So the writer who breeds more words than he needs, is making a chore for the reader who reads – Dr Seuss
After spending hours, days and sometimes years researching an essay, article or thesis, it can be difficult to squeeze all that valuable information into the designated word count. Knowing how to sacrifice words is a common challenge for writers and students, so I’ve compiled some useful strategies to help you keep your word count under control.
Opt for shorter sentences or bulleted lists
This may seem a little simplistic, but it is actually quite effective. Editors frequently see long sentences joined together with endless uses of ‘and’ and ‘because’. Rather than excessive ‘ands’, close the matter with a full stop and begin the next point in the new sentence. It may just eliminate one ‘and’, but that one-off word saving can add up in large documents. Be precise and succinct. Overly long sentences are off-putting for readers. Bulleted lists are an excellent alternative to long slabs of text.
This is another area that often inflates word counts. Rather than saying ‘In Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams (1900), he asserted …’ you could simply write ‘Freud (1900) believed…’. That simple rewrite liberates six words. The details of the book will be correctly listed in the references.
Use acronyms consistently
Consistency is vital in academic and formal writing. Acronyms should be defined when they are first used and then used freely throughout the rest of the document. In addition to ensuring consistency, the proper use of acronyms can be beneficial in maintaining word counts. For example, an article that heavily features the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) would chew through a word count pretty quickly if the full name were used throughout. Please note that it is important to check article submission and university guidelines regarding acronym use.
Use tables and figures appropriately
Figures and tables are usually excused from word counts, which makes them an invaluable tool for writers on a tight word budget. Rather than allocating three paragraphs to explain data, perhaps a table and a single, succinct paragraph would be more effective.
This can sometimes be controversial. Footnotes can be used to provide additional information in academic writing. However, it is important to use them sparingly and sensibly. Lecturers and supervisors are awake to the practice of smuggling in extra words using footnotes.
Use an editor
The writing process is quite different from the editing process. An editor who is independent of the writing process is better positioned to identify repetition and redundancy. Professional editors are experienced and ruthless word slashers. Their innate dislike of clichés and journalese usually means words are reduced as a matter of habit.
Stick to the facts
Finally, one of the easiest ways to avoid blowing out your word count is to stick to the facts. Keep your writing structured and factual. Tangential information rarely results in a higher grade. If the content is not relevant to the topic or argument, eliminate it. In the words of writer Truman Capote, ‘I’m all for the scissors. I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil’.