Ph.D. What exactly counts in the word limit?


Footnotes? Intro? Appendices? Are we allowed an extra 5% over the word limit?

A year ago, when I discussed the matter with my supervisor, he had calmed me down saying that nobody's going to do a word count. I will have to have another word with her now, just because I need to be extra-careful with these things.


Rules vary by institution. Your university registry should be able to clarify things.

But generally the word count includes main text (including intro) and footnotes. But not bibliography or appendices.

And you should not go over the upper limit at all. It would just be giving your examiners an excuse for problems.


Hi Marasp,

Best of luck with your submission. It IS possible to pass (and graduate!) after this ordeal!

Agree with Bilbo. Check the rules on word limits within your department and university and follow to the letter.

My word count covered the abstract and my thesis chapters/main text. Content pages, references and appendices excluded from the word count.

With my resubmission I ensured to submit a report within the word limit as that was one of their important corrections/recommendations. I wasn't going to risk failing for exceeding the word limit.

Whilst they were checking my resubmission draft, my internal examiner requested an overall word count before they released their decision on minor corrections verdict. I was literally just under 100,000 words, so I guess they wanted to check.

Don't risk it Marasp! Ensure to follow the uni guidelines very closely.

Strangely, my department and university changed the guidelines on word limits after I graduated, including stricter rules on word limits and clearer guidance. Coincidence? I think not! ;)

Avatar for Mackem_Beefy

To add to Pineapple's comments, 100,000 is normal as a limit though I've suspicions of limits of 80,000 at some places (I think Durham frowns upon theses of greater than 80,000). Check with your own Universitiy's regulations.

The limit was imposed to prevent the mega-theses of years gone by, where candidates would generate documents of hundreds and thousands of words that were a nightmare to examine.

Word will have a word count facility on the Review menu or tab, which will give you an approximate value and this should be good enough to ensure the word count limit is not exceeded. Aim at 500 lower (i.e. 99,500) to account for any margin of error in the word count function.

Ian (Mackem_Beefy)

P.S. As an aside, the largest ever thesis was by a Bruce Williams, "Archaeology and Historical Problems of the Second Intermediate Period", The University of Chicago, 1975. The manuscript covered xxxi + 2143 pages, including 598 figures, 95 tables, and 11 maps. There is no known institution these days that would accept a document of that size.


Thank you all. I made sure I know what is included; my limit is 80.000 words. I have about 5.000 extra but supervisor says they would make a nice appendix (appendix does not count in the word limit). I will also turn a few pages into tables as requested by the examiners and I should be under the word limit. I am getting there.

Also, just a few words to those who are resubmitting. It actually looks more frightening than it is. When I sat down and did the work, I re-found my enthusiasm about the thesis. Now I even enjoy doing the corrections because I know that I improve my work.