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What Is Word Count?

Alex Tree
Updated May 23, 2024
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Word count is the number of words a document contains; for example, a short blog post might have 250 words. The number of words an article, sentence, or report contains can matter for numerous reasons. Most word processors are capable of word counting, and free word count tools are plentiful on the Internet. Sometimes a word counter is simple and finds only the total count of a document, while other counters can also find the average number of words in each sentence and paragraph. The count of a document can vary slightly depending on the counter used because of the numbers, number-letter combinations, and symbols the developer chose not to count.

It is common for a document’s word count to vary when counted on two or more different counters. Some word counters do not count numerical digits, certain stand-alone symbols, or symbols attached to words. The variation in count is usually slight, but it can be significant if the document contains a lot of words, numbers, or symbols the counter skips.

Sometimes it can be useful to know the average number of words in a sentence or paragraph. Advanced word counters can find this number, as well as find the number of sentences in a paragraph. These features are beneficial when a writer wishes to keep aspects of the article under a certain number for better viewer readability.

Word count matters to people when they have a reason for wanting the word count of a document to be less than, greater than, or roughly around a number. For example, a student may need to turn in a paper that exceeds a minimum required amount of words. Non-academic reasons for paying attention to this metric exist as well, however. A writer may believe that a certain number of words is likely to keep a reader’s attention, while too few or too many may have negative consequences. Finally, some writers believe search engines rank websites more favorably based on the word count of their web pages.

The most common place to find a word counter is within a word processing program. Typically, word processors allow users to view how many words are within their document as well as how many words are selected. Furthermore, information such as the number of characters and pages is often displayed. In addition to word processor applications, some web pages are set up to give users information about this metric.

Language & Humanities is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Alex Tree
By Alex Tree
Andrew McDowell is a talented writer and Language & Humanities contributor. His unique perspective and ability to communicate complex ideas in an accessible manner make him a valuable asset to the team, as he crafts content that both informs and engages readers.
Discussion Comments
By browncoat — On Sep 11, 2011

I do a lot of work online and for a while I didn't have a word processing program on my laptop, since it is such a basic model. So, I used an online word count website to calculate it. People often need an accurate word count, because articles are usually expected to be a certain size.

You can also set up your browser so it will do spelling checks and word counts and so forth if you want it to.

I have OpenOffice installed on my computer now, but I still like having the browser function set to that, because it's much easier than copying and pasting my work between different places.

By Mor — On Sep 11, 2011

@bythewell - Actually, that's why traditionally writers' manuscripts and things like essays which relied on accurate word counts were printed in courier font.

Courier font is designed so each letter takes up the exact same amount of space. So, it's much easier to calculate how many words there are, roughly at least, by averaging.

And you would also know, for sure, if you knew the word and character count, how much space a particular bit of writing would take up, and how much paper you would need.

Now that everything is done with computers, of course, they don't need it anymore. But, people still sometimes use it anyway.

By bythewell — On Sep 10, 2011

Word counts can be so annoying! I know when I was at university, and even at high school, it was always either way too short, or way too long for the word count.

I always thought it was mean that they penalized you for having too many words as well. You'd think that having a lot to say about a subject would be a good thing.

It's a good thing word count calculators are built into computer software though. I can't imagine doing it the old fashioned way and actually having to count the words, or estimate how many there were on top of having to write the thing as well.

Alex Tree
Alex Tree
Andrew McDowell is a talented writer and Language & Humanities contributor. His unique perspective and ability to communicate complex ideas in an accessible manner make him a valuable asset to the team, as he crafts content that both informs and engages readers.
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