A brief question on word count

Please indulge this word-count newbie for just a few moments.

What should I use to determine word count? Is Microsoft Word’s word counter a good measure?

Here’s why I ask: I’ve been told manuscript pages usually contain about 250 words per page. But I’ve got one-inch margins all around, and when I highlight a page in Microsoft Word the count generally comes to between 290 – 350 words.

(I’m guessing this is one of the reasons why word count is better than page count.)

I know what you’re thinking: I’m not supposed to worry about length until I’ve completed the manuscript, because the book will be as many words as it takes to tell my story. But measuring progress helps me feel productive, and I’d like to articulate that progress in words.

So, thoughts? How do you measure word count?

UPDATE: Thanks to one of my readers, I’ve figured out why my pages amount to more than 250 words — I use Times New Roman font. The 250-words per page count apparently applies to Courier New.

So I’m going with Microsoft Word’s count — I’ve written about 50,000 words. Assuming my travel memoir falls in my goal window of 85,000 – 90,000 words, that means I’m more than halfway there!

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14 Responses

  1. The word count feature also measures spaces and paragraph markers. I’m using Word 2007, so, am not as familiar with it as the old word, but seem to me, somewhere there’s a “Properties” option that has word count that measures just word. Or, there may be an add-on that can do this, or, special software. But, I think the spaces is what’s throwing you a curve.

    Best Regards, Galen.
    GalenKindley.com

  2. Hey Galen,

    Hmm. I checked out the properties function, and for a 20-page chapter it gives the same word count as the actual word-count function: nearly 6,500. That’s about 325 words per page.

    The word-count function also gives an option for characters, both with and without spaces.

  3. HI Alexis,
    Can’t help with the word count question, but wanted to thank you for your comment on my blog. I read your travel blog link and you win. That was way harder than what I’m dealing with. Woke up today and blues have lifted, so maybe I was just tired. Thanks for the hugs and good thoughts.
    Karen
    http://www.karenfollowingthewhispers.blogspot.com

  4. Different word processors actually count words differently. So you might load a piece of writing into M$ Word and get, say, 4,936 words. But if you load that exact same piece of writing into Open Office Writer, you might get 4,892 words. It all depends on what a word processor counts as a “word.”

    The longer a piece of writing is, the less important an exact word count becomes. I think writers usually just round to the nearest 100 or 500 word mark. Not 106,387 words but 106,500 words, for example.

  5. The 250 words per page estimate is for as follows: 1 inch margin, double spaced, 12 point Courier New (or similar monospaced font). If you reformat your manuscript to meet these requirements, you’ll pages typically fall within a few words of the 250 mark.

    I have estimation charts here: http://www.bradleyrobb.net/on/writing-resources/word-counts/ and I am currently working on a estimation tool for Fiction Matters.

    As for whether Microsoft Word’s Wordcount Tool is accurate – it is. It’s exceptionally accurate in that it counts one digit words as words. Whether an editor does is typically up to the editor.

  6. Now Alexis – we’ve been through this before. Word’s basic word count is plenty fine enough a barometer for keeping approximate tabs on how many words you’ve got keyed in. Don’t dwell. (smile)

    Seriously, just write, check every so often to see where you are in the story as opposed (or in concert with) the desired end count, and let it go.

    Alexis! Let. It. Go. 🙂

    The Old Silly from Free Spirit Blog

  7. Alex, great that you know your answer. Now that you are half way through, will you excite us with a bit of what you are going to cover in the book?

    In Quest of Theta Magic

  8. Hi Alexis,
    Another thank you coming your way for the second post from your travel blog. It sure makes my mouth water for the book you are currently writing. It will be fabulous,I can tell.
    I woke up this morning and the blues had miraculously disappeared. Maybe I was just super-tired. Thanks for the support and the cyber-hugs.
    Karen
    http://www.karenfollowingthewhispers.blogspot.com

  9. There are variations in the word count programs, but when you try to guestimate by pages you have to figure in font, size, paragraphs, if there is dialogue your spacing will be different…lots of variables to consider. Sounds as though you are making good progress.

    Nancy, from Just a Thought…

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