Contest word count

A word about word count.
There are some heartbreakers...disqualified for 501 leaps to mind.
A couple at 503, 507 etc.

A helfpful Snarkling wrote in to say that there was a study on word count discrepencies. A 400 count document was submitted to a wide range of word programs. Word count ranged from 386 to 408

Program/Version/Platform Words


Adobe Frame Maker 5.0, 5.5 404

Adobe Page Maker 6.5 400

IBM Translation Manager 2.0.1 386

Lotus Word Pro/Ami Pro 400

MS Word 2.0c 400

MS Word 5.0 DOS 400

MS Word 5.1/5.1a Mac 404

MS Word 6.0 Mac 400
(this is Miss Snark's program)

MS Word 6.0/a/b/c 400

MS Word 7.0 400

MS Word 8.0 400

Nisus 4.1 400

QuarkXPress 4.0 386

Quicknotes 399

TexEdit 2.0.5 Mac 402

Textcount 408

Trados 1.15 402

Word Perfect Spellchecker Mac 402

Word Perfect 2.1.4 Mac 408

Word Perfect 3.0/3.1/3.5e Mac (spell checker counts 387)

Word Perfect 4.2 386

Word Perfect 5.0 404

Word Perfect 5.1 DOS 386

Word Perfect 6.0 400
(this is my back up program)

Word Perfect 6.0a 402

Word Perfect 6.1 400

Word Perfect 8.0 400

Wordstar 7.0b de (7.0d en) 386

So, what does a smart Snarkling take away from this? If you're entering a contest, don't send "exactly 500 words" to a 500 max word contest. Send 450. Or even 475 in a pinch. Give yourself some margin for program count discrepencies.

When I got something that was close (501, 503) I hand checked the words to make sure it's didn't count as two, and formatting hadn't rendered it it,s and thus counted as tw0. I counted twice, once in my usual word and once in my back up word programs. I can tell you without a doubt that if you send work to places that run contests, chances are no one is going to do that. It will just be delete delete delete.

I never stopped to think about discrepencies in word programs before. Had you?


December Quinn said...

Noooo. Never did. That's enough to mess with the head, isn't it?

Glad I always made sure I came in short anyway, mainly because I thought if someone wanted me to add anything in edits I should have the room.

But then, I'm still struggling with the MS Word count vs. 250 words per page word count. (Yes, I use the word one. But I miss the days when 200 pages meant 50k words automatically.)

ann said...

This was mentioned in the National Novel Writing Month contest. In that case participants wanted to write more than 50,000 words in a month.

Bless your heart for double-checking the close ones.

SherryD said...

Yes, and in my case it worked to my benefit. Alfred Hitchcock's Mys. Magazine paid me for more words than I thought I had submitted : )

Lizzy said...

That was very, very nice of you to hand count. Beyond the call of duty.

Anonymous said...

I have MS Word, and sometimes when I do a wordcount under tools I get one number, but if I do a grammar check, the word count that comes up in that window is different.

Whassup with that?

Anonymous said...

Miss Snark is starting to sound like a really nice person. I hate that.

Inkwolf said...

Yeah, I thought about it...pared my entry down to 479, just in case, because I wasn't sure how you'd be counting. Now I'm glad.

(Yay, Miss Snark is a Mac user! If I ever write any Snark-fic, I'll be sure to put that in. What model?)

May I also say that I'm amazed how fast you got all the entries posted? Wow!

Jim C. Hines said...

I've heard that various word processing programs aren't always 100% accurate. I also came across a similar issue in an anthology I'm editing.

Traditional word count was measured as roughly 250 words/page, even if the actual count was far less. (Explanation at http://www.sfwa.org/writing/wordcount.htm for the curious.)

The story I received came in at 6000+ words by MS Word, but 8000 or so using the traditional count.

Our policy is to use the exact count, but as an author being paid by the word, I can definitely sympathize. I'd love to go with the bigger number :-)

Anonymous said...

Please. We obsess about margins, fonts, and SASE's. Of course we obsess about word counts. We also carefully consider the brighness of our paper and whether a thought would be better in quotes or italics. Should we drop down to mid-page for our title, or, since that leaves the last page with only a few lines, would it be okay to drop the title to the 1/4 page mark? We obsess about everything.

Anonymous said...

So weird. I use the same program as Miss Snark, and I could have SWORN it counted 499 words exactly, but then she counted it as 388. So strange.

Killer Yapp said...

Miss Snark is starting to sound nice.
We'll put a stop to THAT post haste!

Kendall Bullen said...

Think about it? Please, I'm a programmer; all I do is think about how 20 programs do "the same thing" 20 different ways...and then, I think about how I'd do it (correctly, of course)! ;-)

Anonymous said...

I'm just curious about the couple that got by her. I know entry #1 is over 500, and I think there was another in the early 20's. Seemed like she got harsher on this as she read more. Couldn't blame her on that though.

JLB said...

Indeed, I have.

You see, I have a tendency to overshoot word counts in all situations owing to a life-long curse to be long winded, even in my poetry. [e.g. 7th grade story for five pages clocked in at 45 pages].

Consequently, I ALWAYS give myself a margin these days so that I don’t find myself discounted over a matter of word accounting.

For the Miss Snark contest, I first gave myself a few words' wiggle roomo. Then I went through and checked all my hyphenated words, and then reduced my word count enough so that if your word processing program’s word counter happened to count each word in a hyphenated word individually, that I still wouldn’t overshoot.

Guess I get a little over-zealous about my word counts. But with a curse like mine, one has to be prepared. ;)

theinadvertentauthor said...

Summation from the study cited above states: The results speak for themselves....
But perhaps it is worth pointing out that the discrepancy in word counts will be significantly greater in some texts than others, for example if the text contains many hyphenated words, which are treated as single words by some word count programs and as two by others. Other discrepancies can be explained by the fact that some programs that used to be very popular stubbornly refused to count numbers.

Poohba said...

As Ann mentioned, this has come up during NaNoWriMo.

I noticed last year my Macintosh Pages program had the same word count as NaNo's counters. I have no idea what they use though, so I can't compare it to any of the programs on this list!

(And Miss Snark is a Mac user - awright!)

Dana Y. T. Lin said...

I KNEW Miss Snark was Mac user. Just more reasons to love her.

Rei said...

Any clue where I could get that 400 word sample? My word counter (the unix tool "wc") isn't on the list of programs tried, and I'd like to see how it compares.

I do know this: wc counts things like "bullet-ridden" as one word. I'd imagine that some counters view that as two.

BuffySquirrel said...

When I was chief slush reader and bottle washer at NFG, we had a regular contest for short-short stories of exactly 69 words. Every time, we received a significant number of entries that didn't conform to the word count. Too many entrants trusted their word processors rather than counting the words by eye.

The discrepancies between programs doesn't surprise me--I've noticed this a lot when transferring documents from WP to Word.

Annie said...

Yikes! Just for the hell of it, I put some effort into making my narrative 500 words exactly. Lord love a duck. I think I'll go have a sip of gin. Or maybe a bit more...


Anonymous said...

Dear Miss Snark,

How did you find the time to read all of these entries, count the words, post them in order, and make comments while still agenting full time? Are you one of the lucky few who only needs a few hours sleep like Einstein? Is it the Gin? If so I'm going to have my first drink in 22 years and buy an extra large pail. Bless you for making this site so much fun and and for being SO informative at the same time!

Anonymous said...

Go by what the editors want; they're the ones going to buy and edit the work. They use the 250 words a page count (plus a little tweaking for chapters and breaks (12 pt. courier, 25 lines a page, 60 characters a line= 250 words a page.)

Your agent isn't going to re-format your manuscript to suit the editor, so you might as well format it for those who's going to pay you, and not the way for those *you* are going to pay.

No Snarkiness toward Ms. Snark meant.

Jpatrick said...

I'm sure that the Yapp appreciates this dogmatic approach to word count. Personally, I think that the variance should favor the author up to no more than 10%.

Usually, there are reasons other than word count to pass on something.

domynoe said...

Roughdraft 3.0 (which I use for my rough drafts): 401

Just had to add that one. ;)

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
McKoala said...

miss snark, you are one hard worker.

Jerry said...

I didn't realize how tricky word counting was until I wrote a word processor tailored to novel writing (for the Mac). How many words is "twenty-five three-ring binders"?

Anonymous said...

Many of the listed programs are ANCIENT versions. Why wasn't MS Word v. X (or 10) listed, since that's the program used by probably at least 90% of writers and editors??

theinadvertentauthor said...

This study was published in 1999, and my limited research did not reveal any other studies dealing with word count discrepancies.