Within Word Limits

By Bailey M. Gamberg

For some writers, a low word count limit means there is less work to complete. For others, this threshold impinges upon their ability to fully answer what a prompt is asking. A barrier like this can make the writer feel as though they don’t have enough space to fully address a prompt, explain a concept, or analyze a text. Cutting down your word count and making your writing more concise can be a daunting task, but most of the time you don’t have to cut out any major pieces of your argument. Below are some editing tips to help you eliminate extra words and fit your argument into a specified word limit.

1) Eliminate Redundant Words

Sometimes using adjectives and adverbs can help increase the quality of your writing, but when concision is the goal, they can often cause problems. For example, phrases such as “Past history has shown…” and “The armed shooter ran…” contain describing words that are repetitive. The reader already knows that history is in the past and that the shooter had a weapon. By combing through your work and looking at each word’s individual purpose, you can catch instances of unnecessary repetition like these.

2) Use Active Voice

Active and passive voices focus on the relationship between the subject, verb, and direct object within a sentence. Sentences in the passive voice are not grammatically incorrect or unintelligible, but they can be wordy. For example, the sentence “The hamburgers were eaten by Susan” isn’t technically wrong, but it is lengthy and awkward. “Susan ate the hamburgers” is a more concise, straightforward way of writing the same message using active voice. By putting the terms in order of subject-verb-direct object, you can eliminate excess words such as auxiliary verbs and prepositions.

3) Reduce the Introduction and Conclusion

Although it is important to not jump immediately into the body of the paper, introductions and conclusions are not meant to be the bulk of an assignment with a small word limit. Your reader—whether that be a professor or a scholarship committee—knows that you have a word limit and will be looking at how you support your argument in a limited amount of space. Introductions and conclusions shouldn’t be more than a handful of sentences each so that you have more room to get your point across.

The most important thing to remember is to not be intimidated by a word count limit. As long as you focus on the content of your argument and make your point clear, staying within the maximum word count is possible. Always feel free to come down to the Writing Center or book an e-consultation appointment if you need help!

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