Many written assignments contain a word count requirement. How strict are these word count requirements, and how carefully do professors check them, if at all?
In this article, we will take a closer look at whether or not professors actually check word count.
Do Professors Check the Word Count?
Yes, professors usually check word count. It could be done by an estimate based on approximately how long a document should be if it is the desired number of words, or it could be formally verified through Turnitin, Microsoft Word, or some other program that includes a word count feature.
Which Words Are Counted In a Word Count?
Different programs have slightly different algorithms for which words they count.
For example, Turnitin’s word counting algorithm is said to count the words in the main text as well as the reference list, but not words that are in text boxes, or in footnotes or endnotes. This is said to be similar to Microsoft Word’s word counting algorithm.
Other programs might have different words that are counted or not counted.
Be aware, also, that Turnitin, Microsoft Word, or whichever program or website you are using might count words differently than your professor or school. For example, perhaps your professor will count text boxes, endnotes, or footnotes, but these programs typically do not. On the other hand, perhaps there are some aspects such as the citations that your professor does not count, but the programs do.
To be sure your actual word count matches the professor’s required word count, highlight the parts of your assignment that are within the portions that your professor will count and check the word count for just these portions. Make sure to save your work before doing this so that if you accidentally delete highlighted text you can easily restore your work.
How Do Professors Check Word Count?
Once you have checked with the professor or school about which portions of the document are counted in the word count, you might be wondering how professors verify how many words are actually in an assignment.
Do the professors count each word, or just eyeball the assignment to see if it looks like it’s the right length?
Going over page limit should not be a problem for most professors.
Of course, professors do not want to nor need to waste their time counting each word. They can upload the document to a program which counts the number of words just as you should have been doing when writing the assignment.
Most programs, such as Microsoft Word, either have a small note on the edge of the screen keeping a running tally of the word count, or have an option where you can check the word count of the either the entire document or of selected passages within the document.
After seeing so many assignments over the years, however, many professors are able to look at a document’s length and formatting to make a reasonable estimate of whether or not the assignment meets the word count requirement. Only if it looks questionable or clearly different from the word count, then these professors might formally confirm the word count and make a note of it on the grade.
How Strict is the Word Count Requirement
Always check with your professor for their specific requirements. Some professors may be very strict about the word count, and different professors may even have different interpretations of what they mean by strict.
Some professors may mean that the word count must be at least the specified word count for the assignment, with a very strict minimum but no maximum.
Other professors may accept the assignment if it is within 10% plus or minus of the stated word count. For example, an assignment with a stated word count of 1000 words might be accepted by this professor if it is between 900 – 1100 words.
There are some professors who may make exceptions to the word count if the assignment is exceptionally well-written or presented, but a student should not expect this to be the case. It is always best to ask the professor to clarify their expectations for the word count.
Is the Word Count a Minimum, a Maximum, or an Approximation?
As described previously, it is always best to check with your professor. Some professors may give the word count as an approximate guide, while others mean it as a strict minimum, and a few may even intend it as almost a maximum so that they do not need to read more than is necessary to actually complete the assignment.
If you didn’t ask the professor for clarification or guidance on the word count in time to complete the assignment, it’s always best to just try to stay as close to the word count as possible.
Why Do Professors Have a Word Count?
Professors almost always provide a word count requirement for good reasons.
The first reason is that they have an idea of how much information is needed in order to adequately answer the questions or prompts. If a student attempts to complete the assignment with too few words, they most likely left out a lot of crucial information that the professor had wanted the student to learn.
It’s also a skill to be able to adhere to a particular word count, as part of developing ones written expression skills.
Finally, more is not necessarily better. Almost all professors have a lot of demands on their time, and so simply do not have time to read exceedingly long written assignments.
Part of the purpose of a word count is to provide some guidance so that the student does not feel compelled to write more than is necessary and more than the professor actually has time to read.
Being able to write concisely is another written language skill that is important to develop, as well.
Do Professors Check the Word Count?
Yes, typically, professors do check word count. This could be via a program with a word count feature such as Microsoft Word or Turnitin, or based on an estimate of about how long a document of the required word count should be.