Tips for Writers: Getting the Right Word Count

How do you fit 4,000 words into a 2,000 word assignment? Any writer would love to know the answer to that question. If you pay close attention to your word count requirements, you will keep your editors smiling and focused on the task at hand. Most word count problems are caused by unfocused ideas and poor planning. As a writer it is your job to make sure the most relevant details and information are included without going overboard. It is rare that a writer should ever have to add words to a story or article because most often we have a lot to say and not enough space.

If you end up having a copy that is too short the answer is simple; do more research. Either the idea was too lean to begin with or you just didn’t do enough research in the first place. Take your time researching before you begin writing in order to avoid this problem. It’s usually a good idea to include some back history, photographs, and other facts pertinent to the article. If your idea is still not strong enough after research, contact your editor to figure out what can be done. Often, the editor will come up with ideas that you didn’t think of that can help you reach the word count minimum easier. If nothing can be done you could always suggest a shortened or condensed version.

When it comes right down to it through, most writers find themselves trying to add just one more sentence or quote. The problem is, most editors don’t want to spend time doing your job, and if you don’t closely follow the word count requirements it is likely there won’t be a job next time. Before you get started you should have a solid idea that is not too broad. Focus on a specific area that you are knowledgeable on, and can do the research for.

As a writer, you should also have some sort of plan or outline before you start. You don’t have to regress to elementary school days using a formal outline, but you should at least write down your key points and map out your format. Use a basic format to structure your data, quotes, facts, and statistics. Your outline could be as simple as a page or two of notes. Over time, like a musician’s inner ear recognizes tones, you will develop a sense of length. With a glance at the outline you should be able to tell if your idea will fit into the agreed upon word count. If your outline seems to contain one too many key points try limiting the amount of information you will include. Streamlining your outline or notes will help save you space when you begin to write.

As you begin to write it is important that you should count accurately. The built in word counter on your software is not a capable source, and will fail you every time. You should keep a word tally as you write. You will be able to see your progress instantly which will let you know if you are adding too quickly. Generally, one line of 12 pt font on Microsoft Word is about 12-14 words, but you should really count each word.

After you finish the first draft read through it to see if any changes need to be made. Note the word count and if it is over the recommendation keep it in mind as you read. Seek out lines and phrases that are repeated or don’t make sense. If it doesn’t add a valuable thought to the piece then throw it out. Ideas that are sidetracked from the main concept are just word wasters and it is likely the story can go on without them. As you edit use the delete key sparingly, instead just try to reword sentences to make them fit. Try these tips and your work will not only fit into the word count limit, but may also be better in the end.

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