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May 31, 2016
You can word count on this.
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.
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How Long Should a Research Paper Be? Data from 61,519 Examples
I analyzed a random sample of 61,519 full-text research papers, uploaded to PubMed Central between the years 2016 and 2021, in order to answer the questions:
What is the typical overall length of a research paper? and how long should each section be?
I used the BioC API to download the data (see the References section below).
Here’s a summary of the key findings
1- The median length of a research paper is 4,133 words (equivalent to 166 sentences or 34 paragraphs), excluding the abstract and references, with 90% of papers being between 2,023 and 8,284 words.
2- A typical article is divided in the following way:
- Introduction section: 14.6% of the total word count.
- Methods section: 29.7% of the total word count.
- Results section: 26.2% of the total word count.
- Discussion section: 29.4% of the total word count.
Notice that the Materials and methods is the longest section of a professionally written article. So always write this section in enough depth to provide the readers with the necessary details that allow them to replicate your study if they wanted to without requiring further information.
Overall length of a research paper
Let’s start by looking at the maximum word count allowed in some of the well-known journals. Note that the numbers reported in this table include the Abstract , Figure legends and References unless otherwise specified:
 excluding figure legends  excluding references
⚠ Note A review paper is either a systematic review or a meta-analysis, and an original research paper refers to either an observational or an experimental study conducted by the authors themselves.
Notice the large variability between these journals: The maximum number of words allowed ranges between 3,000 and 9,000 words.
Next, let’s look at our data.
Here’s a table that describes the length of a research paper in our sample:
90% of research papers have a word count between 2,023 and 8,284. So it will be a little weird to see a word count outside of this range.
Our data also agree that a typical review paper is a little bit longer than a typical original research paper but not by much (3,858 vs 3,708 words).
Length of each section in a research article
The median article with an IMRaD structure (i.e. contains the following sections: Introduction , Methods , Results and Discussion ) is in general characterized by a short 553 words introduction. And the methods, results and discussion sections are about twice the size of the introduction:
For more information, see:
- How Long Should a Research Title Be? Data from 104,161 Examples
- How Long Should the Abstract Be? Data 61,429 from Examples
- How Long Should the Introduction of a Research Paper Be? Data from 61,518 Examples
- How Long Should the Methods Section Be? Data from 61,514 Examples
- How Long Should the Results Section Be? Data from 61,458 Examples
- How Long Should the Discussion Section Be? Data from 61,517 Examples
- Length of a Conclusion Section: Analysis of 47,810 Examples
- Comeau DC, Wei CH, Islamaj Doğan R, and Lu Z. PMC text mining subset in BioC: about 3 million full text articles and growing, Bioinformatics , btz070, 2019.
How to Increase or Decrease Your Paper’s Word Count
How many times have you worked hard on a research paper or essay , felt confident in your argument, and decided you were ready to turn it in, only to notice that you’re still behind on the word count? Or perhaps you wrote too much, and now you’re struggling to find parts to cut.
How do you increase the word count without being redundant or reduce the word count without sacrificing your key arguments?
You take a deep breath and continue reading our suggestions on the best ways to increase or reduce word count without compromising the quality of your paper.
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What is word count?
Word count is what it sounds like—the number of words in a given writing sample or document..
Word counts exist for many reasons—print publications, for example, have them to ensure stories can fit in a defined space in a newspaper, magazine, or book.
But when it comes to research papers and essays , word counts are used to level the playing field: Each student has the same number of words to get their point across. A strong writer can do this without using unnecessary words to reach the minimum word count, while also avoiding rambling and exceeding the maximum word count.
One of the biggest reasons some students run into problems with word count requirements is that they may be too focused on it. The writer can become more focused on the number of words than on getting their point across clearly and concisely.
Your main priority is making sure your argument and writing are strong, and you may find that reaching your word count is made easier by doing just that.
7 ways to reduce word count
When trying to reduce word count it’s important to use a scalpel and not an axe—meaning you don’t want to delete large portions of your paper to ensure you’re below the maximum word count. Instead, you want to find small but significant ways to bring down your word count.
1 Look for redundancies in your argument
Look to see if you’ve repeated any information in your paper, and delete any redundant points.
If your paper has to do with climate change and you mention the rate at which the polar ice caps are melting twice, delete the second mention (unless it’s related to a separate point you’re trying to make). If you find yourself reiterating the same point in slightly different language, choose the one that is written more clearly and eliminate the other.
2 Eliminate unnecessary or ancillary information
Find any details that don’t serve your argument and delete them. For example, if you’re writing a paper about George Washington’s policy positions, you don’t need to mention his personal life unless it directly impacted his political career.
3 Get to the point
The best arguments are clear and direct, and your paper should strive to be the same.
We could’ve built up that last sentence by talking about the different styles of communication or the pros and cons of being direct, but instead, we got to the point.
Trying to build up your argument not only adds more words but may also weaken it, especially if you’re using unnecessary words.
4 Delete the and that
We often use the while speaking, but in writing, there are times when the can be removed without changing your sentence’s meaning.
That is another common word we use, which may be unnecessary in some sentences. An example is in the sentence you just read—the writer instinctively put that before we and then realized it was unnecessary.
- Original: We knew that he was active in the 1960s and the 1970s.
- Edited: We knew he was active in the 1960s and 1970s.
5 Eliminate unnecessary prepositional phrases
This is yet another example of separating how we speak from how we should write. Too many prepositional phrases can be a sign of excessive wording.
- Original: For many people, the reality of an entry into a new area of employment is cause for a host of anxieties.
- Edited: Changing careers makes many people anxious.
Getting rid of the prepositional phrases forces you to tighten up the sentence. The result is shorter, more direct, and easier to understand.
6 Use an active voice
Writing that utilizes an active voice tends to use fewer words than writing that uses a passive voice. Let’s show you what we mean:
- Active voice: Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in 1440.
- Passive voice: The printing press was invented by Johannes Gutenberg in 1440.
Writing with an active voice not only helps reduce your word count but can also help you communicate your argument in a more effective and clear way than using a passive voice.
7 Avoid unnecessary adverbs and adjectives
Adverbs and adjectives add extra words to your paper, and depending on their usage they may weaken or not add any value to your argument.
- Original: Thomas Jefferson’s entire presidency was undoubtedly controversial.
- Edited: Thomas Jefferson’s presidency was controversial.
6 ways to increase word count
The word count may make up a significant part of your paper’s grade, but your final mark will likely rest on how well you write and the clarity of your argument.
For that reason, you don’t want to use more words merely to reach your word count even though using more words is an easy way to reach the word count.
That last sentence is a perfect example of what not to do. Here are some ways to extend your word count without resorting to adding unnecessary words.
1 Investigate the paper’s topic more thoroughly
Read through your paper and see if there are ways in which you can further discuss your topic without adding redundant or unnecessary information. Two ways you can accomplish this are:
- Providing statistics: If applicable, use data from a reliable source to back up your argument. This could be a poll or a scientific study.
- Discussing your topic’s history: Whether you’re writing about politics or philosophy, it might be a good idea to write about your topic’s origins and how that subject has evolved over time.
2 Explore all angles of your paper’s thesis
Check to see if you’ve explored all angles of your thesis statement , which will not only increase your word count but will likely strengthen your argument as well. For example, if you wrote a paper on why people should exercise but only discussed physical health reasons, you could also discuss its psychological and economic impacts.
3 Include alternative points of view
Introducing alternative points of view can help increase your word count and show that you’ve thoroughly researched the topic.
For example, if you’re writing about capitalism, you could also discuss Karl Marx’s critiques of the economic system.
4 Flesh out thin body paragraphs
It’s important to note that you can flesh out thin body paragraphs without introducing redundant or unnecessary information. Instead, you’ll want to write detailed sentences to support your topic sentence , which can be accomplished by introducing facts, quotes, examples, or anecdotes backing up your point.
- Original: Fight Club deals with the theme of consumerism, such as when the main character criticizes people’s desire to buy new things.
- Edited: Fight Club deals with the theme of consumerism, such as when the main character criticizes people’s desire to buy new things. “Advertising has these people chasing cars and clothes they don’t need,” he says.
5 Find another primary or secondary source to include in your writing
Including additional primary and secondary sources is yet another tactic that can increase your word count and give your argument more legitimacy.
As a reminder, primary sources are anything that provides a firsthand account of an event (autobiographies or diaries, photos, artifacts, or videos). Secondary sources are descriptions, interpretations, or analyses of such events (textbooks, research papers, or documentaries).
6 Expand quotes
Writers will often paraphrase quotes in an effort to keep their argument concise, but there are times when you can expand on them to increase your word count and further illustrate a point.
Let’s revisit the Fight Club quote we used just a bit ago. If we wanted to expand the quote, we could’ve included the main character’s next sentence, which is, “Generations have been working in jobs they hate, just so they can buy what they don’t really need.”
When expanding quotes, it’s important that they add value to your argument. If the next part of that quote dealt with soap making instead of consumerism, it would not have been a good idea to include it.
Word count FAQs
Word count is the number of words in a writing sample. Word counts are used for many reasons, but in research papers and essays they’re used to level the playing field: Each student has the same number of words to get their point across.
How do you decrease word count?
- Delete unnecessary words, such as “that” and “the”
- Erase unneeded adverbs and adjectives
- Eliminate redundancies
- Use an active voice
- Remove unnecessary information
How do you increase word count?
- Investigate all angles of your topic
- Explore your topic in more depth
- Include alternative points of view
- Flesh out thin body paragraphs
- Find additional primary and secondary sources
- Expand quotes
- See all results >
8 Ways to Reduce the Word Count for Your Research Paper | How to Write a Journal Article
It can sometimes feel impossible to reduce word count when you're already working hard to communicate what you have to say. Being able to write concisely is an important skill for authors, but it can demand a chunk of your time. Especially when there’s so much to say.
Tips to Reduce Word Count
- Skip the introductory phrases e.g. ‘it’s been reported that eggs taste better poached (Cox, 2021)’ and jump straight to the citation, ‘eggs taste better poached (Cox, 2021)'.
- Use verb forms over noun forms as they tend to be shorter. For example… 'an investigation into the benefits of laughter was made because of the study', changes to 'the benefits of laughter were investigated because of the study'.
- Avoid stating the obvious. Context is good, but only what’s necessary. Your introduction might be guilty of this.
- Drop wordy phrases that we’ve regularly seen in academic writing. You can swap ‘due to the fact that’ for ‘because’ and ‘a number of’ for ‘several’.
- Use elliptical sentences where there’s opportunity to omit the words but retain the meaning. The methodology might be a good place for this.
- Whenever possible, hyphenate. Hyphenated words can be counted as one, like ‘over-the-counter’.
- Use contractions to get that count down, so ‘they’re’ not ‘they are’.
- Use active voice over passive, as it can save a few words and sound more direct.
For more tips and advice about how to enhance your manuscript preparation and article promotion visit Wiley Editing Services .
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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.
Word count is the number of words in a writing sample. Word counts are used for many reasons, but in research papers and essays they’re used to level the playing field: Each student has the same number of words to get their point across. How do you decrease word count? Delete unnecessary words, such as “that” and “the”
Every book I selected off my shelf exceeds the so-called maximum of 110,000 words for commercial literature or 90,000 words per thriller novel. Even Dan Brown's first novel Digital Fortress is 159,000 words and 186,000 respectively using each method.