There are many instances where a writer might want to limit their word count, but doing so without compromising your content can be tricky at first! Although this process is time consuming, it will be more than worth your while if you need to have a clean, concise document in a professional context.
Sometimes, people will use simpler words to describe a complex process. While this does make for easier reading, especially for a younger audience, it can eat away at your word limit. If you need to cut down on the number of words in your document, consider using a better verb instead.
The children ate the fried chicken very quickly.
The children demolished the fried chicken.
The children devoured the fried chicken.
While adverbs and adjectives can add value to a text, you can cut them in many cases; adverbs like extremely, definitely and others that end with -ly are often superfluous. However, you should keep in mind that sometimes adverbs do add context to a sentence, as in the case of “she looked at a book thoughtfully” verses “she looked at a book.” In that case, you might not want to remove the adverb.
Ultimately, you should use your best judgement, as writing a legal document would be completely different from writing for a creative writing assignment.
While it can be tempting for many writers to use complex words as it can make a document sound better, this is actually counterintuitive if these extra words do not add any value. Consider these two examples:
“One could argue that virtue as a concept is entirely subjective, dependent on the social mores of the society one is born and raised into. These values undergo constant change ever so slowly as time passes by, until the virtues of the present era bear almost no resemblance to the virtues of an ancient past, forgotten by all aside from the historians and archaeologists who study them.”
“Throughout history, we have found that society’s social mores changes over time, leading many to argue that virtue is a subjective concept.”
While the first paragraph sounds more grandiose, it is not necessarily better (certainly not when it comes to a word limit!). However, sometimes you can make the case for a more wordy text for rhetorical reasons. Consider these two rejection emails:
“We regret to inform you that we were unable to accept your application at this time due an unexpected abundance of excellent candidates. However, we thought your C.V. was excellent, and there remains a list of open positions here at: www.careerlistingforacompany.com.”
“You didn’t get the job; try again at www.careerlistingforacompany.com.”
First drafts generally have a lot of filler words in them; we all do this to some extent! If you want to have a more concise text and you do not want to have a higher word count however, it will help you a lot if you went through your text and cut out any text that adds no additional value to your readers. For example, if you use verbs like “may” or “could”, it becomes unnecessary to have words such as “likely” in the same sentence, as you have already indicated that whatever you are talking about is not a certainty.
The fashion and the style of decades past will resurface in the future.
Fashions and styles of decades past will resurface in the future.
It was the same girl that we saw in the family photo.
It was the same girl we saw in the family photo.
Conjunctions make sense in a lot of places, but this isn’t always the case! If you can delete some “thens”, “ands”, “furthermores” and the like from your text and still have it make sense, then this will help limit your word count a lot.
In a first draft, it is quite common for a writer to overuse conjunctions, such as in the following example:
Because the City Orchestra plays well and tours in my local area, so I support it over the National Orchestra.
The sentence above has two clauses and two conjunctions. You can both shrink your word count and improve the flow of the sentence by changing it to:
Because the City Orchestra plays well and tours in my local area, I support it over the National Orchestra.
The City Orchestra plays well and tours in my local area, so I support it over the National Orchestra.
Right now, you might be thinking that word length should have no impact on word counts whatsoever! After all, the computer does not care how long the word is, it still counts it as one word. However, longer words tend to be accompanied by longer sentences as well, given that they are more specific.
The pharmaceutical company commissioned multiple studies on whether utilizing the vaccine candidate would facilitate improvements in terms of lowering patient infectivity and mortality rates.
The pharmaceutical company did multiple studies on whether using the vaccine candidate would help lower patient infectivity and mortality rates.
For any writing involving scientific data, where you report values of different data points, you can use parentheses to lower your wordcount.
An entry-level programmer for game design earns $50,000 per year, while an entry-level programmer for database programming earns $100,000 per year.
An entry level programmer for game design (database programming) earns $50,000 ($100,000) per year.
This also has the side effect of making your text easier to read, especially if you have a lot of statistics to go through.
Knowing how to shorten your word count is all fine and dandy, but sometimes you might want to extend your word count instead! Imagine you are a student who delayed starting their one-month assignment until it is two days before the due date. In a panic, you start furiously finding random sources, reading the journal articles and immediately pasting them into your reference section.
However, you still have to write the actual essay! You slam you fingers into the keyboard and start typing up anything that comes to mind. In the end, you find yourself simply repeating the same three arguments, and you are still more than fifty percent below the word count!
As we have said previously, grades can be affected by your word count when it is not within ten percent of the word limit. Therefore while your essay might be bad already, being fifty percent below the word count would probably mean a catastrophic failure, while getting to the word count might just help you scrape by with a passing grade. It is too late to go back in time and work on the essay seriously from the beginning, so you only have two alternatives.
One is that you have an in depth understanding of the subject already, so while you might not have time to do the research, you can come up with many additional arguments on the spot, and then simply find research to support your arguments using search engines! While this is not good academic practice, as you are supposed to use the research to inform your arguments, sadly you do not have time for such niceties.
The second alternative is that you know almost nothing about the topic, and those three basic points you already have written down are all you have. In this case, you could reverse some the advice we have given out previously, and make your essay as clear as possible without adding fluff.
Consider the following example:
"Under the law of nature, all men are born free; every one comes into the world with a right to his own person, which includes the liberty of moving and using it at his own will.” -- Thomas Jefferson: Legal Argument, 1770. FE 1:376, 36 words.
“As individual beings, humans are born without knowledge of property, rights, laws or any of societies’ norms and etiquette. Initially, every action that an individual takes is governed by his or her own thoughts and ideas alone; the baby simply cries because it feels like it must, without regard for any other factor. Therefore, it is fair to say that in nature, everyone is initially free of any physical restriction regarding their own body, and by extension we can say that liberty is objectively a natural right given to human beings at birth.” – 93 words, much longer version of the previous text, definitely less rhetorically effective, but more words for our word counter!
While Thomas Jefferson was famous for being able to put very complex ideas into a single sentence, you could clarify the subject and make simple sentences into longer ones! While this is sometimes not good practice (and is definitely inferior in the above examples), the tyranny of the word count hangs over your grade. Besides, you could argue that adding this text can clarify and enhance your content; it all depends on how you word it.
Using examples to demonstrate a point is often an excellent way to extend the word count, and it generally doesn’t require much additional thinking compared to coming up with an entirely new argument. In addition, it has the added advantage of helping your reader visualize your argument. Many readers have difficulty understanding content without clear examples, so this is not fluff, but rather a tool to help increase reader comprehension.
Even if you are struggling with time, you can always search for sources that match your arguments online, and try to quote as much as you can. This will make your work seem more detailed and well researched, so not only does it increase your word count, it can also improve your content overall. If you are strapped for time, you can do the reverse of research, and try to find reputable sources to back up your argument. While this is not recommended academic practice, as long as you pick trustworthy accounts (i.e not random websites on the internet, but rather a published journal article at the very least!), you should be in a good position.
If after all of the above, you are still short on word count, a final, desperate option (note that I just fit in an extra adjective there!) would be to add ‘fluff’ to your text. Adding adverbs, adjectives, synonyms and other unnecessary terms like “the fact that”, “in the case of” and etcetera will easily swell your wordcount. The person marking your essay will not be happy with it, but at least they can’t mark you down because of your word count!
In the end, the easiest solution for getting a higher word count is have more content that is relevant. More arguments will generally net you better results when it comes to writing documents, whether it be for an essay, a novel, or even search engine optimization!
When it comes to fiction, you do not want to bore your readers with pointless fluff. However, if you happen to be short on words, you might be interested in the following tips!
When it comes to novels, often times you can add internal monologue, or dialogues to existing scenes. If you want your protagonists to be compelling, then you need to make the reader have strong feelings for them, one way or the other. On the other hand, if you already have plenty of dialogue, you can add background details to a scene by describing the surrounding environment. This has the added benefit of building up your world so that it feels more alive to the reader.
While most details of the main plot are probably fully formed in your head already, a good novel often has subplots to flesh out the world even more. After all, your world should not be revolving around your main group of protagonists alone! These subplots can utilize minor protagonists, themes, build up backstories and world details. Just be careful though; building a detailed world and plots will might mean that you will run into the situation of having too many words instead!