Whether you're at school, university or writing your thirteenth book, you’ve probably got an incurable habit of writing more than you're allowed. We’ve all been there, you have a word limit and you're a long, long way over it. Not to worry, since we know people encounter this all the time we’ve decided to help out! Here is our comprehensive guide to minimizing your word count, without actually removing content.
Check what is being counted:
First of all, check what is actually being counted. Often, your bibliography, footnotes, appendixes and image captions aren’t counted in the word limit so make sure you aren’t accidentally including them.
Watch out for repetition:
Without even realizing it, people will over explain and repeat themselves. Sometimes even good writers will include information twice. For example, “I went to university at the University of Technology Sydney”. Did you notice it? I didn't need to say “to university” because it is already stated in “University of Technology Sydney”. Instead, I should have said “I went to the University of Technology Sydney”. It might sound simple but you’ll probably want to get someone else to read over your work to find these as they’re rather hard to catch.
Adverbs are almost always unnecessary and can easily be replaced by expanding your vocabulary. They weaken your writing as well so whip out your thesaurus and swap them out. For example change ‘very neat’ to ‘immaculate’. To find out more about the impact of adverbs on your writing click here.
In some cases, there is no need to over describe something. Especially, if you are trying to cut down you word count, you don’t need to say the day was cloudless, there was little wind, humidity was perfect and it was a lovely 27 degrees. Shorten it by using ideas that are familiar to people e.g. ‘it was a perfect summer day’. Your readers will know what a perfect summer day is like so you don’t need to waste words explaining it.
This is a rather sneaky trick but by contracting two words into one you're easily reducing your word count without changing the meaning at all. For example change “I have” to “I’ve” or “Would not” to “Wouldn’t”. Be careful though, if you are writing in formal context for an essay, CV or assignment it’s best to avoid using contractions as they give a rather colloquial tone to your writing.
Sentences are typically used to convey one idea, however, if you can link two ideas together or two of your sentences discuss the same idea, do it. By using a comma to link the two sentences, you're bound to remove some words in the middle. For example, link “Emily was so mean to me. She used to bully me” into “Emily was so mean, she bullied me”. Make sure you don’t try and link every sentence as it will ruin the flow of your writing.
Eliminate wordy transitions:
Most good writers will try and link their paragraphs together with some form of transition. Whilst this gives flow from paragraph to paragraph, they can be wordy. Try and use a single word to link sentences. For example, use ‘Additionally’ instead of ‘In addition’, or ‘Opposingly’ instead of ‘In contrast’.
Swap out phrases for words:
From time to time writers will use common phrases or idioms to help explain a situation. They are an easy way to cut out words. For examples, change “Volkswagen Golfs are a dime a dozen in Sydney” for “Volkswagen Golfs are common in Sydney”. Another example is “Jimmy was feeling under the weather on Monday after a big weekend” which could be changed to “Jimmy was sick after a big weekend”.
Pick your best work:
If you have gone through you work and can’t find any easy spots to reduce your word count, the best thing to do is to re-read your writing and determine what your strongest points are. Focus on a few main points and keep the parts that you feel have the strongest impact on your reader.
It’s not an easy process. Cutting down your word count is a good skill to have and no doubt you’ll have to do it at some point in the future.
Let Outwrite do it:
Can’t be bothered to do this all yourself? Check out Outwrite’s word targeting feature that allows you to select between decreasing, increasing your word count to meet your requirements.