sentences that show a mixture of highlighted and non-highlighted words - this is how poor paraphrases too close to the original source can look in the report
    • be concerned if you see lines of highlighted text without a reference - this is how a chunk of copied text looks in the report
    • check incorrect highlighted referencing (whether in-text, as a footnote, or in the reference list) and check whether the student has copied referencing from a source and is claiming credit for others’ research (e.g. a student has not read the source themselves and has copied the referencing and text from a source).
  • If you see a concerning section in the report:
    • click on the number next to the highlighted section to access the close-view function
    • if the source is publicly available, you can check student writing against the match-source
    • drill down into the match-source via the close-view function an click on match-source to check how much of the source matches the student paper, and where.
  • If you find academic integrity breaches, refer to the Academic quality, standards and integrity policy and Academic integrity procedures

Learn more about how to interpret similarity reports.

Does the red highlighted text in the report indicate plagiarism?

No. Turnitin does not use a colour-code system to indicate problem sections in the similarity report (e.g. it does not use 'red for plagiarism', 'orange for possible issue' and 'green for OK'.)

Turnitin uses a colour-coding and numbering system to indicate where it found matched-text in its repository. Each highlighted section's colour coding and numbering correlate with a source listed in the Match Overview list.

Is it true that the similarity score can be easily skewed?

Yes. The similarity score indicates the percentage of the entire submission that matches sources held in the Turnitin repository.
Some of the ways this score can be skewed include:

  • the similarity checking settings used when the assignment was set up
  • inclusion of cover sheets, assignment questions, common headings and sources (e.g. unit readings and study guide)
  • necessary use of disciplinary language (e.g. concepts, theories, names of authors, places and instruments etc.)
  • properly formatted and referenced direct quotes - it is important to include quotes in match settings to help students use their report as an editing tool but, at the same time, this strategy will increase their similarity score
  • assignment type and word length (introductory units often set shorter tasks, using unit sources, addressing one or two question options. This pedagogically sound approach will increase the similarity score/amount of matched-text)
  • the Turnitin repository - the submission can only match the sources in this repository (which gets updated daily but cannot contain all available sources)
  • more students submitting their assignments to the Turnitin assignment dropbox. A student could submit one week from the due date and not change their assignment. However, their score will increase as more assignments are submitted.

Can the similarity score offer any useful information?

Yes. There are two 'red flag' scores that indicate something is likely amiss and requires investigation.

  • A score of 0% indicates the submission does not match any sources in the Turnitin repository. This is concerning because academic writing entails drawing upon others’ work. It would also be usual for some matches to other assignments (at SCU and other institutions). It is likely a 0% is the result of using similarity checking settings that are too broad, and do not identify poor paraphrasing.
  • A score over 60%. It is unlikely that a student's submission will share more than 60% of its text with another source unless something is amiss. This is the case even with shorter tasks answering the same question and using a cover sheet. Further investigation is required. It might mean the student submitted their draft to another Turnitin link and their submission is matching to an earlier draft. Or it is possible a high percentage is an indicator of collusion or contract cheating. To investigate drill down into match sources (contained in the match overview).

In either instance, the score itself is only an indication that something may be amiss. Further investigation is required.

How do I download Turnitin assignments?

Download Turnitin assignments via the unit Blackboard control panel (e.g. via Site Tools > Turnitin Assignments). 

How do I return student assignments?

Uploading marked assignments and/or feedback is done one assignment, one student at a time through the Grade Centre.

How do I assess student work in GradeMarks?

GradeMark is part of the Turnitin suite of tools. It allows you to assess student work and provide online feedback. If your unit uses GradeMark it will likely be discussed during assessment moderation meetings. Learn more about GradeMark.

Other resources