by Chelsea Lee
Dear Style Expert,
What words count toward the word count in an APA Style paper? Am I supposed to count the title page, abstract, citations, and reference list? Are there minimums or maximums for the word count of a sentence or paragraph? How many words should go in the whole paper? Help me!
Counting the number of words in an APA Style paper is easy: Count all the words in the entire paper to get the total word count. That includes the title page, abstract, main text, quotations, headings, citations, footnotes, reference list, tables, figure captions, and appendices—everything. This gives an accurate representation of the overall length of your paper and saves you from having to perform elaborate calculations just to know whether your paper is too long, too short, or just right. Use the word count feature of your word-processing program to count the words in your paper.
There is also no set minimum or maximum number of words allowed in a sentence or paragraph. Sentences and paragraphs of any length are technically allowed. However, there are still reasons to avoid very short or very long sentences and paragraphs that have nothing to do with arbitrary word counts. Very short sentences might be abrupt or choppy, and very long sentences might get confusing. Paragraphs shorter than two or three sentences might seem incomplete, and paragraphs longer than a page might contain too many ideas at once. Use very short or long sentences and paragraphs only when warranted by the information being presented.
The word count limit for an entire paper will be set by the journal to which you are submitting your work or by your professor for a university assignment. Limits vary widely and are dependent on the nature of the article you are writing—for example, a brief report will be short but a dissertation quite long.
The word count limit for the abstract is also set by the publisher or professor; abstract word limits vary from journal to journal and typically range from 150 to 250 words (for student assignments, the limit is typically 250 words as well).
If you’ve got other questions about word counts for your particular assignment, your professor or publisher will probably be the best resource for you. Leave any other questions or comments below.
What does the word count mean?
You may be told the word count at the UCL Institute of Education in one of the following ways:
2000 words: this means you need to write 2000 words, plus or minus 10% leeway. This means you need to write a minimum of 1800 words and a maximum of 2200 words. Generally, the more successful students will write more, rather than less, and will end up trying to reduce the word count to meet the limit. This is because they will have discussed the issues in more detail, given more examples and counter-examples, and used a significant amount of referencing and hedging language.
1500-2000 words: here, you need to write within the word count stated. There is no 10% extra leeway.
Remember that in academic writing, once you start adding referencing, hedging, and critical commentary, you need many more words to say the same thing. The word count will probably start to seem short by the time you have got used to writing in this way.