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Academic Integrity and Turnitin Day 2

What makes a match acceptable?

For this post we welcome Dr. Vivien Silvey from the ANU’s Academic Skills and Learning Centre.

A library shelf full of reference books.Vivien Silvey has over 6 years teaching in higher education, as an academic and in her current Learning Adviser role. She has particular interest in academic integrity including developing online resources which assist students to build their confidence with academic writing conventions. She comes with extensive experience in her field of Film and Gender Studies and is currently completing a Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) graduate qualification. She holds a PhD in Film Studies at the ANU.

This post will explore in detail how to interpret the different types of matches that you might find in a Turnitin originality report. (Learn how to access your originality report – PDF)

Take it away Vivien!

One thing to remember: there is no ideal percentage

Even though Turnitin provides a similarity percentage on students’ work, this percentage is meaningless by itself, which means that there is no “ideal” percentage. The similarity percentage can be influenced by a number of factors:

  • If all students in a large course are using similar sources, it is likely there will be a high percentage, but this does not necessarily indicate that students have plagiarised.
  • Some disciplines may require students to use sources more heavily than others, so text matches may be more frequent. For instance, some fields practise close textual analysis, some use standard templates, and some require extensive reference lists.
  • Turnitin searches through millions of sources in a very short time, which means that the text matches are not always accurate and it usually does not identify all the sources that students have used.

Because of these variables, as a marker, you will need to check each text match to determine whether the student has appropriately used and attributed their sources. Communicating to your students that the similarity percentage has very little bearing on whether they have actually plagiarised or not can help them to focus on learning how to reference and use sources appropriately.

So what makes a match acceptable?

When it comes to marking student work, there are a handful of different things to look for in text matches – some positive, and some that may indicate problems with academic integrity (we will discuss examples of unacceptable text matches tomorrow). These include checking that students have quoted the original source appropriately, whether their paraphrasing or summarising is sufficient, and whether they have referenced appropriately – looking at text matches in the reference list can also help to show whether they have presented the information accurately!

Let’s now look at some examples of appropriate text matches.

Text matches to quotations

The text match below shows that the student has correctly quoted the source and they have also provided a citation. In the popup box with the link to the original source (Yim Tong Szeto et al.’s article) the same words are highlighted in green as those that are in the students’ work. This makes it a relatively straightforward example of a good quote.

Similarly, when students have referenced correctly this might also be recognised as a text match in the reference list. It’s useful to check text matches in the reference list, because they can indicate whether the student has written the author’s name or the source titles correctly.

If you observed that instead the text match had gaps in it and words that did not match the original source, this might be a cause for further investigation. However, it’s important not to take all broken text matches at face value. Sometimes what looks like a misquote is in fact a correct quotation. For instance, Turnitin recognises hyphens, which students don’t have to reproduce in quotations. So even though quotations like the one below might look problematic at first, checking each match carefully ensures that students are given good feedback.

Example 1.


Text matches to paraphrasing and summarising

Usually, if a student has paraphrased and summarised sufficiently, a text match does not appear. However, because paraphrasing often can use some of the same technical or discipline-specific language as in the original source, text matches may occur. For example, on first glance the text matches below might look problematic, but in the end you might deem them to be acceptable.

Example 2.


However, in other cases it is harder to decide whether the student has paraphrased sufficiently or not. For instance, in the extract with the green text match below, the student has paraphrased Gore’s idea, but the idea comprises a list of qualities. Different academics have divided opinions about whether this is acceptable. Do you consider this close paraphrasing in your own field? Would your colleagues agree with you?

Example 3.


Another issue in the above text match is that, while the student cites Gore, the text match identifies another source. This means that you might need to check the work against the Gore source before you decide whether this is an acceptable or problematic text match.

It is best practice to communicate with both your colleagues and students about what you will and will not accept when it comes to paraphrasing. In this way you can assist students to learn the disciplinary conventions of your field, which might be different to the conventions in other subjects that they are studying. Tomorrow we’ll continue by looking at examples of unacceptable matches and how to use Turnitin to assist students to write with academic integrity.

Share your thoughts

Now we’d like to hear from you. Feel free to respond to one of the prompts below, and we encourage you to respond to the posts of others as well. Please note: If you are participating in the course for professional development at the ANU, you will need to write a short response to each post to receive credit for this course on HORUS.

A few questions you can respond to

  • What do you think of examples 2 and 3? Do you think these text matches are acceptable? Do you think your colleagues would agree?
  • Have you had experiences where opinions have been divided about whether text matches are or are not acceptable? What happened?

Leave a comment below with your thoughts.

18 thoughts on “Academic Integrity and Turnitin Day 2

  1. The examples were good.
    It looks like clear communication with students on how to quote the work of others properly and the different ways to do this is essential. Something I probably have not been clear about in the past.

  2. One way of reviewing that a student’s submitted work is their own is to look at the student’s writing expression. Is this usually how they construct their sentences and is this their normal writing (thought) structure? This is probably only valid if you are aware of the student in the program or have taught them before.
    Following up with an oral assessment is also a good way of reviewing a student’s knowledge base. When you hear lots of pages being turned in the background you know that they have not prepared for the session.

    1. I like the oral assessment idea Jane! When I was an undergraduate studying languages, there wasn’t much you could do to hide in an oral exam! My concern with many of these types of assessments that can work to deter plagiarism is that they are difficult to scale up for large classes, but they work really well when there is significant time between teachers and students for them to get to know each other. I’m not sure what the answer is here but I’d love anyone else’s thoughts!

      1. I agree with you Katie. Oral assessments are often very useful but as you rightly said. Hard to scale. I have a colleague who gives each student one question to answer (2 minutes for the answer) that does allow you to test a whole class in an hour

  3. I think the psychological terms used to discuss a particular model in the example above would be unavoidable in order to discuss the model. It would not make sense to paraphrase them, ie, change the terminology, because the terminology is central to the model being discussed. If I was a teacher in this case I would not see this particular piece of text as problematic.

  4. Hi everyone, I agree with Jill, I think it’s fine to leave the green text match as it is since they are technical terms, and changing the words would change the meaning. I think also in that situation it would also look a bit odd to use quotation marks to list the terms (competence, autonomy etc) because it’s clear from the context of the sentence that they are a list. However, this depends on the disciplinary conventions. For instance, if this were an example from English or History where the student is doing close textual analysis, I’d be more inclined to use quote marks to identify which words belong to the text.

    1. I agree with Vivien and I would add the discipline of Law to the listing in the last sentence. Paraphrasing/summarising law in one’s own words is a real minefield. No wonder students more often resort to ‘safely’ (?) cutting and pasting large chunks of the legislation into their essays (even though we clearly discourage that practice) rather than taking the risk of making a major mistake in paraphrasing or summarising. I’m sure have witnessed and been annoyed by this overly cautious approach at the other end of the spectrum.

  5. I think example 2 and 3 are acceptable paraphrasings, as long as the student has quoted correctly.
    I also agree with Jane that noting the student’s writing expression will help identify any plagiarising. I think one way to do so, is that when marking the assignment, one can look for differences in the writing styles. If the student has copied from one source directly, the writing style could rather different from the rest of the assignment.

    1. Hi Katherine – change in writing styles is definitely a clue! I recall when I was tutoring a sociology course, I had a student who had been struggling most of the semester suddenly use complex theory perfectly in a final assignment at a level far beyond the first-year course we were in. Another dead giveaway was that it was 1000 words longer than was required. Turns out it was a whole academic journal article! (This was before Turnitin.) In any case, it requires a certain personal touch. Maybe this could be something we can teach academics to spot more effectively?

  6. Very good examples which clearly identifies any plagiarizing. Also it made it very clear. I had very little understanding in the past as to what to look or compare with assessments.Especially when students cut and paste material from someone’s hard work.

  7. My thoughts are as long as the writer acknowledges the source with adequate referencing, direct quote or paraphrasing, it should be acceptable. We normally encourage students to explain in their own words to demonstrate their understanding of the text, cut/paste is never acceptable unless it is necessary in the context of the writing. The bigger issue for us is often that by summarising or paraphrasing, the students’ writing doesn’t accurately reflect the meaning of the text cited, or sometimes misinterpret the meaning.

  8. I agree with you Er-Kai. While good academic practice , including referencing, I think the acknowledgment of the source is more important. If they acknowledge source and do a poor attempt of referencing/paraphrasing then you can at least say they have tried and at worse this is poor academic practice. If there is no source, then it falls into the realm of possible plagiarism

  9. I asked three colleagues about their opinions on Example 2 and Example 3. We all agreed that the terminologies in Example 2 are acceptable since those are specific names for certain objects/organizations. One of us thought Example 3 needs more paraphrasing. So the interpretation of Turnitin reports may depend on the cultural background, language and teaching experience.

  10. I agree with Er-kai and David. Attribution is more important than the format of citations. However, correct attribution is part of paraphrasing. A poorly paraphrased sentence is still plagiarism because you are trying to pass-off someone else’s words as your own. I teach my students to either use inverted commas or learn to paraphrase properly. I would rather students have more correctly attributed direct quotes, as Gabor mentioned, than not attribute ideas and words properly.

  11. I think that both examples are acceptable, but I would certainly expect the student to cite the source they have used for the second example. As well as being correct practice, it safeguards the student in case the source they have used has inaccurately paraphrased the original source.

  12. I do not view Example 2 as a problem, unless I have clearly indicated that they should not cite sources. In my experience, some students may the names of papers and source names to fill a word count in Example 2, but that is more of an issue that can be addressed through components of a grading rubric.

    I think Example 3 is more of a minor breach, with the major problem being the uncited source. In a paper, I would generally look for other potential breaches. If there are more than a couple, or are combined with other cases of poor paraphrasing, I might treat it as poor academic practice.

    Sometimes, I find cases where the appearance of overlap with student essays from other universities may be a case where there is an underlying unattributed primary source. I will often exclude student papers to see if there is a primary source that several students may have paraphrased.

    Generally, I look at the whole submission to see how problematic the writing may be.

  13. Personally, I feel example 2 is passable because the ‘phrases’ highlighted are short and unavoidable as the name of a constitution or a UN committee hearing. Example 3 could be problematic as it seems they may have insufficiently paraphrased an article they haven’t referenced. I guess here it would be necessary to read the uncited paper, and also to investigate whether the university library has access to that paper or if it is freely available to see if it is likely that the student had access to it.
    This has happened to me as a student many times – as an undergraduate anatomy major, it is often necessary to list anatomical terms or reference parts of the body which are only known by certain names. It has also happened when referring to parts of legislation in-text. I feel it is important that there is a deeper discussion on Turnitin and plagiarism to ensure students are aware of what they can and cannot do.

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