There is a number of jobs, where people are paid basing on how many text content do they produce, proofread, type or process in any other way. And there is a number of standards, basing on which people are paid. Anyone who had a need in word count came across several of them: 250 words, 300 words, 1800 signs or even 3500 signs. But why just not to pay on a per word basis?
Paying on a per word basis looks much simpler only from the first point of view. But every group of language is special and has its own word count traditions. Still size matters – some words are long, some words are short. So, years ago, two standard methods were developed to count words in a text. I call them Western and Soviet ones.
In Western method one word consists of six characters including spaces (average English word is 5.1 characters long). “Antiautomorphism” is 2 and 2/3 words long, which in fact equals a phrase “during the dinner”. This model is true, because it’s a bit unfair to count articles as separate meaningful words, which are usually twice as long as articles are.
Again Western word count method has 2 industry standards. In earlier times, when most manuscripts were prepared on typewriters with fixed pitch (monospace) fonts 250 words per page was generally considered to be standard, and many editors still use it. But in PC era an average manuscript page in 12 point Times Roman will contain about 23 lines of type per page and about 13 words per line, or 300 words per manuscript page.
In Soviet Union the main and dominant language was Russian. As you may know Russian has no articles, while an average Russian word is 6.36 characters long.
In the early 1920’s industry a new industry standard called “author’s list” was created. It consisted of unbelievable 40 000 signs (including spaces, number and all the punctuation). Unlike of Western standards in Soviet Union manuscripts were submitted with dual spacing, so an average typewritten page was 1800 characters long (paradox but that is 300 words in Western printing standard although average Russian word equals 1.24 English words). And if printed on a PC using 12 point Times Roman with single spacing an average page in Russian is 3500 signs big (584 Western words).
After the Soviet Union collapsed word count standards as well as a great deal of other standards were still widely used in the former republics. So if you are paid in units of 250 or 300 words, your client is most probably in Western Europe or America. But if your work is measured in 1800 or 3500 signs I bet that you got an order somewhere from Community of Independent States.
Still I have to explore the word count specifics in oriental languages. Soon an article on this topic will follow.
P.S. You can easily count word statistics almost in any document format using a word count software.