Why are PDF submissions to Turnitin sometimes rejected?

Occasionally students have issues submitting PDF files to Turnitin. Although PDF is an accepted format, not all PDF generators are supported by Turnitin. It is not possible to give a comprehensive list of which generators are unsupported as the market is always changing but follow these guidelines to minimise the likelihood of issues:

  • Use Adobe where possible
  • Do not enable Fast Web View*
  • LaTeX PDF generator is not supported by Turnitin
  • OpenOffice/LibreOffice generated PDFs are not supported by Turnitin
  • PDFs only containing images of text are rejected

Here are some common error messages and the likely issue/resolution:

“You must submit more than 20 words of text.”

This usually occurs when Turnitin can’t detect any text in a PDF. Most likely the conversion to PDF has generated an image file instead of a text file. The PDF needs to be re-generated as a text file to be accepted by Turnitin.

“The paper you are trying to submit is incorrectly formatted. There seems to be spaces between each letter in your paper. Please try submitting again or contact our helpdesk if the problem persists.”

Some PDF generators create a PDF which looks normal but actually has spaces between the letters. If you can’t generate the PDF with another program, you may have to copy the text into Microsoft Word to allow upload to Turnitin as a .doc file.

If students follow these guidelines but still cannot submit their assignment, they can try to generate a PDF on an ISS cluster if possible or take screenshots of the error message and contact the ISS Helpdesk.

*Fast Web View

Some programs may have this setting on by default.

To see if your PDF file is authored with Fast Web View (Windows, Mac, Linux):

  1. Open the PDF file in Adobe Reader
  2. Select the File menu and click on Properties.

The Advanced Description fields will tell you if Fast Web View is turned on in your PDF. Other PDF software may also show you this information.

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