The University of Iowa

What is Turnitin?

Turnitin is a tool integrated into ICON that evaluates the originality of students’ writing. It compares written submissions to publications, websites, and its database of student work, and produces a Similarity Score and Similarity Report for each submission.

  • The Similarity Score is the percentage of the submission which matches Turnitin’s sources.
  • The Similarity Report details which parts of the submission match or are highly similar to text from other sources.

This feedback does not assess whether the submission includes plagiarized material; further interpretation of these results is necessary.

Turnitin Usage Policies

  1. According to the University of Iowa’s licensing agreement, Turnitin should only be used to assess student submissions for class. It should not be used to assess personal research, job applications, or other writing unrelated to class.
  2. Familiarize yourself with institutional and departmental policies on academic misconduct and plagiarism (see
  3. Establish clear policies and procedures for students who are suspected of plagiarism. Communicate these policies in class and include them in your syllabus, along with any relevant institutional or departmental policies.
  4. Avoid selectively using Turnitin to assess the work of only one student. When using Turnitin, it is best practice to run a report for all student submissions.

Turnitin for Teaching

Turnitin Feedback Studio is not a tool to be used simply to detect and penalize students who plagiarize. Rather, this is a tool that can teach students about the writing process and guide them to become responsible, intentional writers.

Before you begin

  1. Disclose upfront to students that you will be using Turnitin. Explain why you have chosen to use it and how it can help them to become better writers.
  2. Avoid making assumptions about students’ understanding of plagiarism. By explicitly teaching students what plagiarism is, how to prevent it, and why academic integrity is important, you can help to prevent unintentional plagiarism and better prepare students for future school and employment.

Setting Up Assignments

  1. Carefully construct the assignment to reduce the chances of plagiarism. Create unique assignment prompts to reduce the likelihood of students finding resources that can be directly copied. Scaffold students throughout the assignment by providing intermediate due dates for outlines, bibliographies, and drafts. Doing this will reduce pressure on students as the final due date approaches.
  2. Refine your Similarity Reports using the following filters:
    1. Exclude bibliographic materials.
    2. Exclude quoted materials.
    3. Exclude small sources. 
      Similarity Report Options
    4. Consider these Turnitin Similarity Scoring Scenarios for examples of how refining your Similarity Reports can make them more useful. 
  3. It is possible to use Turnitin for rough drafts, not just final drafts. When using Turnitin to evaluate multiple drafts, make sure that the rough draft assignment will not be stored in Turnitin’s standard paper repository by deselecting this option when creating the assignment. If the rough draft is stored in the paper repository, then any future drafts submitted to Turnitin will be compared to previous drafts, rendering the Similarity Score unnecessarily high and not very useful.

Turnitin assignment set to not store students submissions

Interpreting Results

  1. Note that there is not one appropriate Similarity Score for every assignment, and a high Similarity Score is not always a bad thing. For example, the Similarity Score for a research assignment will likely be higher than a creative writing assignment. In fact, if the Similarity Score for a research assignment is very low, this may indicate that the student may need to incorporate more research into their next draft. The bottom line is that instructors cannot simply rely on the Similarity Score alone to detect plagiarism—interpretation must take context into account.
  2. If a student receives an unacceptably high Similarity Score, do not immediately jump to conclusions. It is possible that your student is the one being plagiarized. It is also possible that they are expanding on their own previous work in a new assignment.


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