Problem with Word Counts

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated October 24, 2013)

Want to see something interesting? Type the following lines into a Docs document:

One two three four
'One two three four.'
'One two three four'.

Make sure you type the lines exactly as shown. Note, particularly that the position of the period relative to the closing apostrophe is different in the last two lines.

Now, select each line, individually, and use the word counter tool to see how many words are in your selection. (To use the word counter tool, select the line and choose Tools | Word Count.) Note how many words are shown in each instance.

If Google hasn't correct this problem yet, you should get 4 words for the first line, 5 words for the second line, and 4 words for the fourth line. It appears that Google miscounts words when the closing apostrophe immediately follows a terminating punctuation mark (period, question mark, exclamation mark, etc.).

Why is this important to know? Because if you follow a style guide that says punctuation should be inside any enclosing apostrophes used to denote paraphrased text, you might be getting an erroneous word count—especially if you have a lot of such instances in your documents.

This problem doesn't occur, interestingly enough, if you use enclosing quote marks rather than enclosing apostrophes.

Author Bio

Allen Wyatt

With more than 50 non-fiction books and numerous magazine articles to his credit, Allen Wyatt is an internationally recognized author. He  is president of Sharon Parq Associates, a computer and publishing services company. ...

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