Turnitin word count accuracy

A number of colleagues have enquired about the accuracy and reliability of the Turnitin word-count. We have found it to be very reliable in that it is consistent, but there a number of variables which have to be taken into account; the format of the submitted document and the use of footnotes can produce different results.

To investigate and demonstrate this We created and uploaded four documents. Of these, two were in .doc format and two were PDFs. One of each format used footnotes. A word-count was taken in Microsoft Word before submitting to Turnitin.

The results are tabulated and described below:


  1. A submission in Word format without footnotes is 100% accurate
  2. A submission in PDF format without footnotes overestimates by 0.2%
  3. A submission in Word format with footnotes is accurate but only the body of the text is counted, and not the footnotes
  4. A submission in PDF format with footnotes counts both body text and footnotes, but overestimates by 2.2%

The investigation found that Turnitin is accurate, but tends to over-estimate slightly where documents have been saved as PDFs. This is more pronounced when footnotes have been used. Footnotes are counted in PDF documents but are not counted when submitted as part of a word document.

Turnitin – and Word – will by default count every word in a document; titles, references, bibliographies etc (but not, as described above, footnotes in Word documents).  This was problematic in the past because it was not possible to download and selectively word-count submissions in their original format until after they had been de-anonymised, by which time the  marks and feedback had been released to students.

New Turnitin feature

Markers and Departmental Administrators can now download submissions in their original formats before the Post Date has been reached.

  1. Open the assignment inbox
  2. Click on the ‘download icon’ for the submission you wish to examine
  3. Save or open it
  4. Select the text you wish to check and run the word count


Posted by Martin King

Senior Learning Technologist; MOOC Producer; Moodle, Turnitin, Grademark, Peermark, Panopto, Turning Technologies expert.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.