Word count in OpenOffice Writer and Microsoft Word is wildly different!

I've been writing book 2 using the OpenOffice Writer application instead of Microsoft Word. It was a successful experiment for the most part.

But industry standard for manuscripts is Microsoft Word .doc format, and I'm getting very close to sending the ms out to beta readers, so last night I saved the ms as a doc and opened it in Word.

The word count in my manuscript went from about 92,000 in Writer, to 88,000 in Word.


Convinced I'd just lost a couple of scenes worth of wordage due to some hideous bug, I began a comparison. But the page count was identical, and I couldn't find anything missing.

A bit of scrabbling with Google found the answer. Word and Writer have radically different definitions of what constitutes a word. OpenOffice Writer accepts almost any sequence of white space or punctuation delimited characters as a word. Microsoft Word is much more discriminating. On top of that, OpenOffice Writer counts text in headers and footers, and anything in text boxes.

Do I really have 4,000 extraneous character sequences in this ms? I haven't put headers or footers in yet, so the only thing I can think of is em-dashes and en-dashes -- I do tend to use them a bit, just like this -- but even so 4,000 is a bit hard to come at. There are a small number of hyphenated words, which OpenOffice will count as 2, and I use *** to mark scene boundaries.

Which of them is "right"? Fortunately for a novel it doesn't matter, because the publisher only cares about pages. As long as you stick to Times New Roman 12 point with 2.5cm (1 inch) margins, you're going to get 250 words per page. But I have to say Microsoft Word has the correct definition intuitively.

If you're using OpenOffice Writer for an article or essay or school assignment where word count matters, you better be wary.

OpenOffice guys, please fix this!


Chris Eldin said...

OMG! This is very, very strange. I would've freaked out.

Anneke Klein said...

I noticed this too. And I have the feeling that the OpenOffice word count is not reliable at all, so I check in Word before I send it.

Peter Rozovsky said...

This is the oddest post I've read recently. I do some freelance editing, and I naturally use word count to estimate fees. I also have both Word and Open Office Writer on my computer. Perhaps the interests of client and editor diverge on this one.

I had not known of this odd divergence. Thanks for letting me know about it.
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

Shadows said...

Great, so all those word counts I tweet? Totally, completely wrong. >.<

irenesbooks said...

Troublesome! Have you reported this?

Alex Moore said...

yeee-ikes! thanks for the heads up :)

Older Gamer said...

I just discovered this problem myself within the past 10 minutes and I'm very upset given that I'm contractually obligated to a word count. Thank god that the error means that Word's word count is lower than OpenOffice's word count. But in my case the two counts add up to be about 10,000 words different. That's almost a whole chapter!!!

Barrie said...

4000 words is a huge difference! I type my ms in mac pages and then transfer it to word. There's quite a difference in number of pages. I end up with more pages in word. I think I'll check the word count too.

Jordan (MamaBlogga) said...

Man! I had no idea. That might explain why the 250 words/pg count is like 15,000 words off for me in OO.o—that, and the fact that OO.o can only fit 24 lines/page for some reason.

(Here from Rachelle Gardner's blog party!)

word verification: apnefy. Defn: 1. to induce an oxygen loss in the brain, usu. due to boredom. 2. sth writers seek to avoid!