There are several reasons one might wish to count words in Microsoft Word and other writing apps. For example, writers often set daily or weekly writing goals of a certain number of words. Writers who specialize in short form non-fiction have word count ranges that they must meet for editorial reasons. Fiction writers may want to be sure their manuscript is the right length for their genre.
A piece of writing may need a certain number of words to fill a specific page length. An author may want to keep their chapter lengths approximately equal. These and other scenarios require writers to know exactly how many words they’ve written. Before we look at how to count words in documents using different apps, let’s consider a few things that can impact word counts.
How many words are on a page?
There is no certain number of words that constitute a page. You may read that a standard page has three hundred words. Another source may say the standard page is 250 words long. Yet another may say the average number of words in a book is 350 per page.
Those are probably fairly accurate averages, but there are certain factors that should be considered in your own case, especially when you are counting words in a working document that will be later submitted for publication.
If you are writing a document that will later be printed, such as a brochure or a book, you can absolutely control the number of words on the printed page. You can do it by editing your work and adding or deleting text from it. You can also do so by changing line spacing, kearning, and other technical bits that we will touch on later.
There is no accurate way to say how many words will be on a page in eBook readers.
When you count words in Microsoft Word or any other writing app, remember that it is rare that the word count in a standard manuscript format Word document will perfectly match the count in a printed document. Furthermore, beyond the word count for the entire document, there is no accurate way to say how many words will be on a page in eBook readers such as Kindle, Kobo, or Nook. The reason is that the reader can adjust the size of the text in those readers, thereby increasing or decreasing the number of words that are visible on the screen or window at any one time.
Page formatting impacts word count on the page
How is the page in question formatted? If your page is formatted with wide side and/or top and bottom margins, the word count will be lower than a page using the same font, but with narrow margins on all four sides.
Does the page have headers and footers? If so, that page may have fewer words than if it had no headers and footers.
Is your document written with a monospace font like Courier New or a variable spaced font like Times New Roman? If your document is formatted with a monospaced font, every letter takes up the same amount of space on the page. A lower case i is given the same amount of vertical and horizontal space as an uppercase M.
If your document is formatted with a variable-space font, each letter is given the space it requires. The lower case i requires less space on the page than the uppercase M, and so, is given less space. The word Mission in Courier New font takes more space on the page than the word Mission in Times New Roman. The end result is that a page using a monospace font will have fewer words per page than the same size page with a variable-space font, given line spacing and margins are the same on both pages.
Font type, font size, line spacing, margins, can all have an effect on your per page word count.
How do you have your line height set? If you have your document set up using the standard that was in place when editors required manuscripts to be printed out and mailed in with double spaced lines and Courier font, your word count on a full page will be considerably less than a page on which a variable-spaced font and single spacing is used.
Most word processing apps like Microsoft Word, Apple Pages, LibreOffice, and Open Office allow line spacing to be set to a number of different settings. Common settings are 1, 1.25, 1.5, 2.0 and sometimes higher. 1.25 line spacing would be 25% greater than single spacing, 1.5 would be 50% greater, etc..
Have you adjusted the letter spacing within words to a more open setting? If you have, you will have fewer words per page than you might if you had left them at their default settings.
Is your document set to have fully justified margins or is it left/right aligned? If your document is set to have justified margins where both the left and right sides form a straight line when looking down the page, your document may have fewer words per page than if the page is aligned right or left. A page that has been set up to allow hyphenation at the ends of lines could have slightly more words per page than one without hyphenation. The difference won’t be much, but it is possible for there to be some difference.
Count words in writing apps
In the following sections you’ll see how to count words in Microsoft Word and in several other writing apps.
How to count words in Microsoft Word
In Microsoft Word there are two ways to easily display the number of words in your document.
- With your document open, go to the Tools menu in the top bar and select Word Count. That will open a box that displays the number of pages, the word count, how many characters excluding spaces, how many characters including spaces, the number of paragraphs, and the number of lines.
- With your document open, look in the left section of the status bar at the bottom of the page. You should see the word count for the document you have open. If you do not, right click on the status and select Word Count to turn it on. From then on, you’ll be able to see a basic word count for your document just by looking at the status bar.
To see the same information that was available from the menu at Tools > Word Count, just click on the word count in the status bar. That will open the same box that opens from the Tools menu.
Click status bar word count to see more detailed word count info.
If you want to see a word count for just a particular part of the document, highlight (select) the area for which you want to see a word count. The word count in the status bar below the document will display the number of words selected and total number of words.
Now that you know how to count words in Microsoft Word, let’s look at how to count words in other popular writing apps.
How to count words in Apple Pages
It’s just as easy to count words in Apple Pages as it is in MS Word. The word count will show at the bottom center of the document. If you do not see the word count, go to the top menu bar and choose View > Word Count. (To make it go away, do the same. Word Count will have changed to Hide Word Count.)
With the word count displaying at the bottom of your document, click on the actual number to see a list of the following:
- Characters excluding spaces.
- Characters including spaces, words, paragraphs, and pages.
If you’d rather have one of the other items in that list displayed consistently, just click on the word count, then select one of the other choices. You’ll see your chosen item being counted at the bottom of your document.
How to count words in LibreOffice
When you count words in LibreOffice, the method is much like when you count words in Microsoft Word. You’ll find the word and character count (including spaces) in the bottom status bar on the left side. Click on the word count number in the status bar to see the following:
- Word count.
- Character count with spaces.
- Character count without spaces.
You can also see the same information box by going to the Tools menu at the top of the page, then selecting Word Count (Tools > Word Count).
How to count words in OpenOffice
OpenOffice is not a new app by any stretch of the imagination. But in my opinion, it is the least polished of the apps mentioned in this article. It has a very minimalist approach to word count. To count words in OpenOffice text documents:
- Open the document.
- Go to the Tools menu at the top.
- Select Word Count.
A box will open that displays two sections. The bottom section displays character and word counts including spaces for the entire document.
The top section will indicate the number of words and characters including spaces in a selection of text. There must be text selected within the document to display a count in the top section.
How to count words in Google Docs
Thousands of writers do their work in Google Docs. It’s free and it can be used on a large number of devices.
To count words in Google Docs, look for the word count feature under the Tools menu at Tools > Word Count. When you click Word Count, a box opens in front of your document that displays the following:
- Number of pages.
- Number of words.
- Number of characters with spaces.
- Number of characters excluding spaces.
If you want to display the word count while you type, tick the check box on word count window, then click on Ok. You’ll then see the word count in the lower left corner of the screen.
If you want to hide the persistent word count, you can do so by clicking on the word count itself and choosing Hide Word Count.
How to count words in a PDF
To count words in a PDF document is not a single step task. It can require running scripts, copying and pasting into MS Word, or some other app, then using that app’s word count feature.
I have not personally used AnyCount.com and so cannot vouch for them personally, but it would be worth a try, especially if the PDF you need a word count from is a complex file. AnyCount.com has a downloadable tool and an online version. They claim to be able to count words in as many as seventy different formats.
A word about word counts in other writing apps
You’ve seen how to count words in Microsoft Office, Apple Pages, LibreOffice, OpenOffice, and Google Docs. There are other author related apps that can show words counts as well. Two of them are Vellum and Scrivener.
You can learn to see your word count in Vellum here.
You can learn to see your word count in Scrivener here.