By: Lisa Edwards
Do word count requirements stress you out? I don’t know about you, but when I sit down to write something, I don’t like to think about how long it has to be, or in some cases, how short it needs to be. I prefer to write my first draft without thinking about word count at all. But it doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes (okay, most of the time), writers have to play by the rules.
And that means you can’t go over the word count limit, or under the minimum.
I’ve learned through experience that if I don’t spend some time preparing and outlining my piece before I begin, I’ll have to do that much more editing after the fact to meet the word count requirements. Personally, I’d rather spend more time writing, but planning how to get your message across within the given word count requirements is a necessary evil, whether you like it or not.
Whenever I find myself overwhelmed by the length of an assignment or by the restrictions that come with it, I try to break down the assignment into more manageable pieces. If the assignment is to write a 3,000 word essay, I’ll focus on writing 500-1000 words at a time.Planning Ahead
Before writing a single word, I always do some research on the topic, the audience, and the area where the content is going to be displayed. That’s all I really need to know to get started. Once I’ve done a little basic research, I can then decide what format to write in, what voice is most appropriate, and how to break the topic into sections that make sense.
The more word count restrictions that come along with a piece of writing, the longer it takes to plan. There are a few types of word count restrictions that I run into most often.
- Word Count Minimums
For me, 500 words is relatively easy to get to. For a piece this length, I will typically create an introduction, 2-3 sections that make up the body of the piece, and a brief conclusion. Breaking the piece into smaller sections makes it easier for the reader to digest, and/or to skim, if they prefer. Each section will usually contain 2-3 short paragraphs and/or bulleted lists.
When the word count requirements get up to 1,000 or more, that’s when my outlines get a little more in-depth. In addition to breaking the content into sections, I also like to create sub-sections to make the content even easier to follow. Long paragraphs or long sections without headings are harder to follow, and may cause the reader to skip around, or to lose interest in the article altogether. Sub-sections create targets to help pull the reader back in.
- Word Count Limits
Sometimes there is just a word count limit, and that can be tough to adhere to as well. If, for example, the requirements limit your word count to no more than 1,500 words, you have to be careful not to go too far over the limit in your first draft. Otherwise, you’ll likely have to cut out a big chunk of your writing, and that can be tough for any writer.
You’ll want to keep the limit in mind as you create an outline for your piece, and maybe even estimate how many words you plan to use in each section. This will help you to know when to stop writing. Sometimes it’s hard to stop!
- Word Count Minimums and Limits
Now, if I’m hired (or submission guidelines require me) to write a piece between 500-550 words, this would be a more difficult assignment for me. With such a specific word count range, the odds of my first draft falling within that window are low.
In this case, I try to get really specific with my topic. To do this, I’ll come up with a list of 5 or 6 questions to answer within the piece, and then try to write 50-100 words for each question. Once you add in the introduction and conclusion, you’re right around the 500-600 word mark, and you can edit from there as needed.
No matter what the word count requirements of your next writing assignment may be, a little planning always goes a long way.