Whether you're at school, university or writing your thirteenth book, you’ve probably got an incurable habit of writing more than you're supposed to. One minute you're struggling to get words on the page, the next you're way over your required word count.
To ease your worries, we've put together a comprehensive guide to writing shorter sentences, without changing the meaning of your 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 including them accidentally.
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 usually unnecessary, and can weaken your writing. A quick thesaurus search will help you find a stronger synonym. For example, changing "very neat" to "immaculate" sounds better, and is one word shorter. You can find out more about the impact of adverbs on your writing in this article.
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 of your sentences together to discuss the same idea, do it. By using a comma or conjunction to link two sentences, you're bound to remove some words in the middle. For example, “Emily was so mean to me. She used to bully me” can be changed to “Emily was so mean because she used to bully 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 paraphrasing tool. It can help you rewrite sentences to make them shorter, clearer, and more compelling. Just sign up to our Pro plan, set your Rewrite goal, then get to work!