Plagiarism checks in doctoral education

Karolinska Institutet (KI) has a high ambition regarding quality assurance of good research practice. KI runs systematic plagiarism checks of all theses (in Swedish; kappor or ramberättelser) as part of this work. 

A plagiarism check is even performed ahead of the half-time review, but at that time doctoral students themselves check their literature review in the text matching system with the purpose on the one hand to understand the resulting similarity report and on the other hand to get a learning experience regarding scientific writing.  

The use of text matching software can in addition to support detecting plagiarism also show different weaknesses in the text like not correctly handling paraphrasing and reference management. 

Text matching systems Ouriginal (formerly Urkund) and iThenticate

KI uses two text matching software systems for detecting plagiarism. Ouriginal is used by KI's teachers when checking course assignments for plagiarism, whereas iThenticate is used by doctoral students and their supervisors to check the literature review for the half-time review for educational purpose and by the examination board for plagiarism check of the thesis. 

Unlike Ouriginal, iThenticate does not save what users upload to their database. iThenticate’s database is also much bigger than Ouriginal’s database regarding scholarly articles. 

Access and instructions

Doctoral students and supervisors at KI have access to iThenticate by logging in with their KI-login at

Instructions on how to use iThenticate can be found here:

Advice: Exclude the reference list (normally 100% text match) and methods section and set an exclusion threshold to exclude matches of less than ten words.

Interpreting an iThenticate report

iThenticate creates a “similarity report” and an “overall similarity index” that show all text matches in the thesis with material (texts, publications etc.) published on the internet. All overlap between the text checked and the previous published text included in the iThenticate database is marked with colours in the resulting “similarity report. For each overlap you find a source represented as a number that represents the source to the original reference. To what extent similarities occur, shown as percentage and number of words, between each source and the text gets clear from the list at the end of the report. A high percentage does not automatically mean that there is plagiarism in the document and a low percentage does not automatically mean that there is no plagiarism in the text.

Text matching can mean lack of good research practice or an attempt to cheating. Text matching can also be a sign of lack of quality or might be acceptable, see below.  

Regarding the quality assurance of  the thesis the Guidelines for writing a compilation thesis summary chapter state that ”The text of the summary chapter must be the student’s own original work without the extensive reproduction of extracts from the constituent papers. Failing to acknowledge sources when quoting from the work of others constitutes plagiarism.” 

To reflect about with when interpreting the report: 

  • In which part of the text is the text overlap found: Is it the introduction, background, methods, results, discussion etc? Observe! Text matching in the method section is usually not taken into account and the method section can therefore be excluded when checking for plagiarism.
  • Content: Is it common knowledge (standard phrases/standard descriptions) or is it someone else’s idea?
  • Has the source (reference) been indicated?
  • Origin: Does the text match a publication co-authored by the doctoral student (either written by the doctoral student or written by another co-author; think also about Copy right) or with someone else’s earlier research?
  • How much overlap?: Please look at each overlap/text match (it is normally not very time consuming) when checking for plagiarism and not at the percentage overlap per se. Plagiarism can occur even if there is only a low percentage of text overlap.

It is of importance to understand that there often not are self-evident answers and that the iThenticate result needs to be interpreted in its context. 

Observe! The university library (KIB) arranges iThenticate workshops, see below.  

Plagiarism check for theses

To ensure that no plagiarism occurs in doctoral and licentiate theses, KI runs systematic plagiarism checks of all theses. 

Once a thesis has been electronically “nailed” in KI’s e-publication system. The university library (KIB) sends the iThenticate report as well as information on how to interpret the report to the Examination Board coordinator as a supporting document in its review of the thesis.

If there are grounds to suspect that a doctoral student has made an attempt at deception in connection with their examination by, for example, plagiarising text in their thesis, the Examination Board is required to report the matter promptly to the President of KI for further handling.

Preventive work 

To avoid plagiarism, the doctoral students must learn correct scientific writing and referencing praxis as well as good long-term and short-time planning. 

The following is included as part of the preventive work:

  • An online course regarding reference management and avoiding plagiarism is part of the introduction for doctoral students
  • Attending a course in scientific writing
  • Plagiarism check in connection to the half-time review followed by a discussion between the doctoral student and the supervisor
  • To receive constructive feed-back from the supervisor on written work during the writing process.