Assessment and Feedback

Academic Integrity and Turnitin Day 3

Vivien Silvey from ASLC joins us again today to discuss unacceptable text matches in Turnitin.

What makes a text match unacceptable?

Checking through text matches in students’ work can help to identify where there may be issues with their use and attribution of sources. Common problems include:

  • Broken text matches, where students may be misquoting or using poor paraphrasing
  • A high proportion of one particular source, indicating a possible over-reliance on that source


Misquoting is often relatively simple to observe in students’ work. Misquotations usually are represented by broken text matches where some words in the student’s text are different to those in the original source, as in the example below.


It is nevertheless important to check potential misquotations carefully, because as we saw yesterday, Turnitin will not highlight words that are hyphenated in the original text but are not hyphenated in the student’s work. Similarly, if Turnitin is matching to a source that isn’t the source the student used, and the source that Turnitin matched contains a spelling mistake or American rather than Australian spelling, this may be represented as a broken text match. In such cases, you can click on the text matches to find out more about the source, or check out the Match Overview column to locate the correct source. Students can do the same actions, so it is useful to encourage them to look for and correct such issues in their drafts.

While misquotations are generally simple issues to detect, poor paraphrasing is a trickier affair, as we see next.

Poor paraphrasing

One of the most common types of problematic text matches occurs when students are aiming to paraphrase, but may have used too many of the same words. Paraphrasing is one of the most difficult skills that students learn when learning how to write with academic integrity. Since paraphrasing is so difficult and takes a long time to master, it is vital to provide guidance and support to teach students how to paraphrase appropriately.

In many cases poor paraphrasing is relatively simple and easy to spot, as in the example below.


In this case the student could be shown how to revise the idea using their own words, how to distinguish technical language like “sensation fiction” from the other non-technical language in the extract, and how to restructure the idea.

However, as we discussed yesterday, in other cases it is harder to decide whether the student has paraphrased sufficiently or not, which is why it’s useful to determine a set of standards with colleagues in your area.

For example, the broken text match below shows that the student has used similar words and concepts to the source. Some markers might interpret this as insufficient paraphrasing, since the words and structure of the idea are too close to the source. On the other hand, some might consider this match to be acceptable since it is using common language in the discipline. What do you think?


Since opinion is often divided on what exactly constitutes poor paraphrasing, it is useful to discuss with your colleagues the parameters you set for poor paraphrasing. Once you have agreed on those parameters, you can communicate your expectations with your students. This will help students to know what they should look for when they check their drafts.

Over-reliance on one or more sources

Whether through lack of understanding about how to use sources or for other reasons, you might sometimes find a case like the red text match below, where the student has relied heavily on just one source throughout their assignment. In the Match Overview column on the right hand side, the red text match is identified as comprising 18% of the work, compared to just 4% for the source beneath it. This could indicate a range of issues, such as basing the assignment on a limited range of resources, excessive quoting, recycling work or collusion.


Alternatively, large matches such as the one above could mean that the student has submitted a draft of this work to another Moodle site to check it before submitting the final version to your site, without realising that it would be stored on the Turnitin database. This is why it’s useful to have a Turnitin practice site on Moodle which is set to not store students’ work on the database. If you wish to set up practice spaces for students in your own sites, it is vital to change the default setting so that the students’ work is not stored on the repository.

Other common reasons why you might find that students’ work displays many text matches to the same source include the assignment has been set multiple times before in large courses, the class is doing a short assessment piece on similar sources, and/or that students are asked to use templates.

A student highlights passages in a book.
Photo by Benson Kua

To sum up, it is vital to check text matches carefully to see whether they represent problems or not. Teaching students how to interpret their Turnitin originality reports can help them to avoid problems with using and referencing sources. Similarly, providing early low stakes tasks that assess academic integrity and referencing can assist students to identify their needs and access timely support. Such tasks often take the form of a 5% referencing exercise, a 10% annotated bibliography or critical review, or other short works in which referencing is required, usually due in the first few weeks of the course. Assessment design throughout semester can also have a significant impact on students’ development of academic integrity skills. One common reason that students may have issues with academic integrity is because they have not developed confidence in their writing and critical analysis. Supporting students to develop academic integrity skills in scaffolded tasks, constructively aligned course design and ongoing guidance can prevent and address poor academic practice.

However, what happens when you find serious issues that indicate academic misconduct? Tomorrow we will outline how academic misconduct can be understood and approached.

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

  • How familiar with interpreting their matches do you think students are?
  • Do you teach students how to interpret their text matches?
  • How else do you support academic integrity in your teaching? What kinds of challenges and solutions have you found?

Leave a comment below with your thoughts.

20 thoughts on “Academic Integrity and Turnitin Day 3

  1. I was not aware of the Turnitin practice sites and how they can be set up. Looks like a good way to help improve one’s writing.

    1. Vivien made some excellent points and the questions are thought-provoking.
      It is certainly worthwhile dedicating a session to the interpretation of text matches, even if most students claim prior familiarity with Turnitin.
      In my experience, individualised feedback on formative assessments (focussing, amongst other things, on quotes, paraphrasing, selection and citation of sources) results in measurable improvements in the quality of student’s assignments throughout the course.

  2. I quite like the idea of setting up sessions for students to try out Turnitin.
    I also that think that it is worthwhile to organise sessions for students to learn more about plagiarism and get clarification on how to reference properly.
    I think sessions on good paraphrasing would also be useful.

  3. Quite agree with Katherine which will give them a good understanding as what to expect if plagiarism is involved and the outcomes.
    Maybe encourage students to use a Sandpit site for their own benifit.

  4. The ASLC practice site contains an extensive range of writing and referencing materials available to students. This is a wonderful site. Students are able to review their work and make adjustments to the content of their document.
    Students need to develop, and refine, their learning strategies in order to make informed decisions when using reference materials and resources and how best to represent these in their assessment tasks.

  5. Apart from pointing students to the rules on ANU website surrounding academic integrity and emphasising the importance of adequate referencing, I have not taught students about Turnitin, etc. The challenges have always been there is little time available in a course to teach anything else but content materials. At the same time, those issues are so important and fundamental to the successful completion of the course. Academic integrity is one issue, English language is another, reading, writing, researching, referencing, etc etc. If we were serious about academic integrity, there needs to be time set aside for us to teach and for students to learn.

    1. Hi Er-kai – you are right on with the complexities of teaching all this material in addition to the curriculum itself. What do you think it would take for this to happen? I know in many North American universities the first year is a “common” year, where all students take the same courses and have a comprehensive education around things like academic writing. But that would be a big change for ANU!

      1. Might I suggest that one of the requirements for first year students is to do some kind of academic conduct (including referencing/plagiarism) as part of their enrolement requirements.

        I worked at one uni where you need to do an online course in the first 3 months of joining the university and you were not allowed to use any library resources until you did do

        1. Hi David, I think that is a great suggestion. I think there are some discussions happening at higher levels around academic integrity training being mandatory for students, which may not stop students from doing it but at least gives them an opportunity to learn more about it and be aware of the issues. I think we will see some changes at ANU in this space in the near future.

  6. One of my frustrations with turnitin at ANU is that it doesn’t allow you to see the matching source when it is another student at ANU. This makes it extra hard to track down the source and to see whether student 2 had stolen work from student 1

    1. While not automatic, which is frustrating, I think our team can identify which other student the work has come from, if they are both from ANU. Maybe try contacting Wattle Support the next time this happens? I think it’s kept anonymous for privacy reasons but if the convenor from the other course gives permission then you can access the other work.

  7. I had my coursework master study at another university in Australia. As far as I know, “Research Methods” is a compulsory course for every student. We went through many contents in the course: how to use Turnitin (including the existence of the practice website) and how to interpret the reports; how to paraphrase, summarize, and organize the literature; academic integrity and university policies; basic research methods and databases for the specific discipline. At the end of the course, the students were required to write a research proposal. I would suggest ANU set up a similar compulsory course for first-year students.

  8. Hi Sunny,

    That sounds like a great idea. Having taken 3 Research Methods courses at ANU (1 at the Masters coursework level, 2 at the HDR level), I am sad to report that our research methods courses do not come close to covering this. The reality is that many of our academics and tutors are not aware of this information themselves, teaching students that there is a magic number to get below on the Originality Report, and not being aware of the practice site themselves. Perhaps there should also be compulsory training for academic and support staff too?

  9. I routinely teach my students about interpreting Originality Reports precisely because they are generally unfamiliar with it. As mentioned above, many students report being taught in other courses that there is a magic number that good Originality Reports should not exceed. This often leads to nonsensical sentences, as students try to change every single word in order to lower their scores. In teaching them about interpreting Originality Reports, I point out that, depending on the circumstances, one could theoretically get an Originality Report of 100% and have no misconduct, while another student could get a Report of 0% and have plagiarised the entire essay. Thus, the number has no meaning in and of itself.

    I support academic integrity by always promoting the Turnitin Practice Site and ASLC. Both have prominent links on my Wattle pages, and I remind my students (either verbally, or on the assessment instructions) to utilise both services throughout the semester. Both services also feature prominently in my feedback, where appropriate.

    I was pleasantly surprised recently to overhear a student from a previous semester teach a new student about interpreting Originality Reports. The message is slowly getting out there.

  10. Now that I’m more familiar with the originality reports, I will definitely make time during the semester to show students how to interpret them and how to use the practice site. I’ve had frantic emails from students who were worried about the text-matching percentages. It would be good to show them how they can use Turnitin to help them correctly cite sources, too.
    The academic conduct course that David describes above sounds like an excellent idea. Although, I fear that some students would not be too concerned that they can’t use the library, since I’ve found a surprising number only use unrestricted online resources anyway. The compulsory research methods course that Sunny describes also sounds excellent. These are useful life skills that every student should learn.

    1. Hi Christina, I’m glad you shared that you often receive frantic emails about Turnitin for students – despite the fact that the university has made a clear statement about using it to support academic writing and referencing and not as a punitive tool, there are a lot of misconceptions and concerns among students which can have a huge impact on already stressful assignment submissions! Educating students directly about what originality reports mean (and don’t mean!) is probably the best approach. I can strongly recommend the Academic Skills team (ASLC) and all their resources, particularly their Turnitin practice site which has a ton of info for students about interpreting originality reports and how to improve writing.

      1. Thanks, Katie! I think I will use the Turnitin pratice site during some essay-writing tutorials I’ll be doing in a couple of weeks.

  11. I was not very familiar with interpreting matches, especially during the first few semesters of using Turnitin. I am much better now, having gone through a post-grad degree and doing my PhD. When it comes time to teaching students, I will definitely be mindful to teach about Turnitin and how to best interpret their report outputs, and what sort of flagged plagiarism is acceptable and unacceptable.

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