There is no easy answer to the question "What is an acceptable score?" and it is not possible to set a specific score in Turnitin as the "acceptable" threshold. If you have included quotes in your assignment, Turnitin will show them as not original and include them in your score, regardless of whether you have referenced them or not. If you have referenced them, you do not need to be concerned about the inclusion of those quotes. Some assignments have a higher proportion of references than others, so will have a higher score.

The originality report may also match some common sentences; generally these are of no concern either. The assignment questions may be included in your assignment and these too may increase the similarity index, but again this is of no concern.

More than a “gotcha” device, Turnitin can be a helpful learning tool

Myth:  The Turnitin score, or matching percentage at the top of the report, will help you identify any plagiarism from published online sources in your essays.

Fact:  The percentage score only indicates matches between the student’s text and other online sources.  There are many different reasons why the student’s text might match with other sources; for example, students in the same unit all working on the same assignment have been directed to use the same sources, or it could be a pure coincidence that a student has used the same string of words that appear in another random website.  Therefore, it should not be assumed that the matches indicated by the Turnitin score involve plagiarism or deliberate cheating.

Myth:  A Turnitin score of x% is an acceptable cut-off mark so you can be sure you have not plagiarised.

Fact:  Because of the large number of variables in the way writers handle sources, no cut-off score can be reliable; in fact, giving a cut-off score can mislead students into thinking that they have avoided plagiarism, whereas they might have still plagiarised inadvertently.  For example, a matching score of 14% on one student’s assignment could involve no plagiarism, whereas a score of 9% on another does. 

Instead of focusing on avoiding plagiarism or the appearance of plagiarism, let’s consider Turnitin as a tool for improving your skills in handling sources as you construct arguments in your essays.  After you submit an early draft to Turnitin for self-checking, you should look carefully at all the matches marked in bold font and various colours in the self-check/originality report in order to improve on the use of sources and to avoid inadvertent plagiarism in the final draft. The draft will be on the left side of the screen, and the matching colour-coded sources will be listed on the right. Consider the following questions to interpret the Turnitin self-check or originality report.:

  1. Are any of the bold, coloured text matches in my self-check report missing in-text references or footnotes?  (We need to avoid plagiarism of ideas.)
  2. Do any of the bold, coloured text matches in my self-check report include more than three words in a row copied from the original source without quotation marks?  (We need to avoid plagiarism of language.)
  3. Do direct quotations take up more than 10% of the essay?  (We need to change some of the direct quotations to summaries and paraphrases so that at least 90% of every essay is written in our own words.)
  4. Are any of the bold, coloured text matches in my originality report purely coincidental?  (Sometimes our words coincidentally match with words in other online sources that we have never seen before and that are completely irrelevant to our research topic.  If so, we do not need to change anything at all.)
  5. Do any of the short strings of matching text indicate that my attempts at paraphrasing were not completely successful?  (We need to avoid sham paraphrasing, one type of plagiarism, not only by using synonyms but also by changing the sentence structures completely.  Remember that we should not copy more than three words in a row from the original without quotation marks.)
  6. Have I synthesised all of the sources’ ideas into my essay by introducing each piece of source information with a signal phrase and by adding my own comments or interpretation to it in the following sentence?  (We need to avoid dropped-in quotations and simply reporting facts or other people’s ideas because that approach means that instead of building our own arguments and writing our own essays, we are merely stringing together other people’s words and ideas.)
Make sure to enact any necessary changes to your essay before submitting the final draft for marking.

Further information

The University has developed the Academic Integrity Module, which includes both practical exercises and links to resources designed to help you understand what it means to act with academic integrity and the consequences of misconduct.

Last modified: Wednesday, 4 October 2023, 11:11 AM