I remember my writing teacher in college once had us write a 500-word assignment. I don’t remember the topic, but I remember how difficult it was to limit it to just 500 words.
After my classmates and I had each finished the assignment, she gave us our next one: cut the writing in half.
That’s right, I had to take a document I thought was already too short and find a way to make it shorter. It was a frustrating experience, but one I am now grateful for. The lessons I learned in that assignment follow me today.
Here are 6 tricks I’ve discovered since then that help me reduce my word count when writing.
1. Use contractions
You can’t use this all the time (legal documents, academic writing, research, etc), but for most applications, contractions help reduce total word count. Plus, they have the added benefit of making your writing seem approachable.
- Cannot vs. can’t
- Will not vs. won’t
- You would vs. you’d
- It will vs. it’ll
2. Eliminate redundant wording
Once you’re on a roll, it can be easy for extra words to sneak into your writing. Sometimes another word in the sentence already says the same thing. Other times, the structure of the sentence already implies the redundant word; this is especially true when writing in the present tense.
- Currently, we live downtown. vs. We live downtown.
- Absolutely necessary vs. Necessary
- Every single one of them vs. Each of them
- Period of time vs. Period
3. Remove prepositions
Especially “of”. We love to make things sound smarter by including too many prepositions. Cut back the unnecessary ones.
- The location of the business is next to the street with a lot of traffic vs. The business is next to the busy street.
- The shirt of the boy was worn with pride. vs. The boy pridefully wore his shirt.
- A number of oranges vs. Several oranges
- He handed the cheque to me. vs. He handed me the cheque.
4. Replace phrases with single words
Sometimes what we think we need several words for can actually be described in a single word.
- Find out vs. Discover
- Come up with vs. Provide
- Put up with vs. Endure
- Look in on vs. Visit
5. Switch passive voice for active voice
I see the use of passive voice so frequently, especially in academia. It’s a cop out and discourages the writer from taking responsibility for what’s happening in the writing. It has its place occasionally, but most of the time, the active voice does just fine.
- The research will be finalized and presented. vs. I will finalize and present the research.
- The apple was eaten by the girl. vs. The girl ate the apple.
- Winter was hated by everyone known by me. vs. Everyone I know hated winter.
- The lawn used to be mowed by my neighbour. vs. My neighbour used to mow my lawn.
6. Avoid using “very” or “really”
We often use these words for emphasis, but sometimes single words exist that mean the same thing.
- Very hungry vs. Famished
- Really tall vs. Towering
- Very tired vs. Exhausted
- Really happy vs. Elated
Show no mercy when you use these tips to chop down your word count. Soon, you’ll be writing text that’s faster and easier to read.
What tricks do you use to reduce your word count?
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