Cut! 11 ways to meet a stingy word count

How to cut to meet word countThe fellow I interviewed was chatty; the topic, fascinating. The problem? Cramming as much of that interesting conversation into just 300 words.

My clients often have a specific number of words they need to fit a certain space. Magazine and newspaper editors also assign a certain number of words and may not work with you again if you don’t meet their requirements.

So while you’re spinning straw into gold (as I call turning raw notes into interesting reading), here are some tips for cutting words to meet your assigned word count:

  1. Write first, edit later. Write the detail you think needs to be included, then check your word count and edit as necessary. I sometimes check partway through the first draft to gauge how much detail I can include.
  2. Ditch most adjectives and adverbs, and use a stronger noun or verb instead. “He sat dejectedly” becomes “He slumped.”
  3. Eliminate prepositions, says Barbara Diggs, The Expat Freelancer. You can easily get rid of words like “of,” “in” and “at.” For example, “She preferred to stay at home.”
  4. Use contractions. “He’s” instead of “He is” saves a word, plus it sounds warmer.
  5. Remove weak filler words, like “very,” “really” and “the fact that,” says BitesizeBio’s Kristin Harper.
  6. Look for places you have said the same thing in different ways. Only keep the best one.
  7. Get rid of “that.” It’s “sometimes so superfluous that it can easily be gotten rid of,” says Devyani Borade on Writing-World.com.
  8. Use the active voice rather than the passive voice. “The leader is spotlighting the issue” rather than “The issue is being spotlighted by the leader.”
  9. Eliminate redundant words and passages, says freelance writer Jesse Hines. He gives examples like “The armed gunman” and “Past history.”
  10. Suggest a sidebar — a short article beside the main one that includes  additional details that are interesting but not essential to the story. For a piece for Niagara Escarpment Views magazine about community gardens, I included a sidebar for the curious about the typical items grown.
  11. If the article includes a photo, use the caption to include interesting information edited out in #1.

What other tips do you have for trimming (or slashing!) a lengthy article? Please share in the comments.

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5 Comments

  1. Posted February 16, 2017 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    I agree with your points. Sidebars are great for extra detail that takes up a lot of space in the main story, plus readers like them. Captions that just repeat what’s in the story are boring. Use that space to emphasize or add info. I disagree that editors won’t work with you again if you’re too wordy. I have had to “train” some writers to believe me when I say 1,000 words. If they send 1,100, I let them cut the piece back or I will. But it will come in on target. It has to, for layout & to give room for photos. One other thing: I prefer pullquotes that aren’t exact repetitions of what’s in the story, but give a little twist or new info. Readers like them too.

  2. Posted February 16, 2017 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    Thanks for commenting, Gloria. You are perhaps more patient than some editors I have heard of!

  3. Posted February 16, 2017 at 10:15 am | Permalink

    Patience doesn’t come easily to me, but it’s not every writer who has the interest/knowledge to write for NEV, so it’s worth my time to get our writers to believe my word counts. Most professionals have no problem. What does make me drop a writer is being unreliable about facts & being reluctant to Google them. We can’t afford to get stuff wrong. I have to trust writers to do solid work.

  4. Posted March 16, 2017 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    I’m writing my first thriller. Lots of highs and lows. Liked your tips and the comments.

  5. Posted March 16, 2017 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

    Thanks! Good luck with your thriller.

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