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Smart tips for reducing word count and writing concisely

by Kirsty Hemsworth on 2021-08-16T08:00:00+01:00 in Skills | Comments

 

Word count issues can make us feel stressed - perhaps you have a really tight word count target that means you need to cut out topics you really wanted to include. Or, you might start out with a large word count target that feels unreachable, only to find you’ve exceeded the limit by 2000 words with your first draft!

One way to help stick to your word count is in careful planning when you first start writing, but if you’re getting close to submitting your work, here are our Skills Centre tips on reducing your word count:

Tip 1: Use the ‘find’ function in Word.

Using Microsoft Word’s ‘find’ function (Ctrl + F), search for the words ‘the’, ‘that’, ‘which’ and  ‘a’  throughout your work. Often sentences make perfect sense without these filler words. The words ‘the’  or ‘a’ are  often not needed- it’s an easy way to save words without hindering meaning.

Example (filler words appear with yellow highlighter):

This could be done to reduce the government’s spending. It is important that spending is reduced to ensure effective and prioritised spending.

Improved example:

This could be done to reduce government spending, which helps to ensure effective and prioritised spending.

Tip 2: Conjunctions and how to shorten sentences.

You can see in the example above the two sentences have also been joined using ‘as’.  Conjunctions can be very useful to join two clauses. For more information, visit Grammar Monster.

Keep in mind if you readjust the sentence, it needs to make grammatical sense. Look for short sentences and see if you can join them together concisely.

Example:

The school environment requires a behaviour policy. This policy could communicate required standards and improve positive behaviour. (17 words)

Improved example:

A behaviour policy in the school environment communicates required standards and improves positive behaviour. (14 words)

This sentence is neater and avoids repetition of policy as the subject. Repetition of the same subject in consecutive sentences can make your writing a bit awkward and clunky.

Example:

Cardiac rehabilitation has been shown to play a considerable role in cardiac mortality and total mortality (Pringle, 2016). Cardiac rehabilitation enhances quality of life, is likely to contribute to longevity and reduces further hospital admissions.

Improved example:

Cardiac rehabilitation has been shown to play a considerable role in cardiac mortality and total mortality (Pringle, 2016): quality of life and longevity are enhanced, and further hospital admissions reduced.

Tip 3: Semi colons and colons

A colon is used to separate two separate clauses, where the second part of the sentence provides explanation or additional information. There is no need to repeat the subject of the sentence ‘cardiac rehabilitation’.

Cardiac rehabilitation has been shown to play a considerable role in cardiac mortality and total mortality (Pringle, 2016): quality of life and longevity are enhanced, and further hospital admissions reduced.

A semi colon is used to join two complete sentences together, suggesting that there is a strong link between them. A full-stop could also work, but this would chunk the ideas up and lose the sense of connection or flow between your ideas. Here’s an example:

Cardiac rehabilitation has been shown to play a considerable role in cardiac mortality and total mortality (Pringle, 2016); the most significant impact of improved rehabilitation from a practical perspective is a reduction in further hospital admissions.

Tip 4: Language precision and variety.

Really make your words work hard for you by using a thesaurus. Precision of language choice can add so much to your writing. Instead of stating the implementation of health and safety restrictions must be good we could be much more specific: effective, significant, crucial, impactful…

Type in a word and you can generate a word net or list with different words with related meanings.

 

A screenshot from an online thesaurus.

Fig 1 screen shot from: https://www.thesaurus.com/

Using a thesaurus is a great way to build your vocabulary, become more nuanced in your writing and to generate choice. Sometimes I find a word and generate more options by dropping  it into my Word document: select it, right click the mouse and  select synonyms from the drop down list. This could lead me to consider effective, efficacious, serviceable, influential and valid as possible word options. Far better than plain, old ‘good’!

Tip 5: Write interesting words down and use them in your work.

Buy a notebook or use your phone or tablet to store lists of interesting words. Add to it regularly and make it part of your daily practice. Notice useful words when you read anything-newspapers, articles, textbooks and note new words down. Make a point of trying to use them in your work to build your vocabulary.


Further support from the Skills Centre:

If you’re working on your dissertation or an assignment, and the deadline is looming, The Skills Centre are still available over the summer to support you with your academic writing:

  • 1-1 appointments: Book a 30-minute 1-1 appointment with a Skills Advisor to discuss your writing and get feedback on what to improve. Phone/Online appointments available – view our calendar to book.
  • Virtual drop-ins: For quick questions, or to talk to a stats expert, subject librarian or member of the Digital Skills team, join our virtual drop in every Wednesday from 4-6 pm for quick queries. Follow the link to join the drop-in: http://bit.ly/library-dropin
  • Studiosity: Studiosity allowances reset on August 1st. Students can upload an extract of their work to Studiosity (accessed via Blackboard) and will receive a personalised written feedback report within 24 hours.  This service is available 24/7. For more information, view our recent blog post.

Enjoy your writing and we hope to see you at a session soon!

Michele, Skills Centre


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