Turnitin compares electronically submitted papers to a database of academic publications and other papers that have been submitted into the system to identify matching text. It is then the responsibility of the academic, the person marking your paper, to use the Originality Report to judge whether plagiarism has occurred.
One of the questions we are constantly asked is – “What is an acceptable level of plagiarism?” What they mean is “What is an acceptable percentage on their Turnitin originality report?” The answer to this question is not straightforward.
Obviously the higher the percentage the more likely the academic will be to feel there has been plagiarism. But they will also consider a few other factors:
- Has the student ensured that quotes are enclosed in quotation marks and correctly referenced?
- Are the things that are matching commonly used terms, for example the full names of legislation. Something like The Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 is going to show as matching but does not constitute plagiarism.
- Commonly used words, phrases, and jargon may be matched by Turnitin. This is normal and should be taken into account when viewing the Originality Report.
- Is the matching text all from one or two sources a wide range? If it is only from one or two then the academic is more likely to suspect plagiarism.
So back to the original question “What is an acceptable level of plagiarism?” There is no simple answer to this. If you have over 25% then you may well have a problem. If you are between 15% and 25% then you are in a ‘grey’ area but you should really do something to make sure you are ok. Below 15% is mostly, but not always, acceptable unless it is from just one or two sources. However, you should always ask your supervisor for advice and remember:
“If in doubt, paraphrase it out!”