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What’s with ProWritingAid’s Word Count?

Lisa Lepki
Head of Marketing and Editor of the ProWritingAid Blog
Published Jul 30, 2018

ProWritingAid's Word Count

You may have noticed that ProWritingAid’s word count differs from others, like MS Word, Scrivener, Google Docs, and even Grammarly. There’s a very simple reason for it: each program counts words with apostrophes, numbers, hyphens, commas, periods, and other characters differently.

Contents:
  1. Examples
  2. How popular programs count words
  3. Optional word counts

Examples

How many words would you say are in the following:

  • ISO 9001:2015—Some programs count these are 3 and some as 2
  • And/or—You and I see 2 words, but some counters only see 1
  • Jane@xyz.com—Programs can count this as 1, 2, or 3 words, depending on the algorithm
  • Numbers like 123.45, $567.89, 89%—Some programs count them as a single word, others as 2, and some even count them as 3
  • www.AnyWebsite.com—URLs are generally counted as either 1 or 3 words
  • Under_score—The majority count this as 1 word, with some counting it as 2
  • a.m.—Some programs count this as 2 words while others count only 1 word
  • Wouldn’t—Contractions mostly count as 1 word, with a few stragglers counting them as 2

How popular programs count words

Algorithms count words in software programs. Some of them, like MS Word, look for spaces between words to consider the boundaries between words. These types of programs will consider and/or as a single word because it contains no spaces. These algorithms will generally return word counts that are lower than other programs.

Some programs use their algorithm to find spaces and special characters between words. For example, February:March would count as 2 separate words, even if there are no spaces on either side of each word. You’ll get a higher word count with this algorithm.

Other algorithms handle numbers and apostrophes differently. They may count periods and commas in numbers as word separators. Thus, $6,123.45 would count as 3 words. It’s crazy, but it happens. And it gives back a much higher word count than other programs.

Optional word counts

Some programs have options to let you control what characters are word separators. The drawback to this algorithm is that a single text could end up with highly varied word counts depending on the options chosen.

Whatever program you choose for writing your manuscript or content, stay consistent. If you turn in work via MS Word most of the time, stick to MS Word for everything. If you write in Scrivener, but compile your manuscript into MS Word, stick with the word count in MS Word’s algorithm.

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Lisa Lepki
Head of Marketing and Editor of the ProWritingAid Blog

Lisa Lepki is ProWritingAid's Head of Marketing and the Editor of the ProWritingAid blog. A word nerd, she loves the technical elements of writing almost as much as the writing itself. She is the co-author of The Novel-Writing Training Plan, Creating Legends: How to craft characters readers adore... or despise!, How to Build Your Author Platform on a Shoestring and 20 Editing Tips from Professional Writers.

As an author, I find the PWA word count function absolutely useless. In 40 years of writing, I haven't had a publisher or editor yet who looks at manuscript word counts the way the program does. Is there any way that can be changed or at least provide a dual word count--one for technical and one for practical everyday use of the language?
By amy12338 on 22 September 2020, 04:27 PM
We are so sorry that you feel that way! We also love when our users give us suggestions for product improvement and have created an upvoty page for just that purchase. To make your suggestion, please follow this link: https://prowritingaid.upvoty.com/. Thanks!
By writersneed2 on 23 September 2020, 04:36 PM
How do I find out what my word count is?
By Jimgibson348 on 24 September 2020, 12:12 AM
Go ahead and run your summary report! Your word count will appear there.
By amy.cohen on 29 September 2020, 04:02 PM
Can you be more specific as to where on the Summary Report we can find the Word Count? I must be missing something...
By rossim2i2 on 22 October 2020, 11:48 AM
You may have the new version of the summary report where the word count isn't on display! We are going to alter this (probably) but in the meantime, go ahead and use the "Length Report" to find your word count. :)
By amy.cohen on 22 October 2020, 03:49 PM
Thank you for the quick response!
By rossim2i2 on 22 October 2020, 08:38 PM
You are so welcome! :)
By amy.cohen on 23 October 2020, 01:56 PM
Today (11/4/2020) when I ran the summary report it had changed dramatically. I like the new report, except that I couldn't find a word count anywhere. Is that gone? Is there some other way to get a word count for a selected section of my document?
By james165 on 04 November 2020, 07:48 PM
oops, I should have read all the comments before asking this. I see just above that I can use the length report. Thank you.
By james165 on 04 November 2020, 07:56 PM
No worries! :)
By amy.cohen on 04 November 2020, 08:39 PM

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