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Plagiarism and Academic Misconduct

 

Q. What does Turnitin do?

Turnitin UK compares the text of submitted work to sources in its database, which is made up of internet content, selected journals, and previous student submissions.  The software then provides an originality report, which identifies the extent of matched text by highlighting the matches and providing an overall percentage match.  What Turnitin cannot do is to then interpret this report.  The matched text can often include a number of entirely innocent matches, such as entries in the bibliography, the essay title used by all students, or small matches like "the University of Cambridge".  Reports will be scrutinised by an academic member of staff, who will review the report to determine whether the matches may indicate wider concerns around poor scholarship technique or an attempt to gain unfair advantage, and whether any further action should be taken.

Q. Can I refuse consent to submit my work to Turnitin UK?

Participation in a course at Cambridge is deemed as acceptance of the University's right to apply specialist software (like Turnitin) to your work for the purposes of plagiarism education and detection; the University's Statement on Plagiarism includes this consent.  However, you do have the right to request that your work is not retained in the Turnitin UK database after it has been submitted.  For more information about the way your personal data is used, please see our pages about Turnitin UK.

Q. Does Turnitin affect copyright or ownership of my work?

No, the copyright of all work submitted to Turnitin UK remains with the owner - under University Statutes and Ordinances, this is normally the student, with the exception of some collaborative or funded research projects (to which the student and sponsor would have agreed in advance).  The same is true of the Intellectual Property relating to the content, which also remains with the original owner.  Your work may be retained within the Turnitin UK database of student submissions to be used as source material for future submissions; this will help to maximise the effectiveness of the software and to protect your work from future attempts to plagiarise it.  However, you have the right to request that your work is removed from the database.  This can only be done on an individual basis for each piece of work, and in some cases may only be possible following the conclusion of the examination process; if you would like to make such a request please contact the University's Turnitin Administrator.  The content of work retained in the Turnitin UK database will not be revealed to a third party outside Cambridge without your permission; if your work is identified as a source for work submitted at another institution, that institution can only see the matching text, not the full content.  They will have the option to contact the University's Turnitin Administrator, who will attempt to contact you about the matter.

Q. Will all of my work be checked?

Each Faculty and Department may choose how it wishes to use Turnitin UK, and in what way, so for some courses all work could be checked, while other courses may use random screening or only screen work if concerns are raised by the examiners.  You will be given clear information at the start of your studies as to how Turnitin UK is used on your course.

Q. I have been asked to attend an investigative meeting because Turnitin highlighted matched text, but I know I didn't plagiarise; what do I do?

Firstly, don't panic; the meeting will be investigative, not disciplinary.  The purpose is to discuss the findings of the originality report with you so that you can see the concerns that have been raised and why, and have a chance to explain how you went about collating and referencing your sources.  Sometimes this will help to identify ways in which you can improve your academic skills, such as note-taking, to avoid problems in future.  The Examiners will be seeking to gain an indication of how the matches have occured, and whether they indicate a lack of understanding of scholarly methods, or an attempt to gain unfair advantage. You may also be asked to attend an interview or viva voce examination as part of the investigative process, but this is separate to the investigative meeting.

There are several possible outcomes to the investigative meeting, which are explained in more detail in our guidance to the investigative process. You are entitled to support at the meeting from a friend, your Tutor or your supervisor; you can also contact your College Tutor or DoS, or representatives from CUSU or the Student Advice Service if you would like to access additional support.  While the meeting is not discplinary in its nature, you should be aware that in seeking elucidation of the originality or ownership of your work, the investigative meeting may determine facts later pertinent to future discplinary process. 

Q. Can my work be penalised as a result of Turnitin findings?

This is one possible outcome, but it is important to realise that action taken on the basis of a Turnitin report will be after evaluation and review by your Examiners, Chair of Examiners, and Board of Examinations; it is not automatic.  The University also makes a distinction between the academic and disciplinary elements of each case.

Turnitin reports will be reviewed in detail in order to make an academic judgement on whether the matched text may be a result of plagiarism, or whether it may reflect commonly-used phrases or correctly-cited references (such as your bibliography, which would necessarily match anyone else using that source).  Under the University's Definition of Plagiarism, plagiarism is the submission of someone else's work as your own, irrespective of your intent to deceive; this means that you have plagiarised even if you did it accidentally, through poor note-taking.  If the Examiners determine that the matches are the result of plagiarism, they then judge whether this is minor, or more serious/extensive.  If it is minor, they may adjust the mark awarded to reflect the nature and extent of the poor scholarship, so you will receive a lower mark than you otherwise would have, if you had referenced appropriately.  If the plagiarism is more serious or extensive, they may deem that it merits disciplinary action.

Disciplinary action in relation to having used unfair means to improve your performance can only be taken by the University Proctors, the University Advocate, or the Discipline Committee.  The Proctors, Advocate or the Committee may choose to pursue a case of use of unfair means, in which penalties may include lowering the resulting classification, failure of the course of study, or deprivation of University membership.  

Q. Can I check my own work before I submit it?

Normally, no.  The University does not make its licence available for students to check their own work prior to submission, unless your course permits this as a formative feedback exercise.  It is also not possible to check work prior to its publication in a journal or other public format. Some Colleges may offer use of Turnitin as a formative exercise, using sample work only (not work to be submitted for formal assessment).  

It is your responsibility to understand and meet expectations of good scholarly practice in your subject, for your level of study.  If you are unsure whether you have appropriately referenced your work, you should in the first instance speak to your Tutor, Director of Studies or supervisor to discuss your technique.  S/he can advise you on expectations in your subject area for the type of work to be assessed, and ensure that you understand what you must do.  Our Resources and support section also provides a great deal of information to help you learn and understand when to cite, and how.

Q. What data is collected about me?

All material submitted to Turnitin UK will be identified only by your examination number or another anonymous identifier; your name will not be submitted.  Under the Data Protection Act, Faculties and Departments are legally obliged to tell students if their personal data is to be used in a way which is not covered under existing contractual arrangements.  As no personal or sensitive data will be transmitted to Turnitin UK, the University’s use of the software complies with this requirement.  The University has identified ‘providers of anti-plagiarism software’ in its information to students as organisations with whom data may be shared.  For more information about data protection and the way the University uses your data, see the University's Data Protection pages.

Q. What support is available?

If you have any queries about plagiarism or good academic practice, you should contact your Tutor or Director of Studies in the first instance. Our Resources and support pages may also be of help; these contain a number of tips and techniques to develop your academic practice, as well as links to online tutorials and quizzes to test your knowledge.

If you want to know more about the way that Turnitin is used in your Faculty or Department, you should contact your course administrator in the first instance. 

If you have any queries or concerns about an investigative meeting, or want to seek support for an investigative meeting, the Student Advice Service can help. 

For all other queries, please see our Sources of support pages, or contact the University's Turnitin Administrator at turnitin@admin.cam.ac.uk

Q. I want to publish an article; can I access the University's Turnitin licence to check the work before submitting to the publisher?

No, the University's licence may only be accessed to check the work of students in relation to their course of study.