Webster University utilizes Turnitin, a plagiarism service that evaluates submitted assignments for originality. Turnitin evaluates the content of submissions and compares it against Internet sources, other student submissions, academic databases, and more. Each course home page 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 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 utilize Turnitin through drafting 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. 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 and minimizes and prevents potential charges of bias in selecting only suspicious papers to report
  • Allows students the opportunity to followup with you to explain why a report may appear suspicious
  • Gives students 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 higher originality match.

Overall, regardless of exactly how faculty utilize Turnitin, it may be 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

First, select Enable Turnitin Submissions when creating the assignment. Faculty may then change further settings under “Advanced Turnitin Settings” to allow results to be shown immediately upon submission, after grading, after the due date, or students’ access can be blocked if the instructor prefers.  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.

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 - one word to 24% matching text
    • yellow - 25-49% matching text
    • orange - 50-74% matching text
    • red -75-100% matching text

Source: “About OriginalityCheck.” Turnitin. 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 

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 studen’t 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.

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, that passage 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: A potential plagiarism case was reported to the Academic Resource Center with a score of 90%.  The student in question submitted a discussion 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, the instructor dropped the case.

Turnitin matches must be carefully assessed to determine the quality of source use. One has 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 case 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 Plagiarism Prevention Program staff at acadintegrity@webster.edu to discuss the matter.

Downloading a Turnitin Report Download