Digital Toolbox: Checking for Plagiarism

At a Glance

  • OIT’s suite of tools includes two similarity checkers to help detect and deter plagiarism: Turnitin Originality and Blackboard SafeAssign
  • The tools are built into two of the larger assignment feedback mechanisms in Blackboard.
  • Use these tools to help students use sources ethically and effectively.
Feature Turnitin Originality Blackboard SafeAssign
Database access Large international repository among all Turnitin users Contains more examples of work by OHIO students
Web content similarity detection Yes Yes
Coding assignment similarity detection Yes No
Blackboard integration Yes Yes

Effective Source Use

Ohio University's Office of Community Standards and Student Responsibility provides a clear definition of plagiarism and examples of observable student behavior that violates these standards. Incorporating classroom discussions of plagiarism into a larger discussion on how to use sources effectively can be a powerful deterrent to plagiarism.

Originality reports generated by similarity checkers provide a form of feedback that can help students understand whether they are (a) relying too much on external sources, (b) paraphrasing and summarizing correctly, and (c) properly citing and attributing sources. Use TurnItIn Originality or SafeAssign as a teaching and learning tool in your classroom while you safeguard against academic dishonesty.

Tool Exploration

Both TurnItIn Originality and SafeAssign are similarity checkers that are built into two of the assignment feedback mechanisms available in Blackboard. We recommend you select your feedback mechanism (either Blackboard Assignments or TurnItIn) and then configure your similarity checker when setting up your assignments. Both suites handle students’ written work well, but if you teach coding and wish to compare code sources, you should select TurnItIn. With either tool, students retain copyright of their work.


Tool 1: TurnItIn Originality

A screenshot of the Turnitin originality checker, which is highlighting sentences in a student submission that are similar to sources like Wikipedia and National Geographic.

The TurnItIn tool contains a built-in similarity checker that generates a report for each student’s submission. In addition to writing and rhetoric, TurnItIn is also equipped to check similarity for code generated by students. TurnItIn checks submissions for similarity against other student submissions, web content, and other publications that may or may not be behind paywalls. To customize the reports, you can:

  • make reports available to students, so they can review what you see and learn from the output.

  • exclude small sources from reports based on a threshold you set yourself (to avoid flagging common lexical bundles in your field).

  • exclude quotes and bibliography information.

  • exclude submissions from being added to the database (may be useful for first drafts of work).


Tool 2: Blackboard SafeAssign

A screenshot of the Blackboard SafeAssign Originality Report, which highlights different parts of a student submission that match text on the internet and in journals and publications.

SafeAssign can be enabled on any assignment you create in Blackboard using the Assignments tool. SafeAssign’s similarity checker compares all text uploads to their database of existing sources. To customize reports, you can

  • make reports available to students, so they can review what you see and learn from the output.

  • exclude the submission from being added to the database (may be useful for first drafts of work).

Similarity Checkers are not Plagiarism Checkers

Originality reports generated by similarity checkers are intended to be used as tools to help determine whether sources have been used effectively. They may be used in conjunction with other methods, such as knowing the voice of your students and detecting it in their writing. The numbers generated by these reports come from several factors and are intended to be descriptive. There are no normative standards or appropriate thresholds for similarity matching and plagiarism, so it is important that you (and your students) do not get fixated on trying to achieve a target number. As the instructor, you are in the best position to interpret what the output means and what is acceptable in your field of academic practice.


Instructors: Use these Tools to Improve your own Writing

You can run originality reports on your own manuscripts to check for source issues before you publish. Upload your manuscript to SafeAssign using the direct submit option under Course Tools.