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Reduce your word count without reducing what you say

Your 500-word assignment has ballooned to 750 words, and you’re convinced there’s no way to shorten it without destroying your carefully crafted prose. If that sounds familiar, you’re not alone. Editing your own copy can be difficult, but there’s no better way to please your editor than to turn in the requested word count. Here are a few tips, beyond the obvious of checking for redundancy, to help you tighten that text.

Make sure every sentence has a point

Read over your piece and ask yourself if every subhead, data point and quote is not only relevant to that core story, but is crucial to ensure comprehension from the reader. If there is anything extraneous or irrelevant, remove it and save it for another story.

Cut down on long quotes

Look for opportunities to summarize or paraphrase long-winded quotes. As reporters, we want to include what people have to say and exactly how they said it. But with short word counts, you must select which quote says it best. If the specific language isn’t as important as the concept of what they are saying, try rephrasing the idea in fewer words. This is one of those times when less can be more.

In the digital space, link out

The benefit to writing in the digital space is that you have the ability to link to sources and additional materials to back up what you say, which is something you can’t do in a physical newspaper. So, rather than offer a lengthy recap of a news story or academic article you reference, link to the piece itself. Give your readers the core points, then help them navigate to the original source for more depth.

Give your writing some space

Take a physical break between writing the draft and your final polish. The longer you stare at the screen the harder it can be to really step outside of your own writing. Taking a physical break to go do some other activity or even to work on another story can be invaluable time to allow you to return to the piece with fresh eyes. Those fresh eyes can help you see what parts of your story are absolutely necessary and what parts are adding the least to the overall story.

Author

  • Julianne Culey

    Julianne is the Assistant Director of the Reynolds Center with expertise in marketing and communications and holds a master's in Sociology from Arizona State University.

    View all posts

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