Lunchtime Webinar: Turnitin, the basics (for staff)

Stephen Gow, Academic Integrity Coordinator in the Learning Enhancement Team was our special guest host for the May 2016 lunchtime webinar on staff use of Turnitin at the University of York. Watch the recording of the session below, or read the written summary.

Watch recording


Staff use of Turnitin

For those who have never used Turnitin before, it is a ‘text matching’ software that we subscribe to as an institution and it is integrated with the Yorkshare VLE. Student work can be uploaded to Turnitin submission points and is cross-referenced with the contents of Turnitin’s database. Turnitin then produces ‘originality reports’ that show the percentage of matched text in the assignments. Turnitin’s database contains billions of resources, including:

  • 45 billion web pages
  • 337 million student papers
  • 130 million articles
  • A growing foreign language database

While many people refer to Turnitin as ‘plagiarism detection’ software, this is misleading. Turnitin is text-matching software. It is not a substitute for academic judgement and it is up to staff to look at the originality reports, check referencing and make a professional judgement on whether too much of the text matches to other sources and is not written in the student’s own words. In this basic overview of the use of Turnitin at the University of York, Stephen touched on how Turnitin reports can be interpreted by staff. We will offer a more in-depth webinar on interpreting Turnitin originality reports next academic year.

Integrity of assessments

We should emphasise that Turnitin is just one resource that can assist both staff and students with checking the academic integrity of work. Stephen and his colleagues in the Learning Enhancement Team can also advise departments on designing assessments so that the same essay questions or report topics are not recycled year on year, which may encourage students to use assignments that friends have submitted previously instead of submitting their own work.

We also advise against using free, web-based tools for checking assignments as some of these companies may re-sell these assignments through partner essay writing companies. If you hear of any of your students using one of these free tools, advise them to attend a Turnitin workshop instead, so they can get access to Turnitin within the university’s licence learn how to use text-matching software responsibly and in a formative manner. More details about the open Turnitin workshops for students can be found below.

Examples of Turnitin Originality reports

The screenshot below shows an example of a Turnitin Originality report that shows a high percentage of matched text, with limited/no referencing. The column to the right of the document shows the sources that the matching text has been taken from. With such a high percentage of matching text (63% in this document) and limited to no referencing, this is a sign of potential plagiarism.

Screenshot of Turnitin originality report showing that 63% of the text matches to sources in Turnitin's database
In contrast to this,  the screenshot below has a much lower match of 38% and the quotation is referenced, although an inconsistent referencing style has been used. This type of text matching can alert staff to potential gaps in students’ knowledge when it comes to referencing and academic writing and interventions and development opportunities could be planned to support students with their writing. Staff can contact Stephen at for advice on using Turnitin and you can also find referencing resources on the Academic Integrity website.

Example of a piece of work with a 38% match in Turnitin. Screenshot shows a large quotation that has been referenced, but incorrectly.

It is also worth noting that bibliographies and reference lists can often make up around 10-15% of text matches, due to referencing styles like Harvard and APA being used regularly in both student work and journal articles. An average match is around 20% but, as emphasised earlier, the percentages are no match for staff’s academic judgement on whether work has been appropriately cited/quoted and no percentage can be classed as ‘safe’. Percentages can also vary, depending on the type of assignment and the academic discipline. For example, Law reports with lots of footnotes could bring up a higher percentage than History or English essays that contain more critical analysis and argument.

When it comes to interpreting reports and looking at text-matching percentages, it’s the quality of the matches rather than the quantity that is important. In a long assignment or thesis, there may be a lot of quotations or paraphrasing of published works, but as long as these have been referenced correctly and fit within the context of the writing then a higher than average match would not necessarily mean that the student is committing academic misconduct.

Where do staff members find Turnitin?

Turnitin is integrated with the Yorkshare VLE and this is the only way it can be accessed by York staff and students. It’s not possible for users with University of York IT accounts to access Turnitin directly from the Turnitin website. Each department has a VLE module that is dedicated to using Turnitin checkpoints for student work. This module is named: Turnitin Checkpoint [Name of Department] – Staff only. If you aren’t already enrolled on the Turnitin module for your department, contact Stephen Gow at to discuss your requirements and get advice on the best use of Turnitin. The documents in the ‘Further resources’ section below provide instructions on how to use Turnitin as a staff member.

Informing students of department use of Turnitin

When students enrol at the University of York, they have already accepted the Ordinance and Regulations that state that text-matching software may be used at the university. However, staff should explicitly make students aware when they are using Turnitin to check student work and explain how the software will be used when assessing work. The Guide to Assessment, Standards, Marking and Feedback can provide more information and guidance on this.


Student use of Turnitin

Students can gain access to Turnitin in one of two ways:

  • Attending a departmental workshop.
  • Attending an open workshop – every Wednesday during term-time at 12.30pm.

Once students have attended a workshop and passed a short quiz within the VLE, they gain access to 25 Turnitin submission points, which they can use to check their own work and revise drafts of their assignments based on their interpretation of the originality reports. These submission points are classed as ‘draft’ submission points, so that when students submit their final assignment and it is checked by the department, it does not come up as a match to a previous draft of their work.

Students can book onto an open workshop by clicking on the Turnitin workshop advertisement on the VLE home page, or by visiting the Academic, Library & IT Support booking system. If you would like to book a departmental workshop, or would like to find out more about Turnitin in general, please contact Stephen Gow at

Further resources

Video tutorial

A video tutorial on how to upload assignments to Turnitin, created by Stephen Gow.

To find out more about our upcoming lunchtime webinars, visit our Development Opportunities page. To watch the recordings of previous sessions, see our Lunchtime Webinar Archive.

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