16-word-count-tips_blog

Have you ever finished drafting a one-pager, report, or social media profile only to find out that you’re hundreds of words or characters over your limit? Or maybe you’re not working with a word limit, but you get the sense that the long sentences in your blog post or website copy are going to make your visitors drop like flies. Instead of breaking out into a happy dance to celebrate the fact that you finally managed to sit still long enough to pull together a full draft, you’re left to figure out how you’re going to trim your sentences and meet your word or character limit. To help you out, we’ve created a list of our top 16 on how to reduce word counts and write concisely.

Note that these tips work best when you’ve already cut out the full sentences and paragraphs that you just don’t need. They’ll help you write clear and crisp sentences, sentences that show that you know what you’re talking about and don’t need to beat around the bush to say it. Use these tips to keep your writing short and simple and knock that word count or character count down.

Tip #1: Remove redundant words

Redundant words are words that repeat information that’s conveyed by other words in a sentence. These words are like an appendix – they take up space, but they don’t really do anything useful. In fact, if anything, they just cause problems. (And you don’t need more of those, do you?)

Redundant words don’t add any unique information to a sentence. As a result, you can remove them without losing any information.

Here’s how you can use this tip to reduce word counts and write concisely:

“She prepared a (brief) summary for the project team.” (9 words; 42 characters)
“She prepared a summary for the project team.” (8 words; 37 characters)

“The store is open to the (general) public.” (8 words; 33 characters)
“The store is open to the public.” (7 words; 26 characters)

“When Obama (first) became president, he moved into the White House.” (11 words; 57 characters)
“When Obama became president, he moved into the White House.” (10 words; 50 characters)

Tip #2: Remove unnecessary words

Unnecessary words are a lot like redundant words. They get added to sentences but often don’t need to be there. (Are you starting to see a theme?)

Unlike redundant words, unnecessary words don’t necessarily repeat information that’s expressed by another word in the same sentence. Instead, unnecessary words are often the words that make up wordy phrases. In most cases, you can replace these wordy phrases with shorter phrases to get rid of the unnecessary words. Remember, less is more.
Here’s how you can use this tip to reduce word counts and write concisely:

“People who violate the terms of use may experience a number of consequences.” (13 words; 64 characters)
“People who violate the terms of use may experience several consequences.” (11 words; 62 characters)

“We need the approved mockups in order to start developing the website.” (12 words; 59 characters)
“We need the approved mockups to start developing the website.” (10 words; 52 characters)

Want some examples of common wordy phrases and their shorter equivalents? Check these out:

  1. A number of: several, many (3 words vs. 1 word)
  2. As a means of: to (4 words vs. 1 word)
  3. At the present time: now (4 words vs. 1 word)
  4. Due to the fact that: because, since (5 words vs. 1 word)
  5. In an effort to: to (4 words vs. 1 word)
  6. In close proximity to: near (4 words vs. 1 word)
  7. In order to: to (3 words vs. 1 word)
  8. In the near future: soon, shortly (4 words vs. 1 word)
  9. It is requested that you: please (5 words vs. 1 word)
  10. With the exception of: except (4 words vs. 1 word)

In some cases, you can get rid of an entire set of unnecessary words without having to replace them with a shorter set of words. Take a look at this example:

There are no previous studies that investigated the relationship between protein X and protein Y.” (15 words; 83 characters)
“No previous studies investigated the relationship between protein X and protein Y.” (12 words; 71 characters)

Here are some other words and sets of words that you can often banish from your sentences without having to replace them with anything. The numbers in parentheses show the number of words you’ll save by getting rid of these words.

  1. The fact that (-3 words)
  2. It has been reported that (-5 words)
  3. It was observed/found that (-4 words)
  4. There is/there are (-2 words)
  5. Very (-1 word)
  6. Really (-1 word)

And finally, some words become unnecessary words in a certain context. Let’s take a look at these examples:

“The most important ingredient in this recipe…” (7 words; 38 characters)
“The most important ingredient…”(4 words; 26 characters)

As you can see, we can remove “in this recipe” from the sentence. Why? Because we know that ingredients are usually part of recipes. So if we’re talking about ingredients, we can assume our reader will know that we’re talking about ingredients in a recipe.

Note, though, that “in this recipe” isn’t always redundant. For example, you wouldn’t be able to remove it from this sentence:

“There are peanuts in this recipe.”

Peanut allergies are pretty serious business, so you’d want to keep “in this recipe” in the sentence so that your reader knows what the peanuts are in. After all, EpiPens aren’t exactly cheap these days, so you probably want to avoid having to use one.

Bonus tip: Use the “find” function in your word processor to search for the most common unnecessary words in your writing.

 Tip #3: Remove the word “that”

It’s common to pepper sentences with the word “that,” but this word often doesn’t add much to the meaning of a sentence. It’s yet another appendix.

Because “that” usually doesn’t convey important information in a sentence, you can often make your sentences shorter by removing it.
Here’s how you can use this tip to reduce word counts and write concisely:

“The car that Michael just bought broke down.” (8 words; 37 characters)
“The car Michael just bought broke down.” (7 words; 33 characters)

“Being blamed for something that you didn’t do is frustrating.” (10 words; 52 characters)
“Being blamed for something you didn’t do is frustrating.” (9 words; 48 characters)

“The report that we’ve been working on is almost complete.” (10 words; 48 characters)
“The report we’ve been working on is almost complete.” (9 words; 44 characters)

Tip #4: Get rid of unnecessary helping verbs

Do you have a relative or friend who always tries to be helpful but often isn’t? Ironically, helping verbs can sometimes be like this.

But what are helping verbs anyway? Helping verbs are words like “be,” “do,” and “have.” They’re called helping verbs because they help the main verb in a sentence (imagine that!).

In some cases, we need to include a helping verb in a sentence to modify the meaning of the main verb in the sentence. In many cases, though, we end up including them in sentences when they aren’t needed.

So what do you do in these situations? Take that helping verb out.
Here’s how you can use this tip to reduce word counts and write concisely:

“First, you have to enter your password into the scanner.” (10 words; 47 characters)
“First, enter your password into the scanner.” (7 words; 38 characters)

“Airlines are always trying to charge more.” (7 words; 36 characters)
“Airlines always try to charge more.” (6 words; 30 characters)

“I do need to go to the mall.” (8 words; 21 characters)
“I need to go to the mall.” (7 words; 19 characters)

Tip #5: Replace nouns with verbs

Some people have a thing for nouns. Really, they do. Many words can be expressed as either nouns (e.g., “It is our recommendation that”) or as verbs (“We recommend that”). And people who have a thing for nouns think that the noun versions of these words sound much sexier.

The problem with the noun forms of words is that they’re often longer than the verb forms. They also usually force us to add other extra words to a sentence to make it grammatically correct. Instead of being seduced by wordy nouns, put them in their place by using their verb counterparts instead.
Here’s how you can use this tip to reduce word counts and write concisely:

The implementation of the social media strategy will boost engagement.” (10 words; 61 characters)
Implementing the social media strategy will boost engagement.” (8 words; 54 characters)

The categorization of children by swimming ability rather than by age will make lessons more productive.” (16 words; 89 characters)
Categorizing children by swimming ability rather than by age will make lessons more productive.” (14 words; 82 characters)

The addition of crystals to the dress will make it too heavy.” (12 words; 50 characters)
Adding crystals to the dress will make it too heavy.” (10 words; 43 characters)

Tip # 6: Shorten long words

Sometimes you end up with a long noun that can’t be swapped for a verb. And in other cases, you end up with a long word that’s already a verb. This may worry you because you know that sentences with long words are more cumbersome to read. Just take a look at this sentence:

“The utilization of the social media automation tool will allow us to ensure the completion of the sharing of our images with our followers.”

Long? Yes. Confusing? Just a bit.

Never fear, though. There’s still something you can do when you realize that you’ve written a monster of a sentence like this: you can replace the long noun or verb with a shorter word that means the same thing.

Although this won’t help you reduce word counts, it’ll help if you’re working with a character or page limit. It’ll also help you write sleeker and more powerful sentences.(Wouldn’t that be awesome?)
Here’s how you can use this tip to reduce word counts and write concisely:

“The utilization of the social media automation tool will allow us to ensure the completion of the sharing of our images with our followers.” (24 words; 116 characters)

“The use of the social media automation tool will allow us to finish sharing our images with our followers.” (19 words; 88 characters)

Using the social media automation tool will allow us to finish sharing our images with our followers.” (17 words; 85 characters)

Want some more examples of long words that you can swap for shorter ones? Here you go:

  1. Notification: notice (12 characters vs. 6 characters)
  2. Portion: part (7 characters vs. 4 characters)
  3. Remainder: rest (9 characters vs. 4 characters)
  4. Upon: on (4 characters vs. 2 characters)
  5. Usage: use (5 characters vs. 3 characters)

Tip #7: Replace multiple weak words with a powerful word

In some cases, we create emphasis in sentences by stringing together verbs (words that describe actions), adjectives (words that describe nouns or pronouns), and adverbs (words that describe adjectives, verbs, and other adverbs). This makes sentences longer than they need to be because we end up using more words to convey the same information.

By replacing a set of weak words with a single strong word, you can shorten your sentences and make them more punchy. You’re not weak, so why make yourself sound weak through your writing?
Here’s how you can use this tip to reduce word counts and write concisely:

“She looked incredibly nervous while she was presenting.” (8 words; 48 characters)
“She looked terrified while she was presenting.” (7 words; 40 characters)

“He was very tired after staying up all night to finish his essay.” (13 words; 53 characters)
“He was exhausted after staying up all night to finish his essay.” (12 words; 53 characters)

“She looked absolutely stunning in her mother’s wedding dress.” (9 words; 52 characters)
“She rocked her mother’s wedding dress.” (6 words; 33 characters)

Tip #8: Replace prepositional phrases with adverbs

Another way that we make our sentences weak is by using prepositional phases (i.e., phrases built around words like “with,” “of,” and “in”) to describe an action. To streamline sentences and reduce word counts, we can often replace the prepositional phrase with a single word. Why make your readers do more work than they need to do to read your one-pager or blog post?
Here’s how you can use this tip to reduce word counts and write concisely:

“The cyclist pedalled with fury.” (5 words; 27 characters)
“The cyclist pedalled furiously.” (4 words; 28 characters)

“The athlete raced through the obstacle course with agility.” (9 words; 51 characters)
“The athlete raced through the obstacle course agilely. (8 words; 47 characters)

Tip #9: Make words plural

Yup. You read the heading for this tip correctly. You can reduce word counts and write concisely just by making singular words plural.

Singular words often need an article (e.g., “the” or “a”) in front of them whereas plural words often don’t. As a result, you can shrink your sentences by making singular words plural when possible.
Here’s how you can use this tip to reduce word counts and write concisely:

“A good doctor is intelligent, knowledgeable, and experienced.” (8 words; 54 characters)
“Good doctors are intelligent, knowledgeable, and experienced.” (7 words; 55 characters)

“A pear contains more fibre than an apple does.” (9 words; 38 characters)
“Pears contain more fibre than apples do.” (7 words; 34 characters)

“A child learns most effectively when taught by a compassionate teacher.” (11 words; 61 characters)
“Children learn most effectively when taught by compassionate teachers.” (9 words; 62 characters)

Tip #10: Replace prepositional phrases with possessives

Those pesky prepositional phrases are back at it again. In this case, they’re making us use more words than we really need to indicate that something belongs to someone (i.e., to indicate possession). These sentences tend to look like this:

“The cover of the ebook needs more work.”

This sentence takes the form “the X of Y,” where X = “the cover” and Y = “the ebook.”

This may not seem that wordy, and it’s true that this particular sentence isn’t. But there’s still a way to make this sentence shorter and tighter: take “the X of the Y” and turn it into “Y’s X.” If we do this to the example sentence above, it would look like this:

“The ebook’s cover needs more work.”
Here’s how you can use this tip to reduce word counts and write concisely:

“The complexity of the street map confused me.” (8 words; 38 characters)
“The street map’s complexity confused me.” (6 words; 35 characters)

“The title page of the report looks great!” (8 words; 34 characters)
“The report’s title page looks great!” (6 words; 31 characters)

“The invoice for the customer isn’t ready yet.” (8 words; 38 characters)
“The customer’s invoice isn’t ready yet.” (6 words; 34 characters)

Tip 11: Rewrite sentences to eliminate prepositions

We’ve talked about how phrases built around prepositions make sentences wordy. But prepositions can make sentences longer than they need to be even when they appear on their own. Those troublemakers!

In many cases, you can get rid of a preposition by rewriting the sentence.
Here’s how you can use this tip to reduce word counts and write concisely:

“We will test customers’ preferences for winter coats.” (8 words; 46 characters)
“We will test customers’ winter coat preferences.” (7 words; 42 characters)

“The weather in Vancouver is typically better than the weather in Edmonton.” (12 words; 63 characters)
“Vancouver weather is typically better than Edmonton weather.” (8 words; 53 characters)

“The manager of the restaurant apologized for the undercooked meat.” (10 words; 57 characters)
“The restaurant manager apologized for the undercooked meat.” (8 words; 52 characters)

In some cases, you can use the “-ing” form of a verb to remove a preposition. You’ll just need to play around with the word order in the sentence. Here’s how this could look:

“We will use the results of Phase 1 to develop a tool in Phase 2.” (15 words; 50 characters)
“Using the results of Phase 1, we will develop a tool in Phase 2.” (14 words; 51 characters)

Tip #12: Eliminate conjunctions

Sometimes we take sets of words that could form their own sentence and instead join them together in one sentence using a coordinating conjunction (a word like “and,” “so,” or “but”). Here’s an example:

“Tom wrote the copy for the ebook, and Malika designed the graphics.”

The conjunction doesn’t take up that much space in a sentence. But if you’re pressed for space, replacing the conjunction and the comma before it with a period or a semicolon can help you reduce word counts.
Here’s how you can use this tip to reduce word counts and write concisely:

“Tom wrote the copy for the ebook, and Malika designed the graphics.”(12 words; 56 characters)

“Tom wrote the copy for the ebook; Malika designed the graphics.”(11 words; 53 characters)

“Tom wrote the copy for the ebook. Malika designed the graphics.” (11 words; 53 characters)

Tip #13: Write in active voice instead of in passive voice

Writing in passive voice (e.g., “The soccer ball was kicked by Mia”) instead of active voice (e.g., “Mia kicked the soccer ball”) is a lot like using nouns in place of verbs – people think sentences sound more impressive when they’re written this way.

The problem with passive voice, though, is that it makes sentences longer and less powerful. Do you want your website copy, one-pager, or report to have a strong impact on your readers? If you do, reduce word counts and write more concisely by rewriting passive voice sentences in active voice.
Here’s how you can use this tip to reduce word counts and write concisely:

“The survey was conducted by the project team in January 2015.” (passive; 11 words; 51 characters)
“The project team conducted the survey in January 2015.” (active; 9 words; 46 characters)

“The lawsuit was filed by Mighty Media.” (passive; 7 words; 32 characters)
“Mighty Media filed the lawsuit.” (active; 5 words; 27 characters)

“The dance company’s performance was choreographed by Karen Kain.” (passive; 9 words; 56 characters)
“Karen Kain choreographed the dance company’s performance.” (active; 7 words; 51 characters)

Hint: Need help identifying passive sentences in your writing? If you can place “by zombies” after the main verb in a sentence, your sentence is probably in passive voice. Here’s an example:

“The lawsuit was filed (by zombies) by Mighty Media.”

 Tip #14: Combine sentences

Sometimes you can make paragraphs shorter by combining related sentences. Just make sure that your combined sentences don’t become too long or difficult to follow. Otherwise you’ll be back at square one when it comes to trimming your sentences.
Here’s how you can use this tip to reduce word counts and write concisely:

“Six participants tested the product. They ranged in age from 19 to 56 years.” (14 words)
“Six participants aged 19–56 years tested the product.” (8 words)

“Sophia is a senior accountant at Mighty Media. She is responsible for overseeing the work of four junior accountants at the company.” (22 words)
“Sophia, a senior accountant at Mighty Media, oversees the work of four junior accountants.” (14 words)

“Anton is a hotel pastry chef. He works at a luxury hotel in Florida.” (14 words)
“Anton is a pastry chef at a luxury Florida hotel.” (10 words)

Tip #15: Describe data in one place only

This tip is helpful if you’re presenting tables or graphs along with text. Tables and graphs are a lot like PowerPoint slides – they’re meant to complement but not repeat everything you present in another format, whether that format is text in a paragraph or information that you’re presenting out loud. Some people make the mistake of providing the same information in a table or graph and in the text of a blog post, report, or one-pager.

Here’s what this looks like:

“A large proportion of customers reported seeing the web (90%), social media (80%), and in-store (60%) ads (see Figure 1).” (20 words; 102 characters)

Figure 1. Percentage of customers who saw store ads

presentation1

You wouldn’t make your readers read the same paragraph twice, so why would you make them read a paragraph and either a table or graph that contain the same information? That’s why many style guides recommend describing information in one place only – in a paragraph or in a table or figure.

See how this looks:

“Figure 1 displays the number of customers who saw the online, social media, and in-store ads.” (16 words; 78 characters)

 Figure 1. Percentage of customers who saw store ads

presentation1

Tip #16: Use abbreviations consistently

Abbreviations are like candy – some people can’t get enough of them when they write. In our ebook “How to Write Clearly,” we talk about why you should limit your use of abbreviations.

If you’re going to use them, and there are appropriate times to use them, don’t make the mistake that most people make. That is, don’t use an abbreviation inconsistently throughout a document or piece of copy. Here’s what this inconsistency looks like:

“The Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care (MOHLTC) oversees the health care system in Ontario, Canada. One of the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care’s key goals is to build a sustainable and patient-centered public health system.” (37 words; 196 characters)

You probably introduced the abbreviation to avoid writing out a long name over and over again. So when you don’t use the abbreviation consistently, it defeats the purpose of using it. This inconsistency also increases your word and character counts.

To make your abbreviations worth the cost of using them (see our ebook for more on this), use them consistently throughout a document or piece of copy.
Here’s how you can use this tip to reduce word counts and write concisely:

“The Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care (MOHLTC) oversees the health care system in Ontario, Canada. One of the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care’s key goals is to build a sustainable and patient-centered public health system.” (37 words; 196 characters)

“The Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care (MOHLTC) oversees the health care system in Ontario, Canada. One of MOHLTC’s key goals is to build a sustainable and patient-centered public health system.” (31 words; 167 characters)

Summary

You may be looking at these tips and noticing that they don’t reduce word counts or character counts by a huge amount. So why bother using them?

It’s true that if you use just one of these tips in one sentence of your report or blog post, you won’t see much of a difference. However, if you use even just a few of these strategies across an entire document or piece of writing, the savings will add up. We promise. You’ll be surprised by just how much shorter and tighter you can make your sentences by giving these tips a try.
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Looking for more tips on how to reduce word counts and write concisely? Check out our post on the 3 wordy phrases you should ban from your writing.
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16 Tips on How to Reduce Word Counts and Write Concisely
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