A pastor was asked once how long it would take him to write a sermon. That depended, he said, on how long the sermon was to be.

To write an hour-long sermon, he’d need two hours. To write a half-hour sermon, he’d need all day. And to write a five minute sermon? He would need all week.

Though it seems unlikely, essay-writing can be the same way. It’s easy to turn your research into a thick ream of paper, pages of explanation and painstaking details. But then some professor is going to demand you turn all of that into a 2,000-word report, a mere 10 pages.

It can’t be done, you wail. You’d lose too much! But it can.

Aside from a massive, cut-heavy rewrite, there are a number of tricks for trimming that word count without sacrificing the substance.

  • First, simplify your language. Concision is not about style. The end result has to convey information like a blunt instrument; it does not have to be pleasant to read. Trim out tangents and divergences.
  • Second, do a word-search of your document for the suffix ‘ly.’ You’ll find a lot of adverbs. Use your thesaurus and slice them out, replacing them with a better verb. “He walked quickly,” becomes “He strode,” and three words is down to two.
  • The next tip will make your writing feel choppy, but try not to mind that. Delete your connectives. Take out ‘and’ and ‘but’ and make a longer sentence into two shorter ones, one word less. Also, watch out for ‘could,’ ‘may,’ ‘might,’ and the like. These words modify your statements to be less certain. Taking them out will make your writing more confident as well as shorter.

After all of this, if you still are coming in too wordy, make a final check for redundancies. These hide in descriptions and explanations most often. If a sentence can be taken out and the meaning of the paragraph doesn’t alter, leave it out. Reduce your intro and conclusion to the minimum; no need to repeat anything from the main body.

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