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How to reduce your Turnitin similarity score

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Turnitin is an internet-based platform that many universities use to allow students to submit coursework and assignments. It has a built in originality checker that helps to detect and prevent plagiarism.

When you first start submitting university coursework, seeing your Turnitin similarity score can be intimidating. To help you, we're explaining just how the Turnitin similarity score works and offering some tips on how to reduce your score if it's too high. 

What is plagiarism?

Plagiarism is the act of passing off someone else's ideas or work as your own. In simple terms, plagiarism is 'copying'. 

There are many different ways you can commit plagiarism at university:

  • Not properly citing and referencing ideas that aren't your own, even if you do not directly quote from them
  • Self-plagiarising by submitting the same work for more than one assessment 
  • Using AI to write coursework or exams for you 

Plagiarism is a form of academic misconduct and can have serious consequences. Depending on the severity of the plagiarism, you may receive a lower mark on your coursework, receive no marks on your coursework, or even be suspended or kicked out of university.  

What is the Turnitin similarity score?  

The Turnitin similarity score shows how similar your work is to other pieces of writing found on the internet, in academic publications, in Turnitin's databases or in other students' papers. This will be quantified with a percentage score highlighting the amount of text that matches other sources. 

If the score is too high, this can cause questions about plagiarism. However, you should take your Turnitin similarity score with a pinch of salt. Your university lecturers will be able to see a similarity report where the areas of similarity are highlighted and assess whether this was an intentional act of plagiarism or a valid, referenced quote or citation. 

How to reduce similarity on Turnitin 

1. Understand your university guidelines

Every university will have different rules and regulations regarding plagiarism. Before you submit your coursework, you should speak to your lecturers and ask what they consider a reasonable similarity score on Turnitin. In general, most universities will advise that you keep it under 30-40% (assuming the 40% similarity is made up of your referenced sources). You can also ask other key questions, like how many critical sources you should be engaging with. 

Many universities offer plagiarism workshops, particularly for first year students, to help you understand how to avoid getting a similarity score that is too high.

2. Be original 

Originality is about more than just using your own words (although, of course, you should do this too). You shouldn't just regurgitate other people's ideas. Instead, you should digest lots of different critical perspectives and use them to inform your own unique stance and arguments. This will help keep your Turnitin similarity score low. 

3. Reference, reference, reference 

If you want to get a high grade in your coursework, you should be engaging with lots of different critical sources. 

If you have used lots of external sources, it's likely that your Turnitin similarity score will be quite high. But this isn't actually a problem as long as you have referenced sources correctly. Make sure you know which referencing style you should be using for your specific subject and module. If you need help, make sure to ask your lecturer or seminar tutor.

You should use quotation marks when directly quoting someone. When summarising someone else's argument, give them named credit. Both direct and indirect quotes should be cited and referenced. You should also include a bibliography at the end of your essay. 

4. Check your work

It might be tempting to work right up until the deadline but to avoid problems down the line make sure that you leave yourself enough time to check through your coursework, including all your references. You don't want to be marked down for avoidable referencing mistakes. If it helps, set yourself a deadline of the day before the due date so you can have at least twenty-four hours to check and edit. 

Triumph over Turnitin 

Turnitin might seem tricky, but once you understand how to use it, you'll soon seem it doesn't have to be. Following this advice will ensure that you can produce original, successful university coursework.

For more study advice, check out our blog on the 5 best revision tips for university students.


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