Thursday, 12 February 2009

Word Count vs. Character Count

I've been wondering a long time now about the differences in the writing guidelines in Germany versus those in other (English language) countries.

Did it ever strike you as curious that in the English language, the length of texts (maximum or minimum) is given in words - as in "this novel is complete at 100,000 words", while German regulations for submission are given in characters - as in "no more than 40,000 characters"*.

And so I find myself writing a short and a long text with character count "not more than" in both cases and I wonder why there is that difference. After all, there are long and short words in both languages, and I'd suspect that when the difficulty level of the text rises, so does the average word length. So why count words? Is this better possible in English than in German? Or is it some "historical reason"? Or do the Germans just want it that much more exact?** And why does MS Word include a character count, but not a (complete) word count when that is needed much more often (since there are much more English language writers than German)?***

And, the most important question of them all: Why did I not manage to get my characters counted properly yesterday, in spite of having used "Extras - Word Count" so often before?

*I'm not using the proper German 40.000 here, to avoid confusion - but I think it is funny that 40.000 and 40,000 mean different things in English and German. Talk about confusing.

** Yes, I know, that is so cliché. But did you know that because listing these huge numbers of characters for a text can be daunting, there's a conversion into "Normseiten", standard pages, that are usually worth about 1.500 characters. Which makes those figures much, much smaller.

*** You can of course download and install an add-in for MS Word. It might be useful for you (I only have it for fun - well, mostly). You can find "Complete WordCount" at Shauna Kelly's site - together with a lot of hints for using Word efficiently.


Teffania said...

In all the english language versions I've used, word has had a word count since the earliest versions. I think the character count was only added later. In the english language version the item on the tools menu is called "word count" even though it also displays a character count.

Perhaps the word count is hidden in the german language version, just as the character count is in the english language version?

a stitch in time said...

Teffania, thanks - I botched in that blog entry. I should have written "complete word count" (I changed it , because the text was really misleading this way). The German menu is just like the English and called "Word count", but the Word word count skips text in boxes, headers, footers, etcetera, so it is not a complete word count. It probably leaves out these parts for the character count as well, but I haven't found a "complete character count" yet.

Teffania said...

Ah, yes i guess having both would be useful. Most instances of word count I've come across (eg assignments and even theses) do only want the count of words in the main text though - but I've never been involved in anything as exciting as publishing.