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Word count issues – Part II June 18, 2008

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Business practices, Tools.

Disclaimer: For all those of you who already aware of this issue, bear with me, because this is for those who are not as familiar with word counts. Also, since I am a German translator, I am not at all familiar with how to count languages such as Japanese, Hebrew, etc. If you work in one of these languages, I suggest you ask some of your colleagues what they use.

Counting words, characters, and/or lines is a crucial subject for all freelance translators, because it is the foundation for pricing our translations, issuing invoices to clients, and getting paid. However, if you have been relying exclusively on the Word Count feature in Microsoft Word to invoice your clients, you may have been invoicing for a much lower word count than you actually translated. Different word processing programs and translation tools often produce different word count values for the same document. Sometimes those differences can be quite drastic. They are due to the use of different rules for counting as well as deficiencies in the applications themselves.

If you have been using the Word Count feature in Microsoft Word to invoice your clients, you have been short-changing yourself. The reason for this is that Microsoft Word does not count comments, headers, footers, embedded objects and files, and—most importantly—text boxes. If a file has been run through an Optical Character Recognition program, these programs tend to create a lot of text boxes. Word does not count the words in text boxes, and yet you definitely have to translate them.

The same problem exists with Excel and PowerPoint. One of my clients once sent me a PowerPoint presentation to translate and quoted me a word count of 2,000 words. By the end of the day I was nowhere close to being finished. After a quick count using PractiCount I discovered that the actual word count was more like 6,000 words because the client had not counted the embedded Excel spreadsheets. I wrote the client and explained why I would not be meeting the one-day deadline, and the client agreed to give me two extra days to work on it.

PowerPoint also does not offer character counts, which means translators in languages that rely on character counts should consider using a third party counting tool for this reason.

There is also a problem with version consistency. Every version of Word, PowerPoint, etc. has different rules regarding words and word count. PowerPoint 97 and 2000 are not consistent with the Word counting rules. For example, they count hyphenated words as two words. Fortunately (or perhaps unfortunately for us?) PowerPoint XP corrects this difference. In plain text, this means that two different users with different PowerPoint versions may disagree about the word count on the same document. So if your client contests your word count, the reason may be because the client is using a different version of Word, PowerPoint, etc. I for one am still using Word 2002 and see no reason to upgrade to Word 2007, because I am happy (and, most importantly, intimately familiar) with the 2002 version. I know I am not alone.

In our comparison of counting tools (see What’s in a Word?, ATA Chronicle, August 2006), PractiCount and Total Assistant came out the clear winners. PractiCount ($59.95 for the standard edition) is easy to use due to its tabbed interface and adjustable settings, and it can also generate invoices. PractiCount can count footers, headers, text boxes, inserted Excel and PowerPoint documents, comments, WordArt and more. Total Assistant ($24.95 for the standard version, $44.95 for the professional version) can produce a word count of multiple files in just two steps and counts unfriendly formats such as PowerPoint and Adobe Acrobat. Total Assistant is a more basic but also cheaper program than PractiCount. Total Assistant Pro also adds invoice generation and other reports.

Some of the available word count tools are AnyCount (which comes with Translation Office 3000 or can be purchased as a stand-alone tool), TextCount, and FreeBudget. Marita and I recommend downloading the various free trial versions and deciding which one you prefer and best suits your needs.

I’m sure there are many more tools out there, and if you work with a different tool, feel free to tell us about it in the comments. As I’ve said, I can only talk about the ones I have worked with in the past.



1. Fabio Said - June 18, 2008

Hi Jill,
Very interesting article. And, like you said, word count is crucial.
I’ve been using FineCount, which is free if you want just the basic functions, and works fine with me (AND it counts words and characters on “evil” PDF files) – no wonder it’s called *Fine*Count. 🙂

2. Eric - July 21, 2008

I’ve found a workaround. Save your Word file as a PDF, then use Acrobat to save that file as a text file. Open this text file in Word and run the word count.

3. Hans Lenting - September 9, 2008

I’m not a fan of Anycount anymore. It takes ages to count on my system (Windows XP, Service Pack 3), especially on Word documents (Word 2003). Also, FrameMaker MIF files are counted wrong. And when counting PDF files, the differences with the originating MIF or Word document are tremendous…

So I shifted to PractiCount and I am very happy with it – for the moment ;-).

BTW There is an extensive document about the differences between Trados’ word counting and Transit’s.

4. Robert - August 9, 2013

myWordCount from myWriterTools does a very accurate character count as well as words, phrases and sentence lengths — works in Mac or Windows.

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