“But I Spent So Much Time Writing This!”
There are a lot of reasons authors do not want to cut words from their manuscripts, some emotional and some technical. Among the most prevalent:
- You feel as if your time has been wasted. You’ve spent a lot of time writing that article. You’ve struggled over the perfect turn of phrase; you labored developing the most persuasive argument. During that time you ignored your partner and hid the pile of papers that needs to be graded. Once you hit delete, it seems as if your work was for nothing.
- You don’t think you can make your point in fewer words. You’ve thought through every way to rewrite a sentence, but you still can’t find a way to explain yourself in a more concise manner.
- You don’t have the time. Revisions are as time consuming as writing the first draft. You’re on a deadline, and you don’t think you can make the manuscript any shorter while retaining it’s quality in the amount of time you have.
How do you cut?
Here, I address some approaches you can take to cut words quickly. These are more along the lines of cosmetic cuts that you can make when the substance of your manuscript is strong, but it’s just a bit too long.
- First, assess how much needs to be cut. If you need to trim a hundred words or so, you can probably do a few minor cuts throughout the paper. Get rid of a superfluous adjective here and there. If you are looking to cut more than that, then you need to address the paper section by section.
- Figure out what words count. By this I mean determine what is included in the word count. In most cases, the word count includes the bibliography and appendices. If this is the case for you, don’t forget to look at these sections as well when you are deciding what to cut.
- Look for repetition. Are you making the same point over and over again? Eliminate redundancies in the prose. For instance, you do not need to explain your research methodology more than once.
- Pay attention to the literature review. The literature review does double duty with regard to your word count: you have words in the actual literature review, and words in your bibliography. Removing literature and citations from your article is hard; especially considering that one of the most common comments from peer reviewers is to read author X or consider theory Y. One approach you can consider is to count how many times you cite each author, and ask yourself if you really need to use every text s/he has written. If you’re citing multiple texts by the same author that make the same exact argument, then you can probably cut at least one of these texts.
- Think seriously about style. The problems of word count are often issues of style – you’re using too many words to say something simple. You believe that adopting a more flowery style of writing will communicate to the reader that you have a sophisticated vocabulary and a firm grasp on the issues at stake in your manuscript. To be brief: you think that using more words makes you sound smarter (see what I did there?). It doesn’t.
There might also be substantive issues that an author needs to address. I will discuss these in a later post. There are certainly more strategies writers can use to ensure their manuscripts meet a prescribed word count. If you have any tried and true strategies, share them in the comments section. In the next post in this series, I’ll discuss how to add length, or “bulk up” your manuscript.