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The History of Word Count Metrics and Character Count Metrics

Let’s talk about the history of word count metrics and character count metrics. There are many jobs where people are paid based on how much text content they produce, proofread, type, or process in any other way. And there are many standards, basing on which people get their salaries. Anyone who needed word count came across several of them: 250 words, 300 words, 1800 signs, or even 3500 signs. But why not pay on a per-word basis? Let’s delve into the history of word count metrics.

Paying on a per word basis looks much simpler only from the first point of view. But every group of languages is unique and has its own word count traditions. Still, size matters – some words are long, some words are short. So, years ago, two standard methods were developed to count words in a text. I call them Western and Soviet ones.

Western Method

In the Western method, one word consists of six characters, including spaces (average English word is 5.1 characters long). “Antiautomorphism” is 2 and 2/3 words long, which equals a phrase “during the dinner.” This model is true because it’s a bit unfair to count articles as separate meaningful words, which are usually twice as long as articles are.

Again Western word count method has 2 industry standards. In earlier times, when most manuscripts were prepared on typewriters with fixed pitch (monospace) fonts, 250 words per page was generally considered to be standard. Many editors still use it. But in the PC era, an average manuscript page in 12 point Times Roman will contain about 23 lines of type per page and approximately 13 words per line, or 300 words per manuscript page.

In the Soviet Union

In the Soviet Union, the primary and dominant language was Russian. As you may know, Russian has no articles, while an average Russian word is 6.36 characters long.

In the early 1920’s industry a new industry standard called “author’s list” was created. It consisted of an unbelievable 40 000 signs (including spaces, numbers, and punctuation). Unlike Western standards in the Soviet Union, manuscripts were submitted with dual spacing. An average typewritten page was 1800 characters long (paradox, but 300 words in Western printing standard although average Russian word equals 1.24 English words). And if printed on a PC using a 12 point Times Roman with single spacing, an average page in Russian is 3500 signs big (584 Western words).

After the Soviet Union collapsed, people still widely used the word count standards in the former republics, as well as plenty of other standards. So if you get payment for units of 250 or 300 words, your client is most probably in Western Europe or America. But if your work has a limit of 1800 or 3500 signs, I bet that you got an order somewhere from the Community of Independent States.

Still, I have to explore the word count specifics in oriental languages. Soon an article on this topic will follow.

PS You can easily count word statistics almost in any document format using a word count software.

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