You’ve looked through the guidelines and editor’s notes a second time after researching, outlining and writing the article, and you realize there’s one thing you missed, or forgotten. There are at least a hundred more words than the editor wants.
That may be true. You’ve poured time and effort into your writing, and you may have done it well, however, editors are serious about word count. You may ask, “Do I really have to cut the words I worked so hard to write?”
The answer is yes. In a book you have more room to explore a topic. Even then an editor may ask you to cut words that don’t serve the topic well, are repetitive or just wrong in the context.
Space and time
Keep in mind that editors read a lot of submissions and that the words you write must fit into an allotted space in a magazine or newspaper. Space costs money in a magazine or paper. There’s only so much room.
If it’s a paper for college or university, the instructor could be up until midnight every night trying to get the marking done on all those wordy papers.
Then there’s clarity as well. The editor or instructor need to know that you can write clearly about a topic, get to the point, and come up with a solution.
Ways to cut words
Having proofread undergraduate and Master’s papers, edited books, articles and newsletters, and experienced with my own writing, I’ve learned some strategies to cut words in any article or paper, without losing meaning—aside from a topic that’s too broad, which is a different matter entirely.
Here are three ways you can work on cutting words.
1. Repetition: Perhaps you have been struggling with the best way of expressing a thought and say it twice. That’s when it’s helpful to get someone else to look over your article— a fellow writer or critique partner or, in the case of a school paper, someone outside your student group.
2. Wordiness: Consider this sentence: “In terms of the logistics for the environmental project, we can diminish the cost by the end of the day, so that our long-term goals of efficiency are met while still ultimately providing our clients with a positive customer experience.” What a mouthful! Which words can be cut? In terms of and by the end of the day as well as the adverb ultimately add to the sentence without helping. The word diminish can be changed to cut. Try: “Concerning logistics of the environmental project, we can cut costs and still provide a positive customer experience.” Recasting the whole sentence is sometimes the best option and would be even better in this example than fixing the sentence.
3. Choose the right words: Finding the right nouns and verbs mean that the meaning will be more precise. Instead of walked slowly, how about strolled or ambled? Instead of I fell to the floor in shock, would I fainted work? It depends on the meaning you are trying to convey. A thesaurus is a great tool for choosing the right words.
Remember, besides word count, it’s all about your audience and how they understand your message. Will your readers stay with you to the end, or will you turn them off?
Next time you have to cut to reach a required word count, try these suggestions. As I tell my writing students, first get the words out and then revise.