Hitting the sweet spot of a word count requirement can be downright maddening.
If you’ve labored long on your piece and feel like you’ve finally gotten it just right, the last thing you want to do is cut or add words to fit some arbitrary count.
And yet, some editors will eliminate pieces that don’t fit the editorial guidelines without even reading the copy. With a deluge of submissions and pitches to contend with, editors have to find efficient ways to pare down the stack. Submissions that exceed or fail to meet the word count may be the first to go.
Ways to Boost Word Count:
If your copy is shy of the stated word count, but you don’t want to introduce new concepts or ideas, try using these strategies:
- Clarify. As you head back to the drawing board, you might see some areas that need further explanation. Look for sections that may be subject to controversy, and try to answer the opposing views.
- Add stats. Some topics lend themselves more naturally to the insertion of statistics than others, but virtually every article can use them. Go hunting for stats. You might find some useful information you can use to expand other sections of your piece, as well.
- Use examples. Whether your topic is complex or simple, examples can sometimes make a point much more clearly than an explanation. If you can find examples or offer scenarios, you’ll not only lengthen your piece, you’ll add value as you do.
- Expound. Certain parts of your article may be ripe for description. Before you start elaborating, however, be sure to pinpoint all these areas and expand on them equally. If you start fleshing out one section before identifying all of them, you could wind up with a disproportionate section of your piece dedicated to a relatively minor point.
Ways to Reduce Word Count:
Tightening copy can be the most painful part of the editing process. It requires discipline, humility, and strategy. If you have to cut, these tips can help.
- Remove fluff. Economy of language is perhaps the most important component to improving the readability of your piece. Getting rid of in-depth examples, eliminating detailed descriptions, and chucking interesting, but ultimately unimportant statistics can reduce your word count without adversely impacting the piece.
- Eliminate repetition. Take a close look at what you’ve written. You may not see it right away, but it is possible you have repeated yourself as part of introducing a new idea. Untangle the repetitive information from the new, and you can shave a whole section of words off your count.
- Cut the superfluous. One simple way to cut down on words is to go through your copy and locate transition words like “in addition,” “actually,” or “moreover.” These words may seem critical when you’re writing them, but their removal might actually make the piece stronger (see what I did there?).
- Rewrite. You don’t have to rewrite the entire piece, but it might help to go through it and ask yourself if your sentences are as simple and efficient as possible. Short, punchy sentences are powerful. Try to consolidate as many complex sentences as you can. Your editor and your reader will appreciate the effort (and the reduced number of words).
The most difficult part of boosting or reducing word count is trying not to think about it. Your piece will be a lot stronger if you focus on the task at hand instead of trying to hit a specific goal. Channel your inner Zen master, and let the word count flow right through you. You’ll hit that sweet spot eventually.