Turnitin can be used to both deter and detect plagiarism and the following principles outline the manner in which it should be used at QMUL:
- Students should be well informed about how Turnitin is used
- Students should be supported in their formative use of Turnitin
- Turnitin should only be used by staff in an appropriate role
- Its use should be appropriate and fair
It is important that schools consider how to resource any increased use of the system which puts pressure on both academic and administrative staff members, and as a minimum, should nominate a Turnitin contact for the school.
A clear message should be available in the form of a School Turnitin Statement which outlines how Turnitin is used and encapsulates these principles. There is a School Turnitin Statement template which can be adapted.
Submitting Originality Reports to Assessment Offences Panels
The Turnitin originality report can provide valuable evidence in potential plagiarism cases considered by an assessment offences panel. However, it is important that the report is interpreted before it is submitted to the panel and any extraneous information removed. Schools should pay particular attention to the following.
- Originality reports must not be submitted on the strength of the similarity index alone
- Large sections of matched texts due to reference lists and data tables should be removed from the report
- Common discipline-specific phrases should be highlighted – these would not be considered plagiarism but are difficult for an academic outside the subject to spot
Requests for assignments from Turnitin’s Repository
When using Turnitin, a lecturer will find that an originality report identifies matches with text in another student’s paper – either within or outside of QMUL. Where matches are identified between submissions to the same assignment or between assignments owned by the same staff member, then the source text is available immediately. Where matches are identified with a student submission to another assignment within QMUL or at another institution, then a request can be made via the system for access to the particular work.
From time to time, staff using Turnitin will receive emails requesting access to student work because a match has been found. When these requests are received, the email should be forwarded to the Turnitin contact and the procedure below will be followed. It is anticipated that fewer than five requests from outside QMUL will be received by a school in any one academic year.
- For requests originating from QMUL –
These will be granted once any details identifying the student have been removed.
- For requests from outside of QMUL – Any identifying information will be removed
Permission will only be granted once written confirmation has been received from the requester that:
- the paper is only required to help investigate a case of potential plagiarism at their institution; and that
- the paper will be destroyed once the investigation is complete.
Setting a Threshold Similarity Index
The use of Turnitin can generate additional work within a School as potential cases of plagiarism are highlighted for investigation. This is particularly likely where plagiarism support is not well utilised and students continue to engage in poor referencing practices which are flagged by Turnitin.
In order to manage workload, many schools are tempted to set a threshold similarity index above which Turnitin reports are reviewed. However, this is not advised as there are no hard and fast rules on what this threshold should be and the ideal will vary with the length and characteristics of each assignment. For instance, original work with lots of data tables and references will have a higher similarity score than a reflective essay. Furthermore, a similarity index of 5% may suggest a negligible proportion of matched text, but if it is contained within a single paragraph of a 3,000 word report it may present cause for concern.
Schools should reserve the right to review every originality report and should not use thresholds set at the school level to manage workload. A better way to manage workload is for administrative staff to perform an initial review of Turnitin reports to remove obvious extraneous matches before passing to academic staff. Alternatively, a threshold may helpfully be set for each assignment but not across the school.
When to use Turnitin
Turnitin is not appropriate for all types of assignment. For instance, with very short pieces or work with a high proportion of graphs, images or data tables, Turnitin is of little benefit. A blanket ‘universal use’ policy is not advised.
It should be clear to all students the kinds of assignments on which Turnitin will be used within a School, and these should reflect those instances where Turnitin adds value.
For any iteration of an assignment, Turnitin must be used on either all submissions or none at all. It should not be used only in suspicious cases as this removes the potential for Turnitin to identify collusion within a cohort and may be seen as unfair.
School statement template – this template file provides a starting point for Schools to develop their Turnitin statements.
Colleagues in ARCS (Academic Registry and Council Secretariat) and academics who sit on Academic Offences panels support the “no threshold” policy with regards to Turnitin. In their experience, Turnitin is only indicative and when dealing with academic offences cases, they have “seen examples of plagiarism with low similarity indexes and conversely examples of very high scores which are not a cause for concern.” They advise that “academics use their own knowledge in conjunction with Turnitin” in order to determine whether assignments have been plagiarised and should be investigated.