How NOT to count words in your Word document

Does your court require you to not only conform to word number requirements in your filings but to certify the number of words, either within the filing itself or in a separate certificate? Here's how to meet that requirement without tripping over some sneaky Microsoft Word limitations.

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Unless otherwise noted, all instructions and screenshots are from Microsoft Office for Windows version 2016.

First, the good news: Word can count words for you. You're not stuck going through your pages counting "1, 2, 3, ..."!

But which words does Word count? If you've tricked out the Status Bar like I showed you, you'll already see a word count just to the right of the page and section numbers. Click on that (or go to Review tab > Word Count), and you'll get a dialog box like this:

See that checkbox that says "include textboxes, footnotes and endnotes"? That wasn't always there. It used to be that Word wouldn't count the words in footnotes (and, apparently, endnotes and text boxes). So that's good news.

However, you need to be aware that, if you're relying on the number that's shown in your Status Bar, that's dependent on whether this checkbox is checked. (Test it out for yourself.)

Counting only certain words

But both the Status Bar and the Word Count dialog box count the words in the entire document. Depending on your court's requirements, you may only be required to count the words in the brief itself (i.e., excluding the introductory material like Table of Authorities and the end-of-brief certificate of service, signature block, etc.).

So how do you limit the word count to just the section of the document that needs words counted?

(By the way, some people have written macros/VBA code to solve the word count problem. Caveat emptor.

Using the NumWords field

You may be thinking to yourself, "I've got the system beat - I know about the NumWords field." Clever you! Except ... it's not as accurate as you think it is.

See, the NumWords field counts:

  1. The total number of words in the document; but
  2. Excludes words in footnotes, endnotes and text boxes.

That may make it useful in some contexts, but in a legal document, you typically want to include the footnotes/endnotes but exclude the introductory material (like the Table of Authorities) and other required text like a certificate of service.

Hey, Microsoft - here's an idea!

A lot of the fields in the Insert Field dialog box not only have some standard formatting options (known as "switches") but have some field-specific switches that drive all sorts of nifty behaviors. For example, check out what's available for the SaveDate field:

You can use a switch to pick a different calendar for the SaveDate field

If you're wanting those same kinds of options for the NumWords field, you're out of luck:

No field-specific switches for the NumWords field. (Womp, womp ...)

Apparently I'm not the only one calling for this, and it's not a new request, but I still think it's worth Microsoft adding the following switches:

  • Include/exclude text from footnotes, endnotes, and/or text boxes from NumWords' count
  • Limit the word count to specific section(s) of the document

Who's with me here?

What solutions do you have?

If I know anything about my readers, it's that y'all are a resourceful bunch. Do you know of any plugins that count words in a more sophisticated, flexible way? Have you programmed your own macro to do it? Let me know in the comments below!

About the Author

I spend an inordinate amount of my time playing with computers and attempting to explain technology to lawyers and law office staff. It's not always easy, but someone's got to do it.

Michael Boli

Archaic solution but it usually works: the caption page, TOC, TOA, substantive brief or memorandum, and proof of service (sometimes also a separate signature page for the brief) are each a separate document. Use the word count for the brief or memorandum. Print then assemble all the “final” documents after the word count and signature are done and then scan to *.pdf for e-filing or print copies for paper service copies.

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