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What Do Essay Contests Consider Part of Their Character Count?

How to Avoid Getting Disqualified

Editors will often require specific character or word counts for your work. They do this for a variety of reasons—to save themselves from having to read entire novels, to test how clearly and concisely an essayist can write. No matter what the reason is for the assigned character or word limit, you must comply. The first thing an editor will check is your character or word count and if your essay is too long, it will be immediately disqualified.

How Essay Contests Define Characters

Characters are the basic building blocks of writing. Whether you are composing a writing contest entry, a Google headline or a tweet, the number of characters you use in your writing is important. So what counts as a character? Do spaces count? What about commas and periods?

Most of the time, spaces, letters of the alphabet, numbers, and punctuation all count toward a character limit. For example, if you are composing a tweet, you will be limited to 280 characters, and everything you type counts. 

Some writing contests may not count spaces or punctuation toward their character count. Check what the contest rules say. If the writing contest rules don't explicitly state that some characters are excluded from the character count, play it safe by counting them all. It's better to trim a few letters from your entry than to be disqualified for exceeding the character count.

How to Tell How Many Characters Your Entry Has

If you're not sure whether your entry is under the allowed character limit, don't worry—there are several easy ways to count your characters:

  1. Use a Word Processor. Compose your entry into a word processor like MS Word or Apple Pages and click on the Word Count feature to see the number of characters.
  1. Use a Free Character Counter. There are several websites that offer a free character counter, where you just need to copy-paste your text to check the number of characters written. Some even let you specify whether spaces should be counted or not. LetterCount.com is a popular option, but you can do a Google search for "character counters" to see all of your choices.
  2. Use a Writer-Specific Processor. Tools like Scrivener automatically track your character and word count at the bottom or side of your screen for you. If you need to swap out longer words for shorter synonyms, the clicks to check your character count after each change can add up ​in a normal word processor.

Shrinking Your Character Count

If your essay contest entry has too many characters, it's time to edit aggressively. Go back through the essay to see where you can be more concise. Be ruthless about shrinking your character count by removing unnecessary repetition and by making your prose as clean and smooth as possible. When you can no longer sacrifice words without losing important content, it's time to look at the words themselves. Are you using character-heavy words that could be effectively replaced by shorter synonyms?

A tool like thesaurus.com will help you find those more concise synonyms. 

When Character Counts Are Usually Used

Most of the time, short writing is limited by characters. Longer pieces of writing usually use a word count as a limit. For example, a 500-word essay would be about a single page long, whereas a 500 character essay would be about 100 to 150 words long.

Character Counter is a 100% free online character count calculator that's simple to use. Sometimes users prefer simplicity over all of the detailed writing information Word Counter provides, and this is exactly what this tool offers. It displays character count and word count which is often the only information a person needs to know about their writing. Best of all, you receive the needed information at a lightning fast speed.

To find out the word and character count of your writing, simply copy and paste text into the tool or write directly into the text area. Once done, the free online tool will display both counts for the text that's been inserted. This can be useful in many instances, but it can be especially helpful when you are writing for something that has a character minimum or limit.

Character and word limits are quite common these days on the Internet. The one that most people are likely aware of is the 140 character limit for tweets on Twitter, but character limits aren't restricted to Twitter. There are limits for text messages (SMS), Yelp reviews, Facebook posts, Pinterest pins, Reddit titles and comments, eBay titles and descriptions as well as many others. Knowing these limits, as well as being able to see as you approach them, will enable you to better express yourself within the imposed limits.

For students, there are usually limits or minimums for homework assignments. The same is often true for college applications. Abiding by these can have a major impact on how this writing is graded and reviewed, and it shows whether or not you're able to follow basic directions. Character counter can make sure you don't accidentally go over limits or fail to meet minimums that can be detrimental to these assignments.

This information can also be quite helpful for writers. Knowing the number of words and characters can help writers better understand the length of their writing, and work to display the pages of their writing in a specific way. For those who write for magazines and newspapers where there is limited space, knowing these counts can help the writer get the most information into that limited space.

For job seekers, knowing the number of characters of your resume can be essential to get all the information you want onto a single page. You can fool around with different fonts, their sizes and spacing to adjust the number of characters you can fit on a single page, but it's important to know the number you're attempting to fit on the page.

Character Counter isn't only for English. The tool can be helpful for those writing in non-English languages where character count is important. This can be the case for languages Japanese, Korean, Chinese and many others where characters are the basis of the written language. Even for those who aren't writing in English, knowing the character count of the writing is often beneficial to the writing.

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