Tips for Using and Interpreting SafeAssign

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SafeAssign is a plagiarism detection software embedded into Blackboard Learn. SafeAssign can be used to compare student submissions against a series of databases and assess them for originality.

Senate Policy on Plagiarism Detection Software

The University has a policy on the use of the Plagiarism Detection software and the policy covers sample syllabus statements that a professor needs to include if they choose to use software such as SafeAssign (which is integrated into Blackboard Learn). The policy is available from the Senate website under Policies.

How to Enable SafeAssign

SafeAssign can be used in two different ways:

1) Part of the Assignment Submission Process

Instructors using the BB Assignments tool can easily enable Safe Assign and ensure that all student submissions are compared against the databases. To do so, use the following steps:

For more details on how to use SafeAssign to scan submissions: please see the Blackboard Help Files

(2) Direct Submit

Direct Submit Options
Direct Submit Options
Instructors may also submit assignments themselves directly to SafeAssign. To do so, use the following steps:

Important Notes: Direct Submit may take some time to produce match results. Users have reported seeing a 0% match immediately, but when reviewing the results later, the match value had increased. Please give sufficient time to receive results and check back a few times after a substantial amount of time has passed to see if your initial value has changed. See the Blackboard article which discusses this issue. Also, be careful which options are selected when uploading the file. If the document is to be used as an assessment at the institution after being submitted through Direct Submit, and the user DOES NOT select Submit as Draft option, the subsequent submissions will receive a 100% match as it has found a similar document at the institution (see image at right). This value cannot be changed nor can the previous paper submission through Direct Submit be deleted in the system.

For more information on how to use the Direct Submit tool please see the Blackboard Help Files on SafeAssign's Direct Submit feature.

How do I interpret the Originality Reports?

SafeAssign originality reports should be interpreted critically and with caution. While Blackboard suggests that any score under 15% indicates that the work is most likely original and any score over 40% indicates excessive reliance on outside sources, this is not necessarily the case. Independent analysis of SafeAssign originality reports demonstrates that, much like other plagiarism detection programs, results include both false positives and false negatives (Hunt & Tompkins, 2014; Hill & Page, 2009; Gillis et al, 2009). A majority of text highlighted by SafeAssign (up to 70%) will include the reference list, properly cited quotations, common and topic phrases or terms, as well as jargon. In addition, SafeAssign may also inaccurately attribute original sources, and sometimes fails to detect plagiarism that comes from custom essay services, sources not included in the databases or plagiarized material that has been run through an article rewriting software program.

Further, research on student writing has indicated that while very common, misuse of sources is often rooted in lack of student skill rather than intent to copy or deceive (Jamieson, 2013; Howard, Serviss, & Rodriguez, 2010). Students lacking comprehension of complex sources, and struggling to synthesize difficult ideas, will often “patchwrite”, borrowing phrases, vocabulary, and syntax from their sources and generating text that is often considered “too similar” to the original. Identifying “patchwriting” as plagiarism is, however, problematic in that students lack the sophisticated comprehension to simultaneously ground their ideas in extant research and, at the same time, bring their own voice into their writing. The assumption that patchwriting is the same as plagiarism may result in penalizing students in situations where instruction might be the more appropriate solution.

Since “patchwriting” will often be determined by plagiarism detection software as unoriginal, but copy and pasted articles run through “rewriting” software that has generated a sufficient number of synonyms to trick the plagiarism detection algorithm into determining the work to be original, it is advised that any originality report from plagiarism detection software be viewed with skepticism. Please see attached SafeAssign Examples and Analysis, for examples, and originality reports that demonstrate some of the challenges of plagiarism detection software.

Perspectives from Others on Using Plagiarism Detection Tools

This article from Dr. Jeremy Fox articulates some additional issues and perspectives on using various types of software for plagiarism detection.

Known Issues

SafeAssign cannot process any documents larger than 10 MB

My Results are Inconsistent or Show 0% Match. Why??

Please see the article from Blackboard to help explain why SafeAssign Returns 0% Match on Documents Which May Contain Matches


Gillis, K., Lang, S., Norris, M. and Palmer, L. (2009). "Electronic plagiarism checkers: Barriers to developing an academic voice." The WAC Journal 20: 51.

Hill, J.D. and Page, E.F. (2009). An Empirical Research Study of the Efficacy of Two Plagiarism-Detection Applications, Journal of Web Librarianship, 3:3, 169-181, DOI: 10.1080/19322900903051011

Howard, R. M., Serviss, T., & Rodrigue, T. K. (2010). Writing from sources, writing from sentences. Writing and Pedagogy, 2(2), 177-192.

Hunt, M. A., & Tompkins, P. (2014). A Comparative Analysis of SafeAssign and Turnitin. Inquiry: The Journal of the Virginia Community Colleges, 19(1), 6.

Jamieson, Sandra. (2013). “Reading and Engaging Sources: What Student’s Use of Sources Reveals About Advanced Reading Skills.” In Across the Disciplines 10(4):

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