I am currently in the process of finishing up my Master's thesis which requires me to disclose the exact word count.

My thesis contains a lot of mathematical symbols and equations and I am not sure whether those, together with table and figure captions, should be included in the final word count or not.

I know how many words, inline math and display math (in LaTeX terms) elements my document contains, but I am just not sure whether to count them or not.

My university has not given any guidance on what to include in the word count, so I am wondering if there are any general rules that apply in this situation? The only thing I could find on the internet was from APS Journals: "The word equivalent for displayed math is 16 words per row for single-column equations. Two-column equations count as 32 words per row."

Any guidance on this would be greatly appreciated!

  • 7
    I find it astonishing a university asking for the word count of a thesis, whatever the level. Aug 22, 2016 at 20:28

2 Answers 2


To me, the key question is this: what is the purpose of the word count?

If the purpose is to fill in a blank that says: "word count goes here", then just take the simplest approach that will give you a number and don't sweat the details. Personally, I would run "wc" on my LaTeX source in such a case.

On the other hand, in some cases word count is being used to determine how the length of your document relates to a minimum or maximum length. If it's actually strict, then they'll generally provide clear guidance; if it's an approximate guideline (which is usually the case), then again, just take a reasonable approach that will let you conform and don't sweat the details.

  • A small tip: you may be interested in using opendetex on your LaTeX source to strip all LaTeX constructs before piping the result to wc. So something like delatex <your LaTeX file> | wc. Aug 23, 2016 at 6:40
  • I use the texcount tool to do the word count. It also strips all the LaTeX commands and returns a breakdown of words, display math, inline math, footnotes etc. Thanks for providing some perspective on the word count issue!
    – Mark
    Aug 23, 2016 at 6:47
  • another viable approach for picking out the content words: make the PDF, run pdf2ps and ps2txt, then use wc. Sep 1, 2016 at 0:41

The best thing to do is count all the words including those in the table and also count the words again leaving those in the table and include all of them in the thesis report.

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