Top TricksWhen I started at my first job as a professional writer, I needed to know exactly how many words I had to write for each piece, even if I wasn’t given a specific number. Somehow, I had fallen into a trap of writing to meet a word count during college, like it was a goal I had to stretch to accomplish. Have you written something for a class before and fallen short? How did you expand the piece? Did you go back through and pepper in a few more words? Did they enhance the story . . . or the word count?

Writing with a certain number of words in mind can be a good thing if you have an adequate amount to talk about. Otherwise, it can force you to ramble or be wordy. No one is going to be impressed by 500 words about a topic if you don’t provide enough information—not just words—to fill the space.

Sometimes, you have control over the length of the piece. You’re in luck! You can write until the story has been told. You can provide adequate information and clean connections between your thoughts, with a beautiful intro and a crisp ending. However, more often than not, you have a word count (or now, sometimes, a character count). So here’s what you can do!

First, assess whether you can actually write enough about the topic to fill that amount of space. (I know. This may take some practice.) Make a list of questions you want to answer. Determine what your audience will be interested in hearing about. If you don’t write enough the first time to fit the required number of words, put the piece aside, and read it later from your readers’ point of view. Consider what else they might want to know about the information that you provided. Think about examples you could offer or anecdotes that relate to your article.

Conversely, if you have too much to talk about, pare it back. And if you write the piece and end up with too much, you can select points to leave out, focusing on a narrower topic. Perfect!

For a couple years, I wrote articles for a newsletter, and the board for the newsletter generated the questions that I was to answer and decided the length of the articles. It was brutal to cram the amount of information that they wanted into the tiny articles that they requested. The articles were technical, too, so I had to make sure that I introduced scientific terms to the general audience of the newsletter in a way that they would understand them. Writing those articles was frustrating. I couldn’t use the smooth transitions I wanted to. I had to clip sentences down to the fewest words possible. And, I had to use tons of mouse-over definitions and link ad nauseam.

Writing like that left me jittery and unsure of my skills, and the articles felt rushed and disjointed. Needless to say, I’m happy they didn’t give me a byline!

If this is your plight, then you have my sympathy. I recommend speaking with the person requesting the piece to find out if you can narrow the topic and focus on the most important aspects. If they won’t budge, and no one else (like an interviewee for the article) can speak on your behalf, then you have your work cut out for you. Your verbiage will have to be particularly tight to fit in all the information. You may be able to link to explanations or pages for more information to help keep you under your limit.

Please remember to beef up your written work the responsible way! Quality information is valuable, and you want to keep your audience from going elsewhere!

If you have other writing or editing topics you would like me to cover or have questions for me, please let me know.

3 thoughts on “

  1. […] Don’t panic. — Have you ever been forced to make a snap decision at a restaurant when everyone else has told the server their order, and you’re still trying to decide between the salmon and the fried shrimp? Don’t be filled with regret from quickly choosing a topic or slamming the keys down to make the word count. […]

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