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I am writing a thesis right now, and I noticed that in my writing software (Scrivener), there's a "word" and a "character" count.

I understand that this is not Literature & Latte's support site, but I wanted to ask a question more generally than about Scrivener.

Why would one want to think in terms of character counts, as opposed to word counts? I understand that neither are perfect proxies for getting content down, but I was curious as to the reason why one would want to think in terms of characters as opposed to words, as I thought that words would be a better measure of progress, or am I wrong about that?

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    You could consider the characters-to-words ratio as a measure of how complicated your writing is....
    – Hellion
    Jan 20, 2014 at 21:33
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    One reason is in typesetting. When there's a certain amount of space, that would mean a maximum character limit rather than a word limit.
    – nxx
    Jan 20, 2014 at 21:34
  • This isn't significant, but I would find it somewhat interesting to compare a word count to a character count to get an estimation of my average word length. This would only work if the char count didn't include spacing and punctuation, though, and I suspect those are included, so that might not help much.
    – asfallows
    Jan 20, 2014 at 21:57
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is not about English grammar or usage, but an invitation to speculate on a software feature.
    – choster
    Jun 7, 2017 at 20:37
  • Word uses word length (average chars per word) as a key metric to determine your text's reading grade level. If you make swaps such as 'pay someone back' for 'reciprocate,' you lower your reading level despite the extra words. Sentence length is a second metric. Jun 8, 2017 at 22:25

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I can't speak for Scrivener because I've never used it, but I can tell you that in the 1990s some popular word processor packages offered statistics such as character, word and sentence count, and used them to calculate "readability" scores.

And, according to Wikipedia, research in the year 2000 concluded that words-per-sentence and characters-per-word are two of the three metrics which were found to most strongly correspond to the ease with which people read a text.

So it could be that Scrivener is offering data for people who consider readability while they compose their text.

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  • Well, since they were two of the three metrics that were built into the "readability" tests that determined "the ease with which people read a text", that's not totally surprising. In fact, readability formulas are bunk. They don't really test anything but how well texts match certain very simplistic preconceptions. Like the idea that everybody reads the same way, which is total BS, and the idea that everybody learns to read at the same rate, in lockstep (which is what "grade level" means), which is even worse. Jan 20, 2014 at 22:31
  • In addition to what's described in this answer, writers often work to word counts, which would be a direct use of that statistic. Character count is more relevant to storage space requirements, typesetting, and some other purposes. Word counts often ignore one or two letter words, and character-to-word ratios vary, so character count estimates based on word count are crude.
    – fixer1234
    Jun 7, 2017 at 23:26

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