Watching your Weight?

By Feb.05, 2016

No, I’m not being personal about your wobbly bits, I’m talking about WORD COUNTS.

When you are given an assignment you are usually told how long it should be. This shouldn’t be a problem with short works like essays and reports, but when you are doing an extensive piece of work, such as a dissertation or other final year project, word counts can be worrying.

Is it too big?

Let’s look at what is and isn’t included in your word count.

First, what’s not included. The following are called “front matter” and are not part of your word count:

  • Title Page
  • Abstract
  • Acknowledgement
  • Table of Contents
  • List of Figures
  • List of Tables

The things at the end of your assignment are not part of your word count either:

  • Reference List (Bibliography)
  • Appendices

Everything that is part of the main body of your assignment is included in your word count. Section headings will be part of your word count, but these should be short and not add too much to your total.

Any footnotes you use will be included in your word count, so if you’re running out of room please don’t think this is a good place to squeeze in a bit more content.

Neither is an appendix the place to further your discussion.

Appendices are used for the sort of things someone might want to see if they were checking your research methodology, such as datasets, questionnaires, and consent forms. This is supporting material and not included in your word count.

Are in-text citations included in your word count? Usually, yes they are, as they provide your reader with important information about the sources you have used and the evidence for your argument.

Now here is the tricky part.

You have probably already noticed that the APA 6th style used at Salford lists a lot of authors in citations. The first time you cite a work you have to list up to five authors. Add in the years and the ampersands and this can quickly escalate your word count!

For example, in this one short sentence the word count is 41, but only 12 of those words are my own.

word count

Please don’t even think about leaving out citations. It is crucial that you acknowledge your sources; not doing so is considered plagiarism, which is considerably worse than exceeding your word count.

So, do you need to include your in-text citations in your word count? Possibly not. In some subject areas papers are written by one or two authors, which shouldn’t cause you any problems, but in other areas they are written by large research teams – which means lots of names in your citations.

The APA 6th style has no fixed rule about whether citations are counted or not, so speak to your tutor or supervisor. Depending on your subject area it may be acceptable to exclude them from your word count.

Now, if you are allowed to exclude in-text citations from your word count, how do you go about calculating what your word count is?

You could use the Word Count checker on the body of your assignment, then add up all the names, years, ‘ands’ and ampersands in your citations, and subtract that number from the first one. You may well find this both time-consuming and annoying.

Or, if you’ve been using EndNote to do your referencing, try changing your style to “Chicago 16th Footnote”. This will hide your citations. Calculate the word count for your assignment, then change your style back to APA 6th again. Good job, well done!

Not using EndNote? Don’t worry, it’s not too late to start. See the Skills for Learning workshops to book yourself onto a short introductory class, or contact your Academic Support Librarian for help.

Now that you know all the the things you can, or may be allowed to exclude from your word count, is your dissertation or project still too big?

Oh dear.

There is every chance you are simply using too many words. Try the Skills for Learning advice about writing for help.

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