Microsoft Word---Accuracy of word count

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cheekychook
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Microsoft Word---Accuracy of word count

Post by cheekychook » August 8th, 2010, 4:23 pm

I can't find a definite answer on whether or not the word count total that appears on Microsoft Word documents is a literal/accurate count of if it's some sort of approximation. Reading technical computer info tends to make my eyes spin in opposite directions, but I thought someone here would probably already know the answer. I know I've heard Nathan and other agents say that MS Word word count is "fine" or "acceptable", but is it really a true count?
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Holly
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Re: Microsoft Word---Accuracy of word count

Post by Holly » August 8th, 2010, 4:44 pm

I just typed this into a blank Word document:

cat cat cat cat cat

The word count said 5. When I pasted that line five times, the word count said 25. Looks like Microsoft has it right.

I'm procrastinating! I'm procrastinating! Cripes, time to eat a jelly donut and check my email and and and....

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Re: Microsoft Word---Accuracy of word count

Post by cheekychook » August 8th, 2010, 4:56 pm

Holly wrote:I just typed this into a blank Word document:

cat cat cat cat cat

The word count said 5. When I pasted that line five times, the word count said 25. Looks like Microsoft has it right.

I'm procrastinating! I'm procrastinating! Cripes, time to eat a jelly donut and check my email and and and....
I know it's accurate for short, straightforward word count, I'm wondering if it's accurate for huge documents (complete manuscripts that are over 100k words). It seems some versions of word no longer provide a count after you reach 100k words, and there's some debate about whether it accurately counts words when formatting is unusual (lines with only a few words of dialogue or other short sentence breaks.) Obviously the estimate-version of word count doesn't work for certain formatting (multiple lines of brief dialogue will result in a page with way less than 250 words), I'm just wondering if MS Word (specifically 2007) counts actual words or if it's based on spaces/characters/some other thing the program looks for to assume how many words are present.

But thanks for giving it the cat test---glad I could provide you with another way to procrastinate. I could go for a jelly donut now....let me amend that....I could ALWAYS go for a jelly donut.
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Quill
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Re: Microsoft Word---Accuracy of word count

Post by Quill » August 8th, 2010, 5:06 pm

You might compare with a word count tool.

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Re: Microsoft Word---Accuracy of word count

Post by polymath » August 8th, 2010, 5:11 pm

Wordprocessor word counts are numerical counts. They offer some measurement of space a manuscpript might occupy in an intended publication, but little real insight because word lengths vary widely by writer and genre (prose, poetry, nonfiction, exposition, essay, etc., topic). Typesetters' word count is a closer approximation of actual space consumed. A basic formula relies on Standard Manuscript Format formatting in a monospaced typeface like Courier.

One line of SMF type occupies sixty-five spaces. The space consumed by idealized word length come by by practice is roughly six keyboard characters followed by a word space, ten idealized words per line. SMF has twenty-five lines per page, thus two hundred fifty words per page. Opening pages have a half-page page sink, for first page and subsequent chapter openings, etc. A chapter ending page with less than twenty-five lines still occupies a full page of space in a book publication. So the simple calculation just counts the number of SMF pages, multiplies by 250, and gives a reasonable estimation of space consumed by typesetters' word count. Note, a novel page averages 350 words regardless of dimensions.

Periodicals and some digests' word count processes vary from novel word counts because they often don't have page sinks or empty space at the end of chapters. They still use SMF for calculations, but add and subtract for empty space variables, like illustrations and manuscript blank spaces. Anyway, periodicals use a column inch calculation rather than a page count, and actually pay based on typesetters' word count or did up until recently.

Basic novel word count formula, number of SMF pages times two hundred fifty gives a reasonable word count estimation for novel submission purposes. It's not likely to be close to a wordprocessor word count. My writing word count from WordPerfect or Word differs by twenty percent average higher in typesetters' word count. For example, WordPerfect count 120,000, typesetters' count 144,000.

Number of pages times 250 = typesetter's word count
Last edited by polymath on August 8th, 2010, 11:13 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Microsoft Word---Accuracy of word count

Post by J. T. SHEA » August 8th, 2010, 10:12 pm

218,362...218,363...218,364...218,36...Oh darn! I'll have to start again. OR eat a jelly donut, check my e-mail and REARRANGE MY SOCK DRAWER.

Holly, please note. Sock Drawer! Every writer should have one.

Or I could just recycle more of my jokes. Very ecological.

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Re: Microsoft Word---Accuracy of word count

Post by polymath » August 8th, 2010, 11:04 pm

The purpose behind word counts is for estimating production costs based on page counts. Also a novel which doesn't fit a publisher's standard page count for standard dimension expectations means additional expense that perhaps causes acquisition reluctance. Publishers and their book producers have a standardized production pipeline down to the size of books and the boxes they fit in, also the pallets, trucks, and warehouse spaces, for economy of scale and standardized handling benefits.

It's worth noting all books' total page counts are divisible by four, some eight, some sixteen, some thirty-two. Thirty-two is typical for massmarket paperbacks where up to thirty-two pages are printed front and back in one impression per side on a single sheet of paper, then collated, then gathered and folded into signatures, then bindery edge trimmed, then perfection bound with cover, then trimmed to finished size. A sextodecimo codex.

A writer's word count only needs to be in a rough but close ballpark estimate. So an agent or editor can evaluate a manuscript's marketability based on standardized expectations derived from production costing estimates. A wordproccessor number count doesn't provide good information on page count.

I did a random sampling of manuscripts' word counts and found variance from less than typesetters' count by thirty percent to ten percent above typesetters' count. Forty percent deviation is a lot of error. A deviation of one thousand words equates to four pages difference. A deviation of twenty thousand words equates to eighty pages. Forty percent deviation, one hundred sixty pages.

However, agents and editors with a digitally oriented aesthetic can do rough but close enough page estimates on Times New Roman typeface manuscripts otherwise in Standard Manuscript Format and from wordprocessor word counts. It's more complicated though.
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Re: Microsoft Word---Accuracy of word count

Post by harryngh » June 28th, 2013, 6:13 pm

I find the tool at the site http://wordcounttools.com accurate enough and I love it.

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Re: Microsoft Word---Accuracy of word count

Post by longknife » July 13th, 2013, 3:38 pm

One has to remember that MSWord word count includes ALL words in the manuscript. That includes chapter headings and anything else included.

Most publishers and editors are happy with the results received.
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