Blog: Word Count: Meeting the Minimum, Not Exceeding the Maximum

By Mahdis Habibinia

This one is for both the writers and the non-writers! 

Remote or in-person, the fall season inevitably comes with an eventual writing assignment for most students—one way or another. And with that assignment, comes the dreaded minimum word count for nonwriters and, sometimes, maximum word count for overzealous writers. 

Both overwriting and under-writing can be taxing; where one jambles too many topics into your brain’s left hemisphere, the other poses an insufficiency problem for your grade. Fortunately though, there are easy solutions to both! 

For those who struggle to meet the minimum word count, your best friend is research! Research, research, research! When it comes to constructing the research into your final product, ask yourselves the following questions on what to include:

  • What conclusions and connections of my own did I draw up? 
  • What opinions and reactions went on in my head as I researched? 
  • What adds depth/breadth to my work? 
  • What adds clarification, definition, or persuasion to my work? 
  • What are relevant examples, studies, or expert opinions to include? (Mind the date! You don’t want to reference a 1980’s study when there’s a more recent one available!)
  • Is this a topic where I can address the opposing side? 
  • What furthers the readers’ understanding of the five Ws (technically five Ws and one H) on this topic? (Who, What, When, Where, Why, How) 
  • By the end of the piece, will someone who has no idea about this topic or your opinion have a general understanding of it or be convinced of your perspective?

Remember, if you do your research well and know what to include, the piece basically writes itself! 

For those who tend to write too much, there’s also a roadmap for you and it’s centred on organization and discretion! When it comes to eliminating word count in your final draft, ask yourselves the following questions on what to cut down: 

  • What doesn’t add depth/breadth to my work?
  • What paragraphs or sentences don’t have a purpose? (Every single one will have a purpose—be it transitionary, informative, clarification, persuasion, definition, etc.)
  • Am I using run-on sentences or noun strings?
  • Am I using fluff or repetitive information?
  • Is this piece of information absolutely crucial for my reader(s) or just me?
  • If I take this out, will it diminish/weaken, cause confusion/discrepancy, or encourage questions/criticism about the information in this section or the overall piece? 
  • Can readers do without this information? If not, why can’t they? 

So, give it a go and challenge yourself! And remember, concision is key, but it is also often more work. Mark Twain once said: “I didn’t have time to write you a short letter, so I wrote you a long one.”

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