Five Ways to Cut Your Word Count

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The time to look at cutting your word count is once you've finished the task of composing your paper, article or essay. Cutting your word count should be part of your normal editing process. It's a major component of turning your draft into a final copy. Often, you may have to cut word count at the request of an editor (for us freelance writers) or a teacher or professor (for those first-time visitors to this site).

How to Cut Your Word Count

No matter what your reason for cutting words, here are some simple ways to reign in your verbiage and make it happen.

Release Your Introduction

Some writers need to write the introduction to get pumped up or to set up the article. This is fine, but you should go back to it in your editing process. This also applies to backstory and other elements of your set up. You may find that your piece stands just as well on its own. In addition, if you're the kind of writer who likes to sum up what you've said in a conclusion, make sure that the summary is proportional to the rest of the copy. Trim it, if need be.

Remove Modifiers and Other Wordiness 

Modifiers are adjectives or adverbs that describe later elements in a sentence. While there is a place for modifiers, overly descriptive words don’t necessarily add to your piece and may be covering up poorly expressed ideas. Instead of noting that your interview subject was really friendly, clarify the idea by telling your audience that he was welcoming, and why you thought so.

Repackage Quotes

This is especially pertinent to interview-based pieces or profiles. You’ll want your subject to shine, and using his/her own words is a good way to do that- just use less of them. If you simply can't cut a quote, consider putting it in a call out box, or repackaged as a graphic (more on this below). For magazine articles, I've often been able to work quotes into a summary for the table of contents, or used a really good set of words as a subtitle.

Use a Call Out Box

Recently, I edited an article that was incredible, but I still had to cut it down to make it fit in the well of my target magazine. One particular piece of the article was a small story that was self-contained. Consulting with the graphics designer of the publication, I was able to arrange this piece into a call out box. This enabled me to keep the story, but also meet my word count requirements. You can also consider using it as a sidebar, which is similar to a call out box, depending on the semantics at each individual publication.

Cut Your Bio

Many editors will allow a freelance writer to include a short biography at the bottom of an article. Keep it to one or two sentences, unless your editor instructs you otherwise.