How to reduce word count?

This post walks you through six tips on how to reduce word count without sacrificing the clarity and correctness of your text. They include removing ‘that’ or ‘what,’ swapping passive for active voice, cutting out references to previous content, replacing ‘compared with,’ deleting adjectives and adverbs and transforming negations. Non-fiction, academic, business and popular science authors, writers and bloggers will find the following tips helpful when exceeding the word limit without reducing the content or sacrificing correctness, clarity and cohesion. On the other hand, fiction writers, let me bring to your attention this post about decluttering your dialogue and narrative.

Popular advice available online about decreasing the word count talks about getting rid of the articles or transition words. Sometimes, it may work, especially in scientific or technical writing, but more often, it might not. Furthermore, other sources provide more generic advice like ‘be concise’ or ‘remove redundancies.’ Although not without merit, such advice provides little tangible input that one can take and apply to a text without pulling their hair out. However, taking a step back and looking critically at one’s work is always challenging, and you might consider finding a beta reader or asking a professional editor for help.

So, let’s dig straight into six easy steps to reduce your word count without sacrificing the clarity and correctness of your content.

Remove redundancies

When ‘that’ or ‘what’ acts as the sentence subject, it is usually easy to rephrase the sentence and spare a few words. Let’s have a look at the example below.

Original sentence Revised sentence
What has been difficult to compare with the bibliographical data are the books that are missing from our records. The books that are missing from our records have been difficult to compare with the bibliographical data.
19 words 17 words

We could go further and tighten the sentence some more:

Original sentence Revised sentence
The books that are missing from our records have been difficult to compare with the bibliographical data. The books missing from our records have been difficult to compare with the bibliographical data.
17 words 15 words

From the original 19 words, the sentence is now 15 words long without sacrificing any content.

Swap passive for active voice

Using active voice can improve the readability of a text. Furthermore, substituting the passive voice with the active voice can help decrease the word count.

Original sentence Revised sentence
The programme was developed by a group of producers and practitioners focused on regenerative agriculture to address gaps in organic certification. A group of producers and practitioners focused on regenerative agriculture developed the programme to address gaps in organic certification.
21 words 19 words

Thus, shifting the focus from the subject to the agent allowed us to lose two words, shrinking the word count from 21 words to 19.

Remove references to previous content

References to previous content are nice to have but not essential. They are prevalent in the statement (opening) sentences within the main body of the text. However, ‘as described in the previous section,’ ‘the previously mentioned’ and similar phrases are wordy. Furthermore, one could argue they add little value to the main point, as illustrated by the below example.

Original sentence Revised sentence
As previously mentioned, the price differential between conventional and organic was lower for whole wheat compared with white flour. The price differential between conventional and organic was lower for whole wheat compared with white flour.
19 words 16 words

Simplify comparisons

The comparison sentences are an opportunity for an easy win when reducing the word count. For instance, the below sentence can be further tightened by swapping ‘compared with’ for ‘than,’ ‘versus’ or even ‘vis-à-vis.’

Original sentence Revised sentence
The price differential between conventional and organic was lower for whole wheat compared with white flour. The price differential between conventional and organic was lower for whole wheat than white flour.
16 words 15 words

In this example, we reduced the word count from 16 to 15 words. It may appear insignificant, but if done across several sentences in a lengthy document, this strategy will yield good results in decreasing the word count.

Delete adjectives and adverbs

Particularly in academic or scientific writing, the purpose of a publication is to argue a specific point based on evidence. Excessive use of adjectives and adverbs may work towards undermining this purpose. For instance, descriptive fragments may give the reader the impression of the subjective authorial perspective. Moreover, they may take the attention away from the evidence. Some argue that in scientific texts, adjectives should only describe physical properties such as colour, size or number. In addition, the difference between ‘impactful writing’ and ‘very impactful writing’ is not clear-cut, so we might as well drop the modifier and choose a more impactful adjective. For example, instead of describing something as ‘very important,’ try ‘essential’ or ‘crucial’ or focus on explaining why it is important.

Transform negations

There is another way to modify your adjectives to make them work in favour of your word count. If you replace the negation with a suffix, you will be able to spare 1 word. However insignificant this change may seem, it ought to make a difference in the context of the entire book or paper.

Original sentence Revised sentence
The commission was accused of not being objective. The commission was accused of being subjective.
8 words 7 words

Work with an editor

If you are struggling to reduce the word count of your text without sacrificing clarity and correctness, editing services may be the solution you need. By working with a professional editor, you can refine your writing and make it more concise.

Different types of editing can help you achieve this goal in different ways. For example, line editing is a type of editing that focuses on improving the flow and structure of your sentences. By working with a line editor, you can identify areas where your writing may be wordy or unclear and find ways to express your ideas more effectively. Copyediting, on the other hand, is a type of editing that focuses on improving the grammar, punctuation and spelling of your text. By working with a copy editor, you can ensure that your writing is free from errors and is easy to read and understand. Both types of editing can help you reduce the word count of your text by eliminating unnecessary words and phrases, tightening up your writing and making your ideas more concise.

So, if you are struggling to reduce the word count of your text, consider working with an editing service to get the help you need to improve your writing and make it more concise. With the right support, you can create a piece of writing that is both powerful and effective and that will help you convey your message.

Final thoughts

Deleting is one of the most challenging tasks when editing your own text. You might feel attached to particular wording or expression, making it hard to reduce word count. Still, it is essential to ensure that every word carries weight, the text is written clearly and the message is conveyed accurately. Contact me for a free sample edit if you would like a fresh (read: unbiased and professional) pair of eyes to help you declutter your text (and remember to use my early bird discount). If you want to hear more from me, including self-editing and writing tips, follow me on MastodonTwitter and LinkedIn or join my newsletter.

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Magda

I am an editor, indexer and a lifelong lover of literature with a PhD in literary history. I am an Intermediate Member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP), a student member of the Society of Indexers and a vetted partner of the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi).