Interpreting Turnitin Reports

Faculty who use Turnitin need to understand that a report generated from Turnitin must be examined to determine the level of possible infraction.  All Turnitin reports will be color-coded.  The level of severity ranges from blue or green (indicating that it is unlikely plagiarism has occurred) or yellow, orange and red (indicating that it is highly likely something is amiss).

An originality score can be high but may not be plagiarism.  For example, long papers (7-10 pages) may have ample footnoting with matches of low consequence (under 5% each).  But even five or six such “hits” might yield an originality score of 25% made up of matches that are less than 5% each.  Such a score would be unlikely to indicate the presence of plagiarism.  What it could indicate is that the paper is simply a string of quotations from various sources.  This is not plagiarism but would indicate the need for a different sort of conversation with the student.  On the other hand, it may not mean anything at all.

In the example below, the yellow tagged paper must be examined at.  The red color-coded paper is clearly in violation.


Harmless matches occur in three basic cases: the presence of common phrases, the presence of the common language of a given subject matter, and the presence of the bibliography.  In the first case, common phrases are not plagiarism even though it may show up as a match.  In the second case, specialized areas often use a common language to express concepts.  Another way of referring to them may not be possible and so matches will occur.    For example, it can only be said just so many ways how chemical compounds work together, or where Lord Byron was born.  A paper with any of these kinds of matches has not been plagiarized.  You can recalculate the report and exclude low-level matches, the bibliography or both.  Doing so will likely decrease the similarity score while increasing the originality report and yielding a better view of that student’s performance on the assignment. 

In the case below, the yellow color coding raises a flag.   But on closer inspection, we see that all the matches have been cited properly.   This is not plagiarism even though the color is yellow.

High level matches in combination with the colors yellow, orange and red (as you look at the score before opening the report) hold a much stronger indication that something is wrong with the paper.  But look at the report first before deciding.  The odds favor plagiarism but not in every case.  You’ll need to look at the report to determine if proper citations and/or referencing have occurred or not.

A good rule of thumb is this: reports that are color-coded in green or blue are very likely NOT plagiarism, even if there are many low-level matches.  Any report that comes back in yellow, orange and red should be carefully reviewed.  If you have any questions, or would like a refresher on how to interpret Turnitin results, please call or email either Dean Herring (x2232, herringm) or Ms. Gale Teaster (x2311, teasterg) for an appointment. 

To watch a video on this and many other aspects regarding interpreting Turnitin reports, surf to:

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