1000 Words Over? The Art of Cutting Copy

Many writers have specific word counts they are forced to abide by in their writing. However, writers tend to be so tied to their material and have spent so much time writing that it can be difficult to cut copy to fit the word count. The following are some tips for cutting back.

  • Start with the big picture. Look for entire sections first, then paragraphs, sentences, and words. It is much easier to cut an entire subhead or section of your writing that just doesn’t seem to fit or seem necessary in a smaller word count. Large sections can be easier to save for later use and may form the basis for a follow up work.
  • Look for long examples. Illustrations are great. They make writing come alive. One professor told me only to illustrate the points you want anyone to remember or get anything out of! But sometimes illustrations must be cut when copy is long. If you have three illustrations, keep the one that works the best. Or look to keep shorter illustrations. Summarize an illustration in a few sentences (see the next bullet).
  • Summarize, summarize, summarize. Cutting also is about more than merely chopping words. Summarization is a huge part of the cutting process. Graduate students often include long quotes in writing. Sometimes a sentence or two can summarize what is otherwise a word count hog. Anything that can be summarized in a few sentences and still prove effective is a must do when cutting copy.
  • Cut out repetition. Many writers follow the pithy presentation model of telling what you are going to say, say what you want, and then tell again what you just told your audience. That’s great for a speech but in a limited word count, unnecessary repetition is a great place to lose some copy.
  • Chop ancillary topics. When writing, keep your thesis or main idea in front of you. Post it on your computer screen if necessary. Resist the urge to keep anything that does not accomplish the goal of addressing your main idea. Not sure if it is on target? Send it packing!
  • Look for unnecessary words (e.g. that or very). Editors usually have a list of words they think are completely unnecessary and cut every time they see them. Personally, I chop the wordvery every time I see it. Very does not add a great deal to writing. The difference between a fast car and a very fast car is minimal. Otherwise pick another more descriptive word! Keep a thesaurus handy if necessary. Bottom line: Look for unnecessary words that don’t add to your argument.
  • Look for colloquial speech. Speaking of useless words, many times in the southern USA, we use words for emphasis that can be tossed as well. We might say that the car in the last example was really fast. No need for the extra words when it is time to cut copy. Pick a more descriptive word.

At Edit 911, we are always willing to edit or cut down to word count for you. Let us know how we can help!

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