Reducing Word Count

By Linda Dodge

Reducing Word Count  (Draft)

It’s done.  It’s clear. It has good organization.  It has strong supporting points and specific details. It’s a truly amazing piece of writing.  It’s too long.  Word count.  The restricting factor that determines how much we are allowed to say. 

Recently I was assigned to write a personal profile for Insight, our UW Bothell Alumni magazine.  It involved interviewing a professor and relating this interview to the innovation theme of the fall issue.  After generating my questions and arming myself with a tape recorder so as not to misquote, I interviewed the professor. The scheduled half hour I had been originally allowed mushroomed into an hour and 15 minutes.  When I later transcribed this interview into words, I had a word count around 2000.  The article word limit was 400 words.  After hours of several agonizing revisions, I was able to reduce  reduced my word count to around 500.  This was approved by the editor and the article was published. 

Word count.  It is a requirement and a determining factor in many types of  writing including class assignments, personal statements, freelance submissions, etc. As a Writing Consultant, I often have students come to me for help with reducing their word count So I decided to sit down and consider the process/processes that I go through to when faced with excess words. So how do we approach this daunting task of reducing our paper so that it does not exceed the required word count limit?  I discovered there are several things to consider when looking to reduce word count.

  1. Determine how firm the word count is.  Attempt to meet the requirements, but if after carefully reviewing your draft, you still feel every word counts, go back to the source.  How firm is that word count?  Some colleges will allow some overflow.  Some instructors will also. In the case of my article, I went back to the requesting editor and he said the article could be 500 words max.  Ok…I just gained 100 words if I need them.
  2. Watch your focus.   Have you stayed on topic?  Or have you included things that while they may be amazing points do not belong/relate closely to your current topic?.  Eliminate these.  In my case, it was items about the professor that while fascinating did not relate directly to the theme of “innovation.”
  3.  Watch being repetitive.  Stating a point once is usually adequate.  Restating is sometimes effective for emphasis but can also be irritating to a reader if you began to “beat them over the head with it.”  Be careful and  Kknow the difference.
  4.  Watch overusing qualifiers. These are words such as “just,” “really,” and “very.”  Words that often do not add much if anything to your paper.
  5. Write in an active not passive voice.  This is often a shorter sentence.  “Sam wrote the paper.” uses less words than, “The paper was written by Sam.”
  6. Be direct.  Make your statement.  Try to avoid, “I think…, “ “I believe…,” etc. unless you truly need to qualify your statement.
  7. Eliminate unnecessary details.  While specific details provide the support you need, make sure they are all necessary.  For instance, did I really need to tell you the name of our alumni magazine for this article in my second paragraph?
  8. Above all, be open to revision—to letting go.  Initially, every word might seem amazing, necessary and important…but really?  It is more important to be clear and concise. Don’t make your audience wade through wordiness to find your message.

I’m not saying this is an easy task.  And undoubtedly  Yyou may even  will have to cut some good statements.  But the goal of word count is to make every word count.  This article was originally 700 words.  Final word count?  6005.

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