Google Docs can display the word and character count for an entire document or a selected section. This guide outlines how to obtain a word count in a browser and Google Doc apps for Android and iOS.
Word count serves as one way to measure the length of a document. For example, many professional marketing or product papers are between 2,500 and 6,000 words. Blog post lengths vary, yet often end up somewhere between 400 and 1,700 words. Workshop descriptions and speaker biographies for conferences often must be no more than 100 (or so) words.
Here's how to obtain the word count for an entire Google Doc, or for a selected section of text, in your browser, or in the Google Doc apps for Android and iOS. You'll also learn which content is included in the word count.
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How to get the word count in a Google Doc
Google Docs can display the word count in a browser and in the Google Doc apps for Android and iOS. To view the word count, follow these steps (Figure A).
- On a laptop or a desktop computer: Open your Google Doc in Chrome | choose Tools | select Word Count. Alternatively, press Ctrl+Shift+C or, on an Apple keyboard, Command+Shift+C.
- On an Android device: Open your Google Doc in the app | tap the vertical three dot menu (in the upper right corner) | tap Word Count.
- On an iOS device: Open your Google Doc in the app | tap the horizontal three dot menu (in the upper right corner) | tap Word Count.
The system will show word count, overall character count--the number of letters, symbols, numbers, and spaces, and character count excluding spaces. On a laptop or a desktop computer in Chrome, the system also shows the number of pages in your Google Doc.
How to get the word count for selected text in a Google Doc
You may also check the word count of a portion of your document. Select some text within your Google Doc and then access the word count following the steps outlined above. The system will show the word count for your selection in addition to the word count totals for the Google Doc (Figure B).
What is--and is not--included in the word count?
Google Docs word count excludes content in headers, footers, and footnotes. It also doesn't count symbols--such as the "<" or ">" signs--as words; however, it does count em dashes.
According to Google Docs, when I select the preceding paragraph, the system counts 27 words, 180 characters, and 152 characters, excluding spaces. A manual check shows 29 words, plus the 2 em dashes, to produce the result of 31 words.
Google Docs word count includes some words found in long links (i.e., URLs). For example, if I select this long link to another TechRepublic article, https://www.techrepublic.com/article/how-to-create-a-long-dash-in-google-docs/, the system counts the link as 6 words. If you have a document with numerous long links displayed in full, be aware that the system's word count might be higher than a manual word count might indicate.
Reading estimates based on word count
Word count may also help you estimate reading time. A general estimating rule is to assume that an average adult will read approximately 250 words per minute, so a standard 1,000 word document, for example, might take about four minutes to read.
Reading speed may vary based on the content. It may take longer to read complex, technical text filled with unfamiliar terms than it would to read a standard, simple letter. Different people read at different speeds; you might adjust your estimate to 200 words per minute for difficult content (or less experienced readers) to 300 words per minute for easy content (and proficient readers).
How do you use the word count feature in Google Docs? Is this something you use mostly in a browser or in a mobile Google Doc app? Does the word count displayed accurately reflect how you would manually count the words? Let me know in the comments, or on Twitter (@awolber). If you do tweet at me, remember that you can select some text in a Google Doc then use the word count feature to make sure the character count of your text is less than the Twitter limit of 280 characters.
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