“2000 words +/- 10%”
A sentence you will either be very familiar with or are about to be introduced to.
Word count is probably the most painful part of academic writing as every word counts: including citations. The jump from school to university isn’t just a few steps, it is 6 flights of stairs. The simple adjustments of turning ‘we are’ into ‘we’re’ is just not going to cut it when you are 1000 words over the word count and everything you have is needed.
I have had many late-night panics, which have resulted in an unhealthy addiction to Red Bull. The late-night panics are inevitable and you will more than likely become best friends with your closest Starbucks barista and have your ID on standby for Sainsbury’s before you even step foot into the uni. However, I have a few tips and tricks that I have discovered over the years that have helped make that word count seem less scary.
Now one thing to note is that each university or college may have a different style of referencing and guidelines for how they like essays, reports etc to be written so always make sure you READ YOUR HANDBOOK! However, there are a few ways to get around the word count, which I gave may give you a few more hours of sleep at night.
Graphics, these will be your best friends. If you have a list please do not use your precious word count listing 10 different disadvantages and advantages. Get some smart art in there and get those words out. Tutors read loads of essays and reports – they like an infographic that breaks up the chunk of words and also shows them that you can get your points across without having to use 50-100 words detailing every detail. Pinterest and Canva are great for giving you some inspiration on different ways of designing infographics and can all be done on your phone. Canva is one of my favourite apps to use. The designs are pre-made, which means you can pop in your info and change the colours to match the brand or topic you are doing and then that’s you.
Tables, tables, tables. If you can put any tables into your work please do, the info in them do not (usually) count in the word count. One way around this is to screenshot which means it will not pick up the words as it counts as a photo. But do not take advantage of the table as tutors will think you are taking it a bit too far if you have 12 tables. Although the words in the table do not count, the title that introduces the table counts as ‘Table 1: Ways of reducing your word count’.
The final tip is to use your executive summary! This is only in reports as it provides an overview of your entire report. Most of the journals you will read will have one of these at the start and are great for giving you a template of how you should lay out your own. If you master the art of the summary you can easily save yourself 200 words.
Now read it. Send it to your friends, acquaintances, and family; whoever will read it and ask them to point out repetition or over-explaining. If you can say it in 20 words and get your point across, don’t make it 60 plus words just to throw in some fancy words.
Do not overthink. Write, condense and add graphics. You will survive and write some amazing and some not so amazing pieces but it’s all a learning process. Once you press that submission button it’s gone and you are free.