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How to Condense Text and Meet Word Count Limits

October 18th, 2008

sample-rejection-letter.jpgWith the advent of computer-generated documents and online forms, submissions of many kinds are often required to meet strict word count limits. Going over is a common problem. Condensing text to comply with requirements but without eliminating essential content is a useful skill. These tips by Anne Solomon can help you to write more concisely for those times when you must use fewer words to communicate your message.

  1. Make sure you’ve stuck to the topic. This seems obvious, but re-reading may alert you to material that is not strictly necessary. Removing it will only tighten your work.
  2. Writing is a spontaneous process and we’re all prone to repetition. It can be a useful device to add emphasis but with a word limit, sometimes it’s got to go. Reread for repetitions – not necessarily repeating word for word but saying essentially the same thing in different ways. If found, cut all but the most important mention.

  3. Check your phrasing. You can shorten text without changing anything except the way you put sentences together and deploy language. For example, avoid the passive voice. There are two uses of passive voice in the sentence ‘It was claimed by Jack that the ball had been chewed by the dog’. Rewriting in the active voice – as ‘Jack claimed that the dog had chewed the ball’ – condenses the text by a massive one-third!
  4. Avoid wordy expressions. Often they are clichés anyway. Use ‘now’ or ‘currently’ instead of ‘at this point in time’.
  5. Consider using adjectives as shorthand. Instead of saying ‘People in European countries prefer coffee’ say ‘Europeans prefer coffee’.
  6. Eliminate adjectives that are pleasing but are not essential. It may be necessary to refer to ‘very heavy workloads’ in some contexts, but you might get away with ‘heavy workloads’ or even just ‘workloads’, because the word already implies some burden.
  7. Split two part sentences joined by ‘and’ into two, use commas or rephrase. ‘We travelled by train to Paris and then caught a plane to Rome’ is thirteen words. ‘We travelled by car to Paris, then caught a plane to Rome’ is twelve). Even better, ‘We drove to Paris, then flew to Rome’ condenses the text by a quarter!
  8. Sometimes sentences contain additional words that can be eliminated without transgressing grammatical rules. For example: ‘Growers of these plants bred them and crossed them to create new cultivars’. Cut out the first ‘them’. The sentence is still intelligible. It may seem a small change but throughout a document it adds up. You’ll be amazed at how many opportunities for shortening text this strategy offers.
  9. Cheat (sort of). Many word counters recognise hyphenated words as one word not two (world-wide, rather than world wide, for example), so go for the hyphen.

Know your writing style. If you know you tend to slip into the passive voice, you’ll know what to look for next time you need to condense text by chopping two hundred words off a thousand word document! If it seems tedious to go through text lopping one word here and another there, it is. Sometimes it means sacrificing elements of personal style. But when you have a word count to stick to, it works.

4 Responses to “How to Condense Text and Meet Word Count Limits”

  1. comment number 1 by: amdi

    thks a lottttttt

  2. comment number 2 by: Jas

    really helps if you follow the steps a paragraph at a time

  3. comment number 3 by: TK

    It seems that having done everything here still leaves me with 800 more words to reduce… is there any more?

  4. comment number 4 by: Debs

    Fantastic piece of advice, clear and concise, just like the context! Thnak you, really helped.

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