What makes a match acceptable?
For this post we welcome Dr. Vivien Silvey from the ANU’s Academic Skills and Learning Centre.
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.
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.
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?
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.