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Include citations in word count?

If you're writing for an academic audience, you're probably aiming for a specific word count. The APA manual doesn't provide advice on whether authors should include in-text citations in word counts because instructors or publishing editors determine word limits, versus word limits being a style issue. In my experience, in-text citations are usually included; one explanation for this approach is that in-text citations provide essential information to the reader, therefore the citations should be included in the word count (University of York, 2012, p. 6). Your instructor or publishing editor will have the final say, so please check with him or her for direction. 

If you are including everything in the text in your word count and using Microsoft Word 2007/2010/2013/Word for Mac 2011, you can view the word count in the status bar at the bottom left corner of the page:

 MS Word word count in status bar

You can also click the Word Count button, which in Word 2007/2010/2013 can be found under the Review tab in the Proofing section:

 MS Word's word count button

For other versions of Microsoft Word or similar programs, please search online for the appropriate instructions.

If you are not including in-text citations in your word count, I recommend using the Writer's Diet Test to check your word count. The Writer's Diet Test gives automated feedback on sentence-level grammar for a selection of 100-1000 words, as well as noting the word count for the selection. The test's default setting excludes anything in parentheses, though you can adjust the settings: 

Writer's Diet Test word count options

(Image source: Writer's Diet Test)

For example, according to Microsoft Word, the first paragraph of this posting is 104 words long. The Writer's Diet Test, however, reported 98 words because the test didn't include the parenthetical information. 

Whether you're submitting an assignment or a manuscript for publication, adhering to the word limit is one of your authorial responsibilities. You can reasonably assume that you should include your in-text citations in your word count; however, if you're unsure of what's expected of you, please check with your instructor or publishing editor for clarification.

Theresa Bell
Writing centre coordinator 

(Originally published in Crossroads April 22, 2014)


University of York. (2012). Reference with confidence: The APA style. Retrieved from 

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