How to condense to meet word or character limits
It can be amazingly hard to condense your own writing: we fall in love with our words and become blind. Condensing can make almost any draft better, not only to meet space limitations but also to increase impact! Try these strategies.
- Avoid repetition of words, phrases, or ideas. Redundancy frustrates reviewers, who must read a large number of applications within a short period.
- Repeating phrases from the question prompt is generally unnecessary (and boring).
- If you have to condense, try thinking of your text more as a report than a lovely, flowing essay: get to the point.
- Ideally, remove a word or adjective or phrase here and there so you can retain content, as opposed to cutting bigger units like sentences or paragraphs.
- Necessary background information should be very concise so you can get on with “your stuff.”
- Combine related sentences where logical, which saves a lot of extraneous words.
- Restructure a long or awkward sentence (turn it around backwards, inside out, or whatever); this generally allows you to cut words.
- Anything that seems “wordy”—especially lots of little or bland words—can probably be easily restructured.
- Use of “to be” or “being” is a signal to re-word or restructure.
- Using active voice and dynamic verbs helps you remove extraneous words.
- Ask yourself how to say each sentence/idea another, faster way. (How would you say it aloud in conversation?)
- If something is not essential for meaning and impact and you have to have the space, ruthlessly remove it. (This does not preclude helpful examples, definitions, metaphors, etc. necessarily.)
- Make sure there are no extra spaces at the end of paragraphs, sentences, end of essay, or between words; each blank space takes up one character. Use only one space between sentences or after colons.
- You can save characters by using a series comma scheme of x, x and x rather than x, x, and x—although the latter aids reader comprehension. Be consistent throughout the application on whichever choice you make.
- The first time you use a name associated with an acronym, spell it out, then put the abbreviation in parentheses immediately afterward; e.g., Northern Arizona University (NAU). That way you do not have to repeat the full spelling/formal name each time.
- You can get away without periods in some common abbreviations as long as you are consistent: US, UK, PhD, MA, etc.
- Keep reviewers reading instead of skimming by constantly, quickly moving content forward.