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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. According to the American Psychological Association (APA, 2020),

to determine word count, count every word from beginning to end, including all in-text citations, reference entries, tables, figures (other than words in a figure image, which may not be captured by word count), and appendices. The default settings of the word-count function of your word-processing program are acceptable for determining the word count. (p. 46)

Since in-text citations are essential in academic writing to acknowledge sources of information and prevent plagiarism, including them in the word count aligns them at the same level of importance as the rest of the information in the work. If you are unsure of the expectations for your work, please check with your instructor or publishing editor for direction. 

If you are working in a PC version of Microsoft Word, you can click the Word Count button, which can be found under the Review tab in the Proofing section:

If you are using Microsoft Word for Mac, you can view the word count in the status bar at the bottom left corner of the page:

If you are using a different word processing program, please search online for the appropriate instructions to calculate the word count.

If you are not expected to include in-text citations in the word count for your document, try using the Writer's Diet Test to check the word count. The Writer's Diet Test gives automated feedback on sentence-level conciseness 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 in the "Advanced" tab.

Whether you're submitting an assignment or a manuscript for publication, adhering to the word limit is one of your responsibilities as an author. You can 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
Manager, Blended Learning Success

(Originally published in Crossroads April 22, 2014; updated with APA Style (7th ed.) information September 16, 2020)


American Psychological Association. (2020). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (7th ed.).