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Word Count

By: Angelique Caffrey - Updated: 7 Mar 2010 | comments*Discuss
Word Count; Word Counts: Timeline;

If you're a journalist, you understand the importance and relevance in needing to finish a story while keeping within a limited word count. After all, magazine and newspaper editors only have so much space to devote to copy, and you want to make sure it's your copy that gets printed. However, it can be terribly difficult to pare down your prose in order to reduce the length of your work.

To make it easier to write while remaining within (or even a little under) a specific word count, some helpful suggestions are offered below.

Use the Inverted Pyramid

The inverted pyramid is a technique that many journalists use whereby the most important items (the "who, what, when, where, and why" of the story) are noted in the first sentence or two. The following sentences include items that support that first sentence in order of importance (most important being closer to the top of the article.)

If you turn in an article written in the inverted pyramid style, your editor will be able to remove the end sentences if he or she needs more space; however, the flow and most essential elements of the story will remain uncompromised.

Remove Extraneous Language

You'd be surprised how many times unnecessary words like "very" or "really" are added to a piece. The next time you have to remove some verbiage to keep within a word count, start looking over your draft for language that isn't useful. If you're not sure whether to keep an adjective or adverb, ask yourself the questions, "Is it really necessary?" and "Will it further the reader's understanding?"

By getting rid of extraneous language, you could effectively remove up to 5% of your piece. That may not sound like a lot, but it could make a huge difference if your editor needs to choose between a 805 word story or a 761 word one (a.k.a., yours.)

Tighten Up

Peruse your sentence structure and tighten the language as you go. You'll probably find many instances whereby you can turn a few sentences into one. In fact, you may be able to condense whole paragraphs into just a handful of words.

If you diligently try this technique, you'll become better and better at it. As a result, your copy will be more readable. This paring down will also test your moxie as an author; after all, you'll have to be highly creative and fastidious.

Let Go of Your Attachment

As writers, we often think of our journalistic creations as our "children." But in order to fit your story into a pre-ordained word count, you need to let go of that emotional attachment to your writings.

Treat your flesh-and-blood children like your kids, but treat your news articles as works-in-progress. If you get too close to your pieces, you'll only be devastated when an editor hacks them apart in an effort to make them fit.

Work Ahead of Deadlines

Obviously, this cannot always happen, especially if you're working under the pressure of a daily timeline. However, if you're writing for a weekly or monthly publication, you should make every attempt to get your work done at least a day or two before it's due. This way, your editor may allow you to rewrite the piece yourself should it need to be pared down, which will give you a great deal of freedom.

You'll also get a reputation for being a considerate journalist which may not win you big awards, but might win you a big bonus or promotion at the end of the year.

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