You’ve no doubt noticed the new word-count limits applicable in Texas appellate courts.

At his blog, Todd Smith has collected some examples from practitioners about how to phrase the word-count certificate of compliance.

The comment I left suggested that your certificate specify the word processor that you used to generate the document (and thus the count). That may seem a minor point. This post explains my thinking — and may make you reconsider your word-processor allegiances.

Word processors disagree about the math

Although your favorite word processor will give you a “word count,” do you know what it is counting?

For example:

  • Phrasal adjectives: Is “summary-judgment motion” two words or three?

  • Legal citations: Is “S.W.3d” one word or two?

  • Numerals: Does a pinpoint cite to a span of pages (e.g., “123-25”) count as one word or two?

  • Record citations: Is a record citation like “4.RR.124-25” one word or two or three or four?

  • Statutory citations: How many words is a cite to “§123.23(A)(1)(i)(a)”? Is it just one long word, or is it five very short words?

I was curious. So, I ran an experiment. I lifted roughly a page and a half from a recent appellate brief. I put this text into its own clean word-processing file and made a few tweaks to the typography.

Survey says…

Here are the word counts from four word processors I had at my fingertips:

Word processor OS Word Count
Microsoft Word 2011 Mac OS X (10.8) 363
LibreOffice 3 Linux (Ubuntu) 364
Wordperfect X5 Windows (XP) 380
Pages Mac OS X (10.8) 405

What led to the huge gap between the lowest count (Word) and the highest count (Pages)? It turns out that Pages uses an algorithm that treats an abbreviation like “4.RR.125-26” as being four words. Yes, four. Count Pages sees imaginary word breaks in places that I do not.

This is a shame, because Pages is a very pleasant word processor to use. But so long as it counts words so greedily, it will be relegated to short motions and letters. (( Perhaps the programmer was trying aid struggling freelancers “paid by the word”? It’s puzzling. ))

The title match: Word vs. WordPerfect

What about the difference between WordPerfect and Word?

It turns out that WordPerfect counts a record citation like “CR.25” as two separate words. (( Oddly, WordPerfect counts “S.W.3d” as just one word and “4.RR.125-26” as (just) two words. So the over counting of record cites is less pronounced in WordPerfect than in Pages.))

Word and WordPerfect also treat dashes differently. In WordPerfect, two words joined together by any flavor of dash (a hyphen, en dash, or em dash) are treated as one long word. The same goes for spans of numbers; joining them with an en dash to indulge your typographic precision does not cost you an extra word. But Microsoft Word is less forgiving. If you use an en dash rather than a hyphen, that subtle choice increases the word count. (( This paragraph was rewritten after Leif’s comment on this post. ))

But all WordPerfect’s sophistication is lost for deeply nested statutory cites. WordPerfect (much like Pages) thinks that “§123.23(A)(1)(a)(i)” is five words. Microsoft Word? It counts that statutory cite as a single word.

The winner

The clear choice for verbose people is Microsoft Word. If you are using WordPerfect, you now have one more thing to boast about: Your briefs will, by necessity, be a little less wordy.