How to reduce your word count in 5 simple steps
Recently, there’s been a resurgence in long form copywriting. These days, the ideal blog post is 1,600 words long (or seven minutes to read). Many copywriters see this as an opportunity to fluff up their phrasing, when that’s actually the worst thing they could do. The extra words the content gods have given us should be used to include more points, not embellish existing ones.
Wasting words weakens your argument. Short, snappy and precise points speak to your audience directly, no matter where they are in the sales funnel.
Google is also a fan of shorter, more concise sentences. Why? Because it’s easier to read – and Google wants to make sure people can easily understand the pages its search engine directs them towards.
If you run a blog on WordPress, you can install a plugin called Yoast that will analyse your copy for readability and SEO.
- Sentences over 20 words long are frowned upon
- If you have more than 300 words after a subheading, you’re told off
- Shorter sentences result in a high Flesch Reading Score – proving that your piece is easy to understand
- Yoast prefers you to write in the active voice as it improves readability, determines who is acting and results in engaging writing
Concise content that is easy to skim-read has 124% better usability than its long form counterpart, so what are you waiting for? Get cutting!
1. Plan an effective structure
Before you start writing your piece, you can think about cutting down your word count. Planning your format, structure and content beforehand helps keep articles tight. It also provides a framework to help develop your argument without going off on a tangent or becoming repetitive.
During the planning stage, it is common to find reams and reams of research and want to pack it all in to your piece. Make sure anything you include progresses your argument. If it doesn’t, cut it.
2. Eliminate certain words
The first and easiest step. Cut excess:
- Articles – types of adjective used to indicate specificity (‘the’, ‘a’ and ‘an’)
- Adjectives – words that describe nouns
- Adverbs – words that modify the meaning of a verb, adjective or other adverb
- Prepositions – words that link nouns or pronouns to another type of word
- Pronouns – words that stand in for nouns
- Descriptors – expressions that describe or identify something
Eventually, you will get into the habit of writing without using too many of these, but it’s always worth checking to see if you can get rid of a word or two to hone down your sentences.
‘A’, ‘an’, ‘the’ and ‘that’ are common culprits. Usually you can find a couple to get rid of. However, sometimes these are necessary so don’t just ‘control F’ these offending phrases. You’ll end up with a nonsensical piece that no one will want to read.
Scrap the words ending in ‘-ly’ and restructure sentences to eliminate the word ‘said’. You’ll have a punchier sentence that will hit home with the reader. Here’s a quick example:
Original text (13 words):
Her pen was poised perfectly, ready to write. “Let’s begin” she said, smiling.
Edited text (8 words) :
Her pen perfectly poised, she smiled: “Let’s begin.”
3. Get rid of redundancies
Some commonly used phrases use multiple words when one would do. Avoid these tautologies in your writing and it will reach new heights. Here are just a few common examples:
- Past history
- Ask a question
- Difficult dilemma
- False pretense
- Postpone until later
- Unexpected surprise
- Written down
Avoid clichés, idioms and proverbs where possible. They can get boring, repetitive and eat up your word count without really adding anything of value. They are often redundant as the set up for the phrase can act as a functional sentence on its own. For example:
The eerie calm spoke volumes, something was about to happen. It was the quiet before the storm.
The eerie calm spoke volumes, something was about to happen.
4. Focus your piece
Here’s something you should know from your school days. Ask yourself, does your article answer the question you pose in the title? We suggest writing ‘one point per paragraph’. This helps to avoid repetition and excess prose, and can be part of your original plan.
Once you’ve completed your first draft, if you still have tangential paragraphs that don’t relate to your main point, scrap them. They’re not necessary to your argument and eat up your word count.
Also, if you are targeting an audience within a field of expertise, determine whether they need explanations of different acronyms or phrases. Remember our content marketing acronyms guide? You could make a similar resource for your industry and link to it when you need to use industry jargon – this helps save on lengthy explanations repeated across different pieces.
5. Use contractions and other quick tricks
This is a sneaky, yet simple and effective trick. By adding an apostrophe, you can keep your sentence’s meaning the same, yet cut your word count down dramatically.
Other similar techniques include using hyphens for words such as ‘good-natured’ ‘give-and-take’ or ‘wide-ranging’. This is a nifty trick, as most word counters see these as one word instead of the two (or three) they really are.
A great way to cut your word count is to simply swap multiple words for one that means the same thing. For example; ‘in order to’ can simply be ‘to’, or ‘now and then’ to ‘occasionally’.
Cast your mind back to primary school and you may remember your teachers telling you about ‘gerunds’. No, not the boy picking his nose at the back of the class, a verb that functions as a noun by ending in ‘-ing’. By using gerunds in your writing, you can easily cut out a couple of words.
6. Write in the active, rather than passive voice
This can be a tricky one to master, but once you’ve got it your content will pack a real punch.
When writing in the passive voice, the noun that would be the object of an active sentence appears as the subject. This generally involves using an excess number of words.
Here’s a quick example:
Passive (8 words):
Our football team was beaten by the opposition.
Active (6 words):
The opposition beat our football team.
See how it’s punchier, more effective and shorter? Apply this to all of your writing and you’ll have strong and effective content that your readers can get behind.
When using these tips and tricks, or making any edits, be careful that you don’t lose the meaning of the sentence or weaken your argument.
So, what can cutting your word count do for you?
The aim of any good piece of content is to deliver value to your readers and keep them coming back for more.
With attention spans getting shorter – 55% of pageviews get fewer than 15 seconds of attention – and competition growing, it’s important to write punchy, succinct content that quickly gets to the point. Your audience doesn’t want waffle, it wants value, so why not give it to them?