Tuesday, 15 May 2012

How many words?

Nowadays tiebreaker competitions are few and far between, so when one DOES come along it can be all too easy to forget important things like making sure your tiebreaker is the right length!

If you are limited to a  certain number of characters,  don't forget that every punctuation mark and even every space counts as a character. A quick way to count your characters is to copy your intended tiebreaker into a Word document, highlight it and then  click on "Tools" at the top  and select Word Count - as well as the number of words, it will tell  you the number of characters, with and without spaces.

When it comes to words, for longer entries such as a nomination in 100 words, the word count tool is useful too, but for shorter tiebreakers of the traditional 10, 12 or 15 words it is better to count  the words yourself - and be aware of the following possible pitfalls

  • Abbreviations are almost always counted as if all the words had been written out in full. For instance in a recent in-house competition  run by the London Competitors Club, LCC was counted as three words,  and even abbreviations treated as single words in everyday use might have this applied. So BBC could count as 3  words, British Broadcasting Corporation while ITV, standing for Independent Television,  could count as two.
  • Numbers can be a very controversial issue. Is 1,234  counted as  one word? Or is it counted as one thousand two hundred and thirty four - seven words? Or maybe as one-two-three-four - four words?
  • Contractions such as won't and don't are almost always counted as two words as they stand for "will not" and "do not". In fact many judges would count can't as two words, too, even though is is a contraction of "cannot" - either because they don't realise that it only represents one word, or because they are reading so quickly they forget!
A rather confusing post-script to contractions counting as two words is the matter of possessives. For instance, if we say "John's bike" we  would normally consider John's as being a single word. A purist might say it is a contraction of "belonging to John" and therefore three words,  but I can't imagine that ever happening in a competition. However I have seen lists of winning tiebreakers that have been typed out to simplify word counting, and where  a gap has been left to replace an apostrophe in contractions, to signify two words, one has also been left in possessives, so they would count as two too!

The safest thing to do in any case of doubt is to avoid abbreviations, contractions and even possessives if you can, and to work on the assumption  that they will be counted as the longer version if you can't.  Using "don't" in a tiebreaker that is only 8 words long when you are allowed 12 is safe - using it in one that is right on the 12 word limit isn't. You may be lucky - the judges  may have decided to count them as single words, or may think your entry is so stunning they will give you the benefit of the doubt - but your entry may equally well find its way on to the reject pile.

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