For most purposes, including essays and online articles, you are limited to a maximum word count, but sometimes, such as when writing a tweet or a Google-friendly meta description, the character count is what matters. Whether it's for one of these purposes or something else, finding a reliable character count tool is essential to making sure you stay within your limits.
Microsoft Word is the most common word processing program in use, and finding a document's character count in Word is simple. However, you can easily find the number of characters in a string of text on Google Docs or other word processing programs even if they don't offer the option as standard feature.
Microsoft Word’s Character Count Tool
Finding the number of characters in a Word document is pretty much the same as finding the number of words it contains. The easiest way to do this is to look for the Words section toward the bottom left side of the window. This shows a running total of the word count in your document, but if you click it, the Word Count dialogue box appears. It displays the character count in the document, with or without spaces.
You can also access this tool by going to the Review tab and choosing Word Count in the Proofing group. This brings up the same dialogue, and you get the information you need in the same way. Uncheck the box beside Include footnotes and endnotes if you don't want to include these in the overall character count. You can also highlight part of the text and go through the same process to get a character count for a specific section.
Other Word Processors
Most other word processing programs include a character count tool and a word count tool as standard. For example, on Google Docs, click the Tools menu at the top of the screen and then select Word Count from the options. Alternatively, you can bring up the dialogue directly by pressing Control + Shift + C together.
The same approach works for most word processors, including OpenOffice, LibreOffice, AbiWord and WordPerfect. Again, just click Tools and then choose Word Count to bring up the information on all of these platforms.
Online Character Count Tools
While most dedicated word processing programs have the character count facility built in, this isn't always the case. In particular, the basic word processors included with Windows — Notepad and Wordpad — don't include this feature.
Fortunately, there are many websites you can access to get the character count for any section of text. For example, Character Count Online is a basic website with a big window in the center where you to paste your text. Above the text box are headings for Characters, Words, Sentences, Paragraphs and Whitespace.
Copy and paste the text you want to count the characters for into the space on the website and read the number beside Characters to see how many there are. Note that this is the total number of characters including spaces, so if you want the number of characters without spaces, subtract the number in the Whitespace field from this number.
Word Count vs. Character Count
If you're looking for a word count rather than a character count, the process is precisely the same, because the word count tool is accessed in the same way as for character count. In Microsoft Word, the word count is directly visible in the bottom left of the screen, so you don't have to click anything.
The difference between the two is simple: the word orange contains six individual characters, but they all form one word. Similarly, orange juice contains 12 characters in total (including the space) but only two words.