Reading and Understanding Turnitin Originality Reports

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This presentation covers how to read and understand Turnitin Originality Reports. It will take about 15 minutes.

Note that this presentation is meant for students whose instructors require or ask them to use Turnitin. Some instructors do not, so please be sure beforehand that this presentation applies to you. Before you view this presentation, if your instructor wants you to use Turnitin, be sure that you have joined your instructor’s Turnitin class and that one of your papers or assignments has been submitted to the Turnitin database. If you have not done this yet, then you need directions from your instructor. While the library has some basic directions on the Turnitin FAQ at Students: How to Get Started, your instructor still needs to give you a Turnitin Class ID and enrollment password in order to join. The library does not have this information. Work with your instructor to set up.

Once a paper or assignment is submitted to Turnitin, the text of that paper is compared with all of the material already stored in the Turnitin database. If there is any string of text that matches something already in the Turnitin database, then Turnitin will highlight the matching text in what it calls an Originality Report.

Here is a screenshot of the beginning part of an Originality Report. At the top of the page is information about the paper or assignment. This is a paper called Organizational Bias. In the left column is the text of the student paper. The text that matches something already in the Turnitin database is highlighted in various colors. In the right column is a list of the sources within the Turnitin database that match the highlighted text in the student paper.

The sources in the Turnitin database comes from 3 basic places. One, a student paper repository, i.e. a collection of student papers and assignments that have previously been submitted to Turnitin.

Two, a copy of current and archived web pages on the Internet. If a student does a web search and finds material to copy and paste into a paper or assignment, chances are that Turnitin will find the matching text in that student’s paper and be able to identify where on the web it came from.

Three, a collection of published journal articles, book chapters, and other kinds of publications. Some of these include material from UMUC’s collection of library research databases. If a student uses library research databases or similar tools to copy and paste text into a paper or assignment, with or without crediting the source, Turnitin may be able to identify this material as a match.

If your text matches something from any of these 3 basic sources, the Originality Report will indicate it. The matching text in your paper will be highlighted. However, and this is important: Instructors know that not every match necessarily means that plagiarism occurred. Matches may occur for a good reason, even when the text is properly cited and credited to the original source, etc.

Your instructor is interested in the reason or explanation for why there is a match. Are you quoting something from the web or other sources, but forgetting to put them in quotation marks? Turnitin may detect a match and color code your text. Or, has your research led you to the same source material that another student has also included in a paper or assignment that is already submitted to the Turnitin database? Turnitin may detect THIS as a match. Or, in your reference list or bibliography, do any of the items match the reference list or bibliography items from a paper or assignment previously submitted by another student? Turnitin may detect that as a match and color code it as well. Remember, Turnitin is only finding matches, NOT interpreting what they mean.

If you are directed by your instructor to view your Originality Reports, login to Turnitin and enter your class. Click on the class name.

Next, in your list of assignments, find the assignment for which you have submitted your paper and click Show Details.

At the next screen, on the line with Search Criteria, Turnitin will list the basic sources of text that it is checking. At the column for Originality Report, there will be a percentage and a colored square. To view your Originality Report, click the colored square. In this example, you see 12% and a green square.

The colored square indicating the overall similarity of a paper will be one of these five basic colors: red, orange, yellow, green, or blue. Each color represents how much of your paper matches something already in the Turnitin database. If the colored square for your Originality Report is Red, this means that 75% - 100% of the text in your paper matches something already in the Turnitin database.

  • If the colored square for your Originality Report is Orange, 50% - 74% of the text in your paper matches something already in the Turnitin database.
  • If the colored square is Yellow, 25% - 49% of your paper or assignment matches something already in the Turnitin database.
  • A Green colored square means that 0% - 24% of your paper or assignment matches something already in the Turnitin database.
  • And a Blue colored square means that less than 20 words in your paper or assignment matches something already in the Turnitin database.

At the top of the page will be your paper’s title, in this example, Organizational Bias. To the right will be a Similarity Index (a color and and percentage.) In this example, the color green and 12% mean that 12% of your paper matches text that is already in the Turnitin database. You and your instructor will have to interpret why the match occurred. And all the way to the right is a breakout of similarity by source. In this example, 6% of the paper matches something from Internet sources, 5% matches something from Turnitin’s database of publications, and 11% matches something from Turnitin’s collection of student papers that have been previously submitted and stored. The same bit of text can match something from more than one source type. For example, if you happen to search on the Internet then find and use the same bit of text that another student does, then the same bit of text in your paper could match an Internet source AND text in a previously submitted paper. This explains why we are not adding 6%, 5%, and 11% to equal a total of 12% match.

When you click the colored square to view your Originality Report, a copy of your paper or assignment will load on the screen. Each instance of matching text will be highlighted in color and numbered to distinguish one match from another. Note: This is not the same color scheme discussed earlier, i.e. the color for the paper as a whole. Remember, the colors representing the percentage of match for the whole of your paper are going to be red, orange, yellow, green, and blue. Within the text of an Originality Report, Turnitin uses various shades of these basic colors to highlight each string of matching text. In this instance you see two strings of matching text, one in blue and another in light green. The text in blue appears in quotation marks and has an in-text citation (Bias, 2010). It appears to be properly handled by the student. An instructor will take this into account when interpreting the meaning of the match. Remember, Turnitin is just reporting matching text, not explaining why there is a match. The explanation may be that the definition of bias is already in the Turnitin database. The text in light green is incidental or trivial. There’s only one way to say Harvard Implicit Association Test, so if this string of text appears anywhere in the Turnitin database, your text will match it, but so what? It doesn’t mean plagiarism occurred.

Here you see the first part of the list of matching sources. The blue text in your paper matches something from number 3, a student paper from the University of Newcastle that was previously submitted to Turnitin. This does not mean that your paper copied anything from the other student’s paper. It probably means that you and a student at the University of Newcastle both independently found the same definition of bias and quoted it. This will occur sometimes and should not be a cause for concern.

This screen shows more trivial matches. This happens frequently in Turnitin.

These matches all actually come from the paper’s reference list or bibliography. Even if you do your own research and end up citing the same source that another student cites, and both of your papers are in the Turnitin database, understandably there will be a match. But remember not every match necessarily means that plagiarism has occurred. You and your instructor have to interpret what each match means.

Some instructors may want students to submit a first draft to Turnitin, view their Originality Report, then edit their work and submit another draft, or even multiple drafts! It is up to the instructor. When this happens, the overall similarity rating for the paper or assignment can change. Note too that the similarity rating can change if you tell Turnitin to exclude quoted material, the reference list or bibliography, and small matches that are trivial. However, be careful if you use this function. Since it IS possible after all to plagiarize a reference list or bibliography, your instructor might be checking that portion of your paper for matches.

Once we exclude these matches, the percentage of overall similarity decreases.

Now let us look at a sample paper with more matching text in it. In this example, the colored square is orange and the percentage of match is 70%, quite high! The student clicks on the orange square to see the Originality Report.

Once again, at the top of the page will be the paper’s title -- in this example, Smartphones and Social Media. To the right will be a Similarity Index (a color and percentage.) In this example, the color for the paper as a whole is orange and 70% means that 70% of this paper matches text that is already in the Turnitin database. You and your instructor will have to interpret why the match occurred and why it is such a high percentage. And all the way to the right is a breakout of similarity by source. In this example, 70% of the paper matches something from Internet sources, 32% matches something from Turnitin’s database of publications, and 4% matches something from Turnitin’s collection of student papers that have been previously submitted and stored.

Here you see the list of matching sources, all listed together. The 70% total match is broken down by source. One source represents 21% of the student paper. Another source represents 15% of the student paper, and so on.

On the left is a short string of text in the paper with no in-text citation crediting it to the original source. It matches something from another source that is already in the Turnitin database. The text is labeled number 8. On the right, in the list of matching sources, the origin of the matching text is number 8 in the list. The text in number 8 appears to match something on the web site of www.itseurope.org, or some other web site with the same material.

Scroll down the Originality Report to see other strings of matching text. For example, look at the text labeled number 1, which represents 21% of the paper, a high percentage!

If your assignment calls for you to edit and submit multiple drafts of a paper, you could review all your strings of matching text and edit your paper for more originality. Try excluding the quoted material and the small, trivial matches first, then work with the strings of matching text that remain. For strings of matching text that are not essential to your paper, consider deleting them and inserting more of your own original thinking and text. Remember, there should be a reason for strings of matching text. Just be sure you can explain why there are matches.

Please contact a UMUC librarian if you need help with Turnitin, or for your research needs. We are available a number of ways including instant messaging, phone, and walk-in visits, as well as 24/7 via e-mail and live chat. Thank you for viewing this presentation.

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