Turnitin | Webster University


Webster University utilizes Turnitin, an originality assessment service for submitted documents. Turnitin evaluates the content of submissions and compares them against Internet sources, other student submissions, academic databases, and more. As with all technological tools, Turnitin is only a program, so it is used to best effect when faculty fully understand how to evaluate a Turnitin report, how Turnitin use affects students, and how it can be used to promote student integrity. 

Each course in WorldClassRoom provides the ability for faculty to easily create a Turnitin assignment. Please see the FAQ entries on this page for details on using Turnitin with Canvas.

Turnitin as Plagiarism Prevention

As a plagiarism prevention tool, Turnitin can be utilized in two primary ways: as a deterrent and/or as an educational revision tool. In most situations, faculty require that the final draft of an assignment be submitted to Turnitin; in this case, the faculty member can view the report and assess the material’s originality (students can also view this report, depending on the settings—see below). When students are made aware of Turnitin and know that the faculty member will be using it for course projects, this typically deters students from deliberate dishonesty or serious infringement of the academic honesty policy.

Faculty can also enable Turnitin in drafts to educate students about source misuse. Turnitin can act as a educational safe zone, turning potential violations of academic integrity into learning opportunities. Instead of having students submit only the final project, instructors can consider allowing multiple submissions or create a special "draft" assignment. When students submit an early draft, they can utilize the originality report to understand where they may be misusing source material. By opening the assignment several days before the due date for students to review and resubmit their assignments, Turnitin can be utilized in ways that provide several benefits:

  • Provides students opportunities to learn from their mistakes by correcting them
  • Allows students to learn about prevalent issues of plagiarism and copyright
  • Provides an honest and open view of what might cause concern, protecting the instructor should additional action be needed
  • Promotes equality as well as minimizes and prevents potential charges of bias in selecting only suspicious papers to report or run
  • Allows students the opportunity to follow up with you to discuss why a report may appear suspicious
  • Gives students the same confidence as the instructor that results from Turnitin are accurate

If Turnitin is used in this way, it’s best to educate students about how the report works and to plan a consultation with students, especially should a draft submission have a high originality match. It is possible for students to abuse or misuse Turnitin through early drafting, so having a discussion or explaining to students how this opportunity should be used is important. 

Overall, regardless of exactly how faculty utilize Turnitin, it is a good idea to note in the course syllabus that Turnitin will be used and to give students an understanding about the matches they might generate. When students understand that source misuse in general is not acceptable (not just a certain percentage score), then Turnitin can be an effective prevention and detection tool.

Enabling Turnitin Settings

1) In WorldClassRoom, navigate to the assignment for which you would like to enable Turnitin. 
2) Click on "Edit" to edit the assignment.
3) Scroll down to "Submission type" and select "External tool" from the drop-down menu.
4) Below "External Tool Options," click "Find."
5) A dialog box entitled "Configure External Tool" will pop up. Scroll down the list until you locate Turnitin, click on "Turnitin," then click "Select."
6) Complete any further edits you wish to make to the assignment, then click "Save."
7) You'll be taken to the page where your students' submissions will appear. If you'd like to make further adjustments to Turnitin settings for the assignment, click on "Settings," then "Optional Settings" to control when students can see their reports and whether they'll have the option of resubmitting. Faculty can also optimize what the content is compared against, what not to consider, and whether the document should be added to the Turnitin Repository. If the instructor prefers to allow multiple submissions and drafts, it may be advisable to not add files to the repository, as that can make a student’s paper match itself. For most other situations, adding the file to the repository is recommended to develop the database.

Click here for complete instructions on enabling Turnitin.

Downloading and Evaluating the Report

The “Similarity Report” that Turnitin produces provides the instructor (and potentially the student) with color-coded information about how much material in the assignment matches other projects and (where applicable) links to matching material. Most assignments generate minor matches (15% and under), and it’s not uncommon to see matches that are more borderline (15-25%); however, when matches get higher, it indicates a greater likelihood of problematic source use. The following system is used to note the amount of potential matches and the color of the icon:

    • blue - no matching text
    • green - 1%-24% matching text
    • yellow - 25-49% matching text
    • orange - 50-74% matching text
    • red - 75-100% matching text

Source: “About OriginalityCheck.” Turnitin. n.d. Web. 23 Oct. 2015.

The report can be viewed in Canvas in both the SpeedGrader or the assignment view. If faculty need to download the report for any reason, there are full-text and text-only options. 

See Instructions: Downloading a Turnitin Report 

The report that Turnitin generates also numbers and color-codes the content of the submission. Those numbers and colors correspond to a list of the sources that match the student’s content. For example, a passage of the student’s paper may be noted in blue and numbered 1. Faculty can click directly on that passage of the student's paper and a comparison will appear, showing the student’s content side-by-side with the matching source (if available). Also, the similarity list (found to the side or the end of the report) will contain an entry for match #1 in blue. If the match is from a website, faculty can click on the result and visit the website in question. If the match is from another paper, however, faculty may not be able to access the original unless permission is obtained from the original instructor or university, which can be requested while viewing the report.

When evaluating these reports, it is important to note that Turnitin does not determine whether plagiarism has actually occurred. The report simply shows matches to make it easier to see how passages of text match other sources. It is up to the instructor to find the best way to make use of this report in their course, and whether being read by the student or the instructor, the report must be carefully interpreted by the reader to determine if matching text is potential plagiarism or proper academic writing. What’s important for both faculty and students to understand about Turnitin is that even minor matches can still reveal source misuse or plagiarism. A low percentage doesn’t guarantee that the assignment is acceptable. Even though there may be only a low percentage of matching material, the passage(s) in question may be taken word for word and completely unattributed to the appropriate author. Although that passage only makes up a small percentage of the student’s paper, it doesn’t make the use of the source material appropriate or acceptable. In turn, a high percentage doesn’t immediately indicate that an assignment is unacceptable. While many faculty would contend that any percentage above 20% is suspicious for plagiarism, there may in fact be no plagiarism involved or the plagiarism detected may in fact be less severe than it seems.

Example 1: A potential plagiarism case was reported to the Academic Resource Center with a score of 90%.  The student in question submitted an assignment to Turnitin.  After analyzing the Turnitin report and interviewing the student, it was discovered that she had turned in this exact same homework assignment before through Turnitin the previous semester for the same course with a different instructor, but she subsequently dropped the course in the third week due to illness.  She was unaware that submitting the same assignment in a different course from one she hadn’t completed was in fact self-plagiarism.  However, after a conversation with the student and the instructor, the student was made aware of the issue, but because the work was her own and the student did not receive any academic credit for the course in question, the instructor opted to drop the case.

Example 2: A student asked and received permission to revise an old assignment from a lower-level course, on the understanding that the student had to build on the prior work and demonstrate new learning and practices acquired in the current course. The student submitted the new project to the instructor, but because both assignments went through Turnitin, the new assignment came back with a high match, 35%. Upon viewing the report, the instructor saw that most of that percentage (28%) was from another student paper submitted to Webster University. Due to student confidentiality, the report won't indicate which student or class the paper matched. However, the faculty member requested permission to view the matching paper (to verify that the match was from the student in question and not a third party) and was contacted by the other instructor, who was able to reveal that the match was from the student in question. The instructor was able to determine that the high match wasn't problematic in this situation: the match was primarily the student's own work, the match composed a relatively small percentage of the paper (for a paper that was re-worked), and the student asked for permission. 

Turnitin matches must be carefully assessed to determine the quality of source use. Faculty have to read the report and compare the original source with the student source to fully determine if plagiarism has occurred.  Originality reports must be analyzed on an individual basis and a determination of plagiarism cannot be made solely based on percentages. In cases where faculty are unsure of the severity of the Turnitin report, do not hesitate to contact the Academic Integrity Education Program staff at acadintegrity@webster.edu to discuss the matter or get a second opinion.