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.

Exam­ples:

  1. Can­not vs. can’t
  2. Will not vs. won’t
  3. You would vs. you’d
  4. 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.

Exam­ples:

  1. Cur­rent­ly, we live down­town. vs. We live down­town.
  2. Absolute­ly nec­es­sary vs. Nec­es­sary
  3. Every sin­gle one of them vs. Each of them
  4. 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.

  1. The loca­tion of the busi­ness is next to the street with a lot of traf­fic vs. The busi­ness is next to the busy street.
  2. The shirt of the boy was worn with pride. vs. The boy pride­ful­ly wore his shirt.
  3. A num­ber of oranges vs. Sev­er­al oranges
  4. 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.

Exam­ples:

  1. Find out vs. Dis­cov­er
  2. Come up with vs. Pro­vide
  3. Put up with vs. Endure
  4. 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.

Exam­ples:

  1. The research will be final­ized and pre­sent­ed. vs. I will final­ize and present the research.
  2. The apple was eat­en by the girl. vs. The girl ate the apple.
  3. Win­ter was hat­ed by every­one known by me. vs. Every­one I know hat­ed win­ter.
  4. 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.

Exam­ples:

  1. Very hun­gry vs. Fam­ished
  2. Real­ly tall vs. Tow­er­ing
  3. Very tired vs. Exhaust­ed
  4. 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?

About Kim Siever

I am a copy­writer and copy­ed­i­tor. I blog on writ­ing tips most­ly, but I some­times throw in my thoughts about run­ning a small busi­ness.

Fol­low me on Twit­ter at @hotpepper.

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