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Academic Integrity and Avoiding Unoriginality in Theses and Dissertations 

The current and less provocative term for using the words of others without proper citation is “unoriginality.” The more inflammatory term for using and taking credit for someone else’s work is “plagiarism.” Plagiarism is defined as literary theft and/or fraud; it is the ultimate academic offense, but the label is applied after the theft of intellectual product(s) has been discovered and its theft and fraudulent use have been adjudicated; faculty members and students are innocent until proven guilty. However, avoiding unoriginality is a required skill of scholars and is learnable; such learning is made easier through the use of iThenticate:

  1. iThenticate and Turnitin are from the same company, but unlike Turnitin iThenticate does not retain submissions, so you can run the paper as many times as you need, and the comparison sources are only published, scholarly documents rather than classroom papers.    
  2. iThenticate measures similarity between multiple published documents and the document under examination.
  3. A similarity score is a percentage; it is the total amount of the text (words in sequence) of a document that is in common with published sources divided by the total number of words in the document of interest.
  4. How much similarity is too much? Grant proposals submitted to federal agencies use a cutoff score of 10% similarity. The Graduate School currently uses a score of 12% as its aspirational goal.
  5. However, a score higher than 12% does not necessarily mean an unacceptable level of unoriginality. Interpretation is needed. Some disciplines like chemistry and mathematics have chemical structures and formulas that must be expressed in a standard way. So, for some disciplines scores higher than the 12% cutoff score might be acceptable. However, experience suggests the 12% score is appropriate for most theses and dissertations.

Running an iThenticate (Similarity) Report

All faculty supervising theses and dissertations can obtain access to iThenticate by obtaining a license through Anne Phifer ( Once access has been granted, TDS provides instructions for preparing to use iThenticate.  Access those detailed instructions here. In order to be directed to the iThenticate website, click here.

Student advisors can submit a paper for iThenticate analysis at any time and as many times as needed. In minutes the algorithm compares the paper of interest to a massive database of published material and produces a report of sources (individually numbered and color coded) that have similar wording. The report also gives an overall similarity score. A student and his/her advisor can review an analysis and locate areas that need to be paraphrased, put in quotes, and/or cited properly and thereby reduce the similarity score. By doing this process during the development of the document the student can learn to write in a way appropriate to his/her discipline and avoid unoriginality.

  1. The purpose of the use of iThenticate is to teach students to avoid unoriginality.
  2. Students and supervisors should review drafts using iThenticate as a method to learn scholarly writing.
  3. If after a student and his/her supervisor have reviewed the iThenticate analysis and edited the student’s document to reduce the similarity score, papers with scores in excess of 12% may be submitted to TDS with an explanation by the supervisor that no inappropriate unoriginality are apparent. The staff of TDS will review the analysis. They may make suggestions for further revision of the document to reach the 12% standard or accept the paper as submitted.
  4. A current iThenticate analysis must be submitted with draft proposals, theses, and dissertations. Click here for instructions on how to submit an iThenticate report to TDS.
  5. For documents submitted to TDS, the exclusion settings on the iThenticate analysis must be those used by the Graduate School: exclude Quotes, exclude Bibliography, and exclude Small Matches (below 9 words). Do not exclude Small Sources, Abstract, or Methods and Materials.

If you have any questions, please contact Thesis and Dissertation Services, 903-886-5968.

Additional Resources

  • The complete White Paper on the Plagiarism Spectrum can be found here.