Sticking to the Word Limit
As deadlines approach and you begin making the final adjustments to your essay, one crucial element to bear in mind is the word limit.
Why Have a Word Limit?
The word limit is set for several reasons, but the main two are:
- To ensure fairness, since you can’t mark two essays on the same subject in the same way if one is much longer than the other;
- To let you demonstrate your ability to write concisely, which is an important communication skill.
Coming in under the word limit implies that you have not done enough research to answer your question fully, but coming in over it may imply that you lack focus.
In some universities, you are allowed to be either 10% over or under the specified word limit. However, in some cases you could be penalised for exceeding the word limit. It’s therefore very important that you check your university’s style guide on this!
Planning Your Essay
The best way to ensure you finish as close as possible to the word limit is by planning ahead. Before you begin writing, work out how long each section of your essay should be based on the overall word limit. You can then plan how much to write in each part accordingly.
Planning a certain number of words per section means that you won’t hit the maximum before you finish! It will also make sure you don’t ‘finish’ only to find yourself well short of the recommended word count.
Some Editing Tips
Often, even if you plan your essay, you’ll find your first draft exceeds the word limit. Luckily, there are a few simple things you can do to cut down the word count:
- Long quotations can be cut or, alternatively, shortened using ellipses
- Remove repetition or redundant words and phrases
- Check that you haven’t stated the obvious, since common terms or well-known concepts do not need to be explained in detail
- Use the active voice where possible
- If you have used several examples or case studies, see if any can be cut
Make sure to give yourself enough time to edit like this once you’ve finished the first draft. This is another reason that planning is essential!
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