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Logo for Dr Anna Clemens PhD who teaches scientific writing courses for researchers

How to Reduce Word Count

How to Reduce Word Count

Your scientific paper draft exceeds your journal’s word limit? Here is how to cut down word count — without reducing the content! Must-read for every researcher.

“The present letter is a very long one, simply because I had no time to make it shorter.” This is a quote from Blaise Pascal, a French philosopher of the 17th century. 350 years later and the sentence still applies today – even in scientific writing.

Some scientific journals have strict word or character limits which means you have to cut down your word count. But there is another reason to reduce word count: Shorter scientific papers that transport the same meaning are better than longer, bloated texts. I know from my own writing projects that the first draft is usually the longest version. In subsequent edits, I keep cutting words, sentences and sometimes whole paragraphs. The same applies to writing scientific papers: editing is an essential part of the writing process.

When we are forced to decrease word count, our writing becomes more structured and succinct. And think of it from the reader’s perspective: Would you rather read an 8-page or a 3-page article that essentially say the same thing?

Exactly… So, if you are wondering how to reduce word count without reducing content, here is an overview over the 7 best strategies:

How to reduce word count

  1. Have one main thread
  2. Implement a consistent structure
  3. Cut repetitive sentences
  4. Eliminate filler words
  5. Swap nouns for verbs
  6. Kill conjunctions
  7. Use parentheses

Let’s look at each strategy in detail:

1) decrease word count by Having one main thread

To reduce word count effectively, the first thing to examine is whether every paragraph in your manuscript is tied to the one main message of your scientific paper. When you go through your scientific paper draft paragraph by paragraph you might find that you are in fact not only telling one but several stories at the same time. Check whether there is background information in the Introduction that is not needed to contextualise your results. Also, closely look at your Results section: Are you presenting findings or aspects that don’t quite fit into the story? Consider moving those to the Supporting Information or working them into another paper.

Screenshot of the free academic writing training for researchers who want to reduce word count

2) reduce word count by Implementing a consistent structure

If you want to reduce word count without reducing content, I highly recommend prioritising a consistent structure in your scientific paper from the start of the writing process. A lot of authors are reiterating arguments at various points in their scientific paper, and yet, the reader doesn’t get a clear idea of what the take-aways of the paper are and how they are relevant. Implementing a consistent and cohesive structure into an already written draft takes a lot of time and effort. You’ll make the whole writing process a lot more efficient if you a) decide on the scientific story that you want to tell and b) structure the sections of your paper before you start writing full sentences. If you aren’t sure how to do that, don’t worry — that’s exactly what we teach inside our online academic writing program, the Researchers’ Writing Academy. Hit the orange button above ☝🏻 to get a free preview of the writing process we are teaching to write scientific papers time-efficiently.

3) reduce word count by Cutting repetitive sentences

Even when you have a good structure in place, it might happen that you use two sentences to explain something that could have been said in one. To reduce word count, read your scientific paper attentively and ask yourself the question: Does each sentence give the reader new information? If you find repetitive sentences or lengthy descriptions that could be phrased more to the point, fix it! You will decrease the word count and make your writing easier to read!

If you have read your draft so many times, you find it hard to spot these things, try this trick: Use a different font, different margins (e.g. a two-column format instead of one) and/or print out your draft. I also highly recommend getting a second pair of eyes on your writing!

4) cut down word count by Eliminating filler words

We all do this. First drafts usually contain a lot of filler words. We include fillers when we speak but they are annoying to read and a great opportunity to reduce word count!

Your readers won’t need words that don’t carry meaning. For example: “There is a consensus in the literature that…” is better phrased as “The literature agrees that…”. Another place where filler words usually gather is in the results section. Authors often overemphasise when results aren’t certain. For example, if you use verbs such as “may” or “could” it’s unnecessary to have “probably” or “likely” in the same sentence. The same is true when you use “estimate”. There’s no need to include an “about” or “approximately” in the same sentence.

Image advertising free scientific writing training for researchers who want to learn how to reduce word count

5) REDUCE WORD COUNT BY SWAPPING NOUNS FOR VERBS

Using verbs instead of nouns doesn’t only cut down word count, it also makes your scientific article easier to read. And that’s what your goal should be if you want to get your paper accepted! Let me show you an example: “We present an analysis of the catalyst performance” is better phrased as “We analysed the catalyst performance”. That’s three words cut in just one sentence!

6) DECREASE WORD COUNT BY KILLING CONJUNCTIONS

Conjunctions are words that connect two sentences or different parts within one sentence. Conjunctions are totally necessary in many cases. However, you do not need to connect every sentence with the previous one using a conjunction. Read through your scientific paper draft and see if you can delete some “and”’s, “then”’s, “furthermore”’s, “whereas”’, “also”’s and “while”’s — this is a really easy way to reduce word count!

7) REDUCE WORD COUNT BY USING PARENTHESES

When you report values of different data series, errors or methodological details – such as brand names of instruments – parentheses are your friend. Instead of writing “The weight of sample X was 5.8g at 150°C and 5.0g at 250°C. The weight of sample Y was 4.2g at 150°C and 3.6g at 250°C” I recommend writing: “The weight of sample X(Y) was 5.8g (4.2g) at 150°C and 5.0g (3.6g) at 250°C.” You haven’t only decreased the word count, you’ve made it much easier for your reader to process the information.

HOW TO CUT DOWN WORD COUNT — BONUS TIP:

These were my top seven strategies to reduce the word count of your scientific paper. Here’s a bonus tip for you.

If you want to reduce word count but find it hard to delete words, sentences, and paragraphs in your scientific paper, I recommend creating a “recycling document”. You can use this to paste the bits you cut into. I have a recycling document for each of my writing projects. I hardly go back and incorporate things from there back into my main text but just knowing it’s there makes it easier for me to be rigorous when I’m editing. 

Another option is to use the “Track changes” option if you work in Word or the “Suggesting” function in Google Docs. I use the former when I review writing from researchers inside the Researchers’ Writing Academy so they can quickly see what has been cut or changed.

If you are curious about the Researchers’ Writing Academy, our online academic writing program, I recommend taking our free on-demand training. It’s just about an hour long and walks you through the entire Journal Publication Formula, the step-by-step system to write high-impact papers efficiently. 

Image advertising our free writing training for researchers who want to reduce word count

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How to Reduce Word Count

Your scientific paper draft exceeds your journal’s word limit? Here is how to cut down word count — without reducing the content! Must-read for every researcher.

“The present letter is a very long one, simply because I had no time to make it shorter.” This is a quote from Blaise Pascal, a French philosopher of the 17th century. 350 years later and the sentence still applies today – even in scientific writing.

Some scientific journals have strict word or character limits which means you have to cut down your word count. But there is another reason to reduce word count: Shorter scientific papers that transport the same meaning are better than longer, bloated texts. I know from my own writing projects that the first draft is usually the longest version. In subsequent edits, I keep cutting words, sentences and sometimes whole paragraphs. The same applies to writing scientific papers: editing is an essential part of the writing process.

When we are forced to decrease word count, our writing becomes more structured and succinct. And think of it from the reader’s perspective: Would you rather read an 8-page or a 3-page article that essentially say the same thing?

Exactly… So, if you are wondering how to reduce word count without reducing content, here is an overview over the 7 best strategies:

How to reduce word count

  1. Have one main thread
  2. Implement a consistent structure
  3. Cut repetitive sentences
  4. Eliminate filler words
  5. Swap nouns for verbs
  6. Kill conjunctions
  7. Use parentheses

Let’s look at each strategy in detail:

1) decrease word count by Having one main thread

To reduce word count effectively, the first thing to examine is whether every paragraph in your manuscript is tied to the one main message of your scientific paper. When you go through your scientific paper draft paragraph by paragraph you might find that you are in fact not only telling one but several stories at the same time. Check whether there is background information in the Introduction that is not needed to contextualise your results. Also, closely look at your Results section: Are you presenting findings or aspects that don’t quite fit into the story? Consider moving those to the Supporting Information or working them into another paper.

Screenshot of the free academic writing training for researchers who want to reduce word count

2) reduce word count by Implementing a consistent structure

If you want to reduce word count without reducing content, I highly recommend prioritising a consistent structure in your scientific paper from the start of the writing process. A lot of authors are reiterating arguments at various points in their scientific paper, and yet, the reader doesn’t get a clear idea of what the take-aways of the paper are and how they are relevant. Implementing a consistent and cohesive structure into an already written draft takes a lot of time and effort. You’ll make the whole writing process a lot more efficient if you a) decide on the scientific story that you want to tell and b) structure the sections of your paper before you start writing full sentences. If you aren’t sure how to do that, don’t worry — that’s exactly what we teach inside our online academic writing program, the Researchers’ Writing Academy. Hit the orange button above ☝🏻 to get a free preview of the writing process we are teaching to write scientific papers time-efficiently.

3) reduce word count by Cutting repetitive sentences

Even when you have a good structure in place, it might happen that you use two sentences to explain something that could have been said in one. To reduce word count, read your scientific paper attentively and ask yourself the question: Does each sentence give the reader new information? If you find repetitive sentences or lengthy descriptions that could be phrased more to the point, fix it! You will decrease the word count and make your writing easier to read!

If you have read your draft so many times, you find it hard to spot these things, try this trick: Use a different font, different margins (e.g. a two-column format instead of one) and/or print out your draft. I also highly recommend getting a second pair of eyes on your writing!

4) cut down word count by Eliminating filler words

We all do this. First drafts usually contain a lot of filler words. We include fillers when we speak but they are annoying to read and a great opportunity to reduce word count!

Your readers won’t need words that don’t carry meaning. For example: “There is a consensus in the literature that…” is better phrased as “The literature agrees that…”. Another place where filler words usually gather is in the results section. Authors often overemphasise when results aren’t certain. For example, if you use verbs such as “may” or “could” it’s unnecessary to have “probably” or “likely” in the same sentence. The same is true when you use “estimate”. There’s no need to include an “about” or “approximately” in the same sentence.

Image advertising free scientific writing training for researchers who want to learn how to reduce word count

5) REDUCE WORD COUNT BY SWAPPING NOUNS FOR VERBS

Using verbs instead of nouns doesn’t only cut down word count, it also makes your scientific article easier to read. And that’s what your goal should be if you want to get your paper accepted! Let me show you an example: “We present an analysis of the catalyst performance” is better phrased as “We analysed the catalyst performance”. That’s three words cut in just one sentence!

6) DECREASE WORD COUNT BY KILLING CONJUNCTIONS

Conjunctions are words that connect two sentences or different parts within one sentence. Conjunctions are totally necessary in many cases. However, you do not need to connect every sentence with the previous one using a conjunction. Read through your scientific paper draft and see if you can delete some “and”’s, “then”’s, “furthermore”’s, “whereas”’, “also”’s and “while”’s — this is a really easy way to reduce word count!

7) REDUCE WORD COUNT BY USING PARENTHESES

When you report values of different data series, errors or methodological details – such as brand names of instruments – parentheses are your friend. Instead of writing “The weight of sample X was 5.8g at 150°C and 5.0g at 250°C. The weight of sample Y was 4.2g at 150°C and 3.6g at 250°C” I recommend writing: “The weight of sample X(Y) was 5.8g (4.2g) at 150°C and 5.0g (3.6g) at 250°C.” You haven’t only decreased the word count, you’ve made it much easier for your reader to process the information.

HOW TO CUT DOWN WORD COUNT — BONUS TIP:

These were my top seven strategies to reduce the word count of your scientific paper. Here’s a bonus tip for you.

If you want to reduce word count but find it hard to delete words, sentences, and paragraphs in your scientific paper, I recommend creating a “recycling document”. You can use this to paste the bits you cut into. I have a recycling document for each of my writing projects. I hardly go back and incorporate things from there back into my main text but just knowing it’s there makes it easier for me to be rigorous when I’m editing. 

Another option is to use the “Track changes” option if you work in Word or the “Suggesting” function in Google Docs. I use the former when I review writing from researchers inside the Researchers’ Writing Academy so they can quickly see what has been cut or changed.

If you are curious about the Researchers’ Writing Academy, our online academic writing program, I recommend taking our free on-demand training. It’s just about an hour long and walks you through the entire Journal Publication Formula, the step-by-step system to write high-impact papers efficiently. 

Image advertising our free writing training for researchers who want to reduce word count

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Photography by Alice Dix