Texas Tech University

Turnitin: Frequently Asked Questions

What is Turnitin?

Turnitin is a Web-based service that finds and highlights matching or unoriginal text in a written assignment. It uses data-mining to compile a large database of digital academic materials which it indexes and stores. Turnitin checks submitted assignments against its database to locate matching strings of text. Turnitin then generates an Originality Report that highlights matching text.

Users of Turnitin must interpret matching text in the Originality Report. Help screens on the Turnitin website provide more detail.


How does Turnitin work?

Turnitin uses data mining to compile a large database of digital academic materials that it indexes and stores. Students submit assignments electronically by attaching a file (e.g., a Word document) or by copying and pasting text. The service then checks the submission against its database to look for matches in strings of text.

Users view an Originality Report generated for each assignment that is uploaded. Instructors can view Originality Reports for each student in the class. Students can view the Originality Report for their own assignment if the instructor enables that option, but they cannot view the assignments of other students.


How complete is Turnitin?

When a paper is evaluated, Turnitin provides originality reports which tell you where text in the evaluated project or paper is similar to or identical to text Turnitin has in its database. Instructors should still evaluate the quality of the report independently and determine if the parts identified by Turnitin that are similar or identical are actually plagiarized text. This is because all matches are shown, even those in quotes or where students cited properly. As a result, faculty must critique the report they receive, use their best judgment and follow University policy before approaching a student about possible plagiarism.

Similarly, if a paper is reported as "original" by Turnitin, it is not necessarily certain that the paper is original. Instead, it may mean that the student plagiarized from a work that is not in the Turnitin database. If an instructor has a concern, and strongly suspects plagiarism, it is best to ask library staff for assistance in checking further and/or checking the student's paper references in addition to digital sources. No database is entirely comprehensive and many sources are not digitally available. Therefore, plagiarism can occur and be undetectable by services such as Turnitin.


How do I interpret the Turnitin Originality Report?

The highlighted, numbered text on the left side of the report reflects the words that matched other materials in Turnitin's database. The color and number corresponds with a source listed on the right in the “Match Overview” section of the report. Black, non-highlighted text did not match sources in the Turnitin database.

Turnitin calculates an overal similarity index percentage for the report. Naturally, the lower the percentage match, the better; however, acceptable match percentage levels can vary significantly for each document. Instructors and students should pay more attention to the strings of matching text (highlighted, numbered) than to the overall percentage match. The main function of the report is to help catch phrases or passages that may not have been cited and used correctly.


Will I have to upload all of my students' papers to Turnitin?

No. Instructors can create a Turnitin assignment which allows their students to upload their own papers to Turnitin from within Blackboard. 


Are student papers kept confidential?

Yes. The Texas Tech license with Turnitin specifies a privacy pledge in accordance with FERPA, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. The U.S. Department of Education's FERPA Regulations give the requirements on the confidentiality of student records and information.


What about student copyright?

The Texas Tech University license with Turnitin specifies that students retain copyright to their submitted assignments and that the assignments will be stored only temporarily and "solely for the purpose of using such papers as source material to prevent plagiarism of such papers."


How long does a Turnitin check take?

Originality Reports should usually be ready within 1 hour, and most are returned within a few minutes. However, it may take up to 24 hours during peak times such as the end of semesters when many papers are being submitted to Turnitin.


Where do I go for technical help?

Contact us if you experience technical problems with Turnitin.