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How to count the number of words?

  1. Nov 5, 2015 #1
    I want to know how admission committee counts the number of words in an applicant's statement of purpose, because usually they put limitation on the number of words in this essay. I want to know this because in my statement of purpose there are "words" that actually comprise of two words, for example "I will => I'll" and also phrases like "user-friendly". Currently I use Ms Words to count the number of words in my essay and this sofware counts those aforementioned "words" as a single word. I'm affraid the admission committee will use different counting basis.
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 5, 2015 #2


    Staff: Mentor

    I think you're worrying too much here. My guess is if you're over 10% of the word count they will still accept it. Also most word processors I know count contractions like i'll as one word and similarly for hyphenated words. As an example, the sentence "He is a twelve-year-old child". has 5 words according the LibreOffice word processor.
  4. Nov 5, 2015 #3
    I'm sorry I don't mean to offend you, but is that purely your guess or do you have related experience? Because I don't want to be disqualified only because I do not adhere to the written rule in their website. There are also field-related words like "non-perturbative" which I may use and which does not seem to have a fixed rule to write it - I have seen some resources remove the hyphen.
  5. Nov 5, 2015 #4


    Staff: Mentor

    If you are so worried then either write to the limit that you think it is or contact the school and ask them how they determine the number of words. Every school would have different policies some might use the estimate of 10 words per line and count the lines or others might simply count pages assuming 500 words per page.

    Here's an article about it:


    and this one on the process:

  6. Nov 5, 2015 #5


    Staff: Mentor

  7. Nov 5, 2015 #6
    Thanks, those links are really helpful.
  8. Nov 5, 2015 #7
    One more thing, this school I am applying says that if possible include any fieldwork or data which may support my proposed research. It seems that it also implies that I should also alocate some lines for a list of reference in case I do cite some people's work. Is something like that not rare to encounter? I don't know either if the references will also be counted within the word limit.
  9. Nov 5, 2015 #8
    You're worrying too much. Nobody is going to count all the words on your paper.
  10. Nov 5, 2015 #9


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    My opinion, unqualified as it may be, is to say what you have to say, stay within the needed format, and do not worry about word-count.
  11. Nov 8, 2015 #10


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    I think grad schools are relatively lenient about page/word count. The NSF is not. If you go over the limit you are automatically disqualified. I guess this may only apply to you in the future since the deadline has already passed, but it's crucial that people pay attention to the page limit in this case.
  12. Nov 8, 2015 #11


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    In my experience, in cases where a word limit is strictly enforced (such as in grant applications) there will usually be an online form that counts either to the word or even to the character for you.

    When admissions committees establish a word limit for something like a statement of purpose they're not looking to strike applicants out of the pool because they use slightly different word counts. They want to know about you, why you're interested in the program, and what evidence you can present that the program is a good fit for you. The word limit is there for two reasons. First, the people on admissions committees usually don't have time to read a novel about how you've wanted to be a scientist since you won a ribbon in the seventh grade science fair. Second, if you can't convince them in the allotted word limit that the program is a good fit for you, increasing that word count is unlikely to improve your odds.

    Also, unless otherwise specified, references are not normally part of the word count in these things.
  13. Nov 8, 2015 #12

    Vanadium 50

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    I agree with Choppy.

    (And on NSF grant applications, if it says 15 pages, Fastlane will only send the first 15 pages onward. Anything in page 16 and later is never looked at.)
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