Academic Integrity

Interpreting the Originality Report

Use the links below to find information about interpreting and using the originality report. This report is an aid for you to use in conjunction with the methods currently in use to detect and deter plagiarism: it is not recommended that you use Turnitin alone to determine if a student has plagiarised part or all of an assessed piece of work.

1 What do the colours mean?

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: Click to enlarge The Turnitin originality report identifies text in the submitted document which matches text in the Turnitin database of submitted work and internet search locations (current and archived pages plus databases of journals and periodicals).

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Originality report: Click to enlarge Each originality report shows the total number of words in the document. Any matching text found is expressed as a percentage of the total number of words. The colours range from blue (low percentage of matching text) to red (a high percentage). Avoid relying on the colour or total percentage figure alone when reviewing the work for possible plagiarism because this total is made up of individual smaller percentages of matching text which may or may not be referenced correctly. Turnitin is not a plagiarism detector: it is text-matching software.

2 What colour indicates plagarism?

Turnitin does not identify plagiarism. The originality report identifies matching text. It may identify common words such as 'this,' 'on the one hand' etc., and it does not separate correctly cited sources from plagiarised text.

A low percentage indicates a low incidence of matching text. A low percentage may mask academic misconduct if:

  • the copied text is a key sentence from a longer work (eg research findings, key ideas or conclusions)
  • paraphrased or summarised text, including ideas have been used without acknowledgement

A high percentage of matching text may indicate:

  • poor academic writing
  • an overuse of quotations
  • plagiarism.

A 100% match may indicate the accidental resubmission of work, incorrect settings in the assignment settings (check preferences) or outright copied or purchased work.

So what percentage matters? It is important to use academic judgement on each individual piece of work. Ask yourself:

  • Is this work at the standard I expect from this student?
  • Has the student attempted to cite source material?
  • Are there instances of sudden changes in voice, style, formatting or argument?
  • Is the matching text from a genuine academic source or from poor internet research?
  • Are the sources in the course reference list?
  • Is this poor academic writing or academic misconduct?

3 Will Turnitin identify all source documents?

The originality report will identify matching text in an assignment with possible sources. There may be more than one possible source for the matching text, and occasionally Turnitin may not identify the source used by the student, or may identify an incorrect source. This may be because Turnitin identifies subsequent appearances of the material on different websites, and of course, Turnitin can only examine electronic sources available to its search tools.

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Originality report: Click to enlarge In this example, Turnitin has correctly identified matching text, but the text in the essay was taken from the Guardian's archived news article regarding the Michael Gunn case not from the 'Developing teachers' site.

4 Which viewing options should I use?

Include quotations?

The originality report may be viewed including or excluding quotations and/or the reference list. This will affect the percentage given in the report as it affects both the total number of words included in the length of the document and the amount of possible matching text. Including quotations will give a more accurate percentage of original work.

Highest matches?

The originality report can also be viewed by showing the highest matches together (easier to read) or by showing individual matches one at a time (shows all possible matches for each instance of matching text in the student's work). Try out the different views: clicking on areas of matching text on the screen will give different views of the potential source material. If the source is a previously submitted paper, you may contact the original institution to examine the source document (see figure below).

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Originality report: click to enlargeExample of response to text matched to previously submitted work.


5 What do I do with matching text?

The possible sources of matching text must be carefully examined to determine whether the student has correctly cited the source or whether the matching text is likely to be plagiarism or merely commonly used words. Although exact quotes can be excluded from searches (based on double quotations ".."), it is recommended that quotations be included initially in order to get a true measure of the amount of matching text.

Each instance of matching text needs to be examined for correct citation and a corresponding reference list. Checklist for matching text:

  • Has the student attempted to correctly reference the source?
  • Has the student attempted to paraphrase, summarise or quote using quotation marks?
  • Does the reference list match the in-text citations or footnotes?
  • Does the reference list match any sources shown in the originality report?
  • Are there long sections of completely unreferenced text?
  • Is the referencing style used consistent throughout?
  • Are there any unexplained changes in font or layout?
  • Are there any inconsistencies in writing style or 'voice'?

For a useful list of ways to spot plagiarism in written papers, see the 'Strategies of detection' section in Harris's (1999) Anti-Plagiarism Strategies for Research Papers.

Careful scrutiny of a student's work and academic judgement determine whether a paper should be investigated further. The percentage figure on an originality report is not an absolute indicator of plagiarism and a simple judgement based on the percentage of matching text is not a reliable indicator of academic misconduct.

6 What do I do if I suspect plariarism?

If you suspect plagiarism, and the work has been submitted to Turnitin, you should follow the usually procedures in your department. It is recommended that you rely on academic judgement rather than Turnitin when assessing student work for plagiarism.

It is not recommended that you rely entirely on an originality report to determine plagiarism.

You may wish to supplement the originality report by examining extra printed or internet sources. Searching for particular phrases from a piece of suspect work using an internet search engine such as 'Google' may indicate further instances of matching text from websites not yet covered by Turnitin.

If the work has not yet been passed through Turnitin and you wish to submit a student's work, it is advised that you submit all assignments for that group (see Guidelines on Using Turnitin).

Follow current departmental and university policies currently in place to deal with suspected cases of plagiarism. University regulations on dealing with academic misconduct are available at Annex 10: Academic Discipline: Procedures.

Academic Integrity, UELT, University of Kent, Canterbury, Kent CT2 7NQ

Telephone: +44(0)1227 824016 or contact us

Last Updated: 05/01/2016