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If you're struggling to make the wordcount on a journal submission ...

(27 Posts)
superdocious Fri 14-Oct-16 12:15:12

... does that tell you something about your paper?

More specifically, I am trying to cut a paper down by about 1,500 words(!) to make the journal's word limit. It's not that I think that every word is a pearl of wisdom, but I am really struggling to say what I need to in the words available. Does this happen to everybody, or is this a sign that I am trying to do too much in the paper?

I acknowledge this is possibly a strange question and the answer is probably that it depends. But I am really fascinated by how other people work. I often have this issue (too long) and I wonder whether it's 'normal' or whether I am not sufficiently focused in terms of my contribution. Hope I'm not abusing this forum (which I totally love) in order to ask the stupid questions that I can't ask in real life.

motherinferior Fri 14-Oct-16 12:32:44

I am not an academic, but I am a journalist/editor and I've given a hand to a couple of friends cutting down their theses; I also edit quite a few reports, and have collaborated with academic friends on a book or two.

Pretty well everyone writes too much! Part of the problem is that they tend to include all opinions, for and against, and they also tend to repeat a lot. Quite a few people also get stuck in a kind of mode where they feel they have to elaborate and circumlocute. So it's not just you.

Frankly, one of the most productive things is to find a few pars you can just cut. Just take them out. It will hurt, but it will be worth it.

ScoopyDoo Fri 14-Oct-16 12:50:16

Normal for me. Luckily I have colleagues who are willing to read drafts and advise on what can go. Sometimes hurts but honestly by the final version I've forgotten the 'crucial' bits that I've had to remove. In one lovely case I managed to carve one publication into two but that was a fluke.
It also helps sometimes when responding to peer reviewers. Word limits soon become your friend. 'While we agree with your very helpful point that including this literature would be useful we are already very close to the word limit....' etc smile

superdocious Fri 14-Oct-16 12:52:10

Thanks both, that is reassuring. Yes, in this case, it's not a case of lose a word here, and a word there, I'm going to have to take out paragraphs and/or sections. Scoopy, I am thinking I might have two papers, but it's taken me ages to get this far, and I can't face that radical a rewrite at this stage! Right .... off to be ruthless.

geekaMaxima Fri 14-Oct-16 13:03:47

Most people waffle when they write and take far too many words to make even a simple point, so your best best is to see if you can distil your ideas into a more succinct form.


Write more succinctly! grin

I'm guilty of it myself. It's far more effortful to make every word count than to get an idea down sufficiently clearly. It's worth it, though... I once got a 13k draft under a 10k word limit by brutally cutting out the waffle but leaving the ideas intact.

ImperialBlether Fri 14-Oct-16 13:15:33

I love doing this! It's surprising how much is repeated and how many sentences could lose one or two words, making all the difference.

ScoopyDoo Fri 14-Oct-16 13:34:25

I'm not a waffler. The issue is often about demonstrating why the paper is important and fits within existing literature, and/or one of ensuring transparency (my research is qualitative) within the word limit. So as a result I usually have to cut down the breadth of the 'story' to make fewer points.
Super you do have to be ruthless but a finished and published paper is better than one languishing in a folder somewhere. For me, moaning about publishers' constraints is actually an excuse to procrastinate (am not saying this is true for you). Best of luck!

motherinferior Fri 14-Oct-16 13:36:56

I don't think anyone thinks they are a waffler. I myself believe firmly that I am a mistress of concise, incisive and commanding prose.

But I can usually find quite a lot to cut even in my own magnificently terse oeuvre.

Parietal Fri 14-Oct-16 13:37:53

Does the journal have supplementary information? It is sometimes possible to have a supplementary discussion outside the main text where you put all the extra ideas & cites.

superdocious Fri 14-Oct-16 14:09:47

I think I might be a waffler motherinferior! I do think though really that I might have to cut the breadth as scoopy says. Trouble is with this paper (qualitative) I've got all the usual sections and the word count for each is fine, would get me within the limit. BUT in order to set up my findings section, I have to include a sort of empirical context section or the rest of it won't make sense. And it's that 1,000 words or so that is really giving me the headache. Never heard of a supplementary information bit Parietal, will have to look into that, but not sure if it will help in this instance.

motherinferior Fri 14-Oct-16 14:42:47

Divide it into 15 sections and cut 100 words from each.

NappingRabbit Fri 14-Oct-16 14:50:48

I have this issue with some papers more than others. If it's a paper involving a large number of measures you lose a lot more of the word count just describing what you did. But you can always cut out a lot of 'essential' info by being ruthless. I tend to submit to journals with larger word limits as a first option if I'm hugely over the standard limit.

bigkidsdidit Fri 14-Oct-16 19:44:27

I genuinely just loled at 'my magnificently terse oeuvre' grin

I do the same as mother inferior by dividing into 20 or so and cutting 50 words from each. Or cut two words from each sentence!

I'm currently writing up four years' data into a paper with a word count of 2500 shock

MedSchoolRat Sat 15-Oct-16 02:35:06

thinking I might have two papers, but it's taken me ages to get this far, and I can't face that radical a rewrite at this stage!

I understand it's annoying... but, why lose out? Why not get 2 good pubs instead of 1? confused

I am the office expert, I can cut things down & keep them short. I also break the paper into sections & cuts out a set % of words if possible.

Try to find some references for the sections you want to cut. Think about the tangents that might distract the referees & make them give you unhelpful comments.

Problem now is I'm working on a Cochrane review & they normally run to 15,000 words (ok not really, but full thing could be).

pontificationcentral Sat 15-Oct-16 03:09:27

Lol big kids. I genuinely just scrolled down to post that I now want to name change to 'magnificentlyterseoevre'.
I waffle. I am mucho used to having twice as many words as I need to and having to get savage.

ClaudiaJean2016 Sat 15-Oct-16 03:38:39

Absolutely not. Loads of people struggle to be as concise as you have to be to fit everything in.

This is kind of my 'thing' though, people often send me their papers to trim them down for word counts.

nolly3 Sat 15-Oct-16 07:52:23

When I was writing my thesis I took each para (or sentence, when it got desperate) out in turn and retread to see if it still made sense. If yes, spare material went into my 'other notes' file which I have occasionally used. Got the bastard down to 55000 in the end

DoctorGilbertson Sat 15-Oct-16 19:34:33

My old boss used to recommend a glass of wine to help the process of cutting words out. My recommendations are gratuitous hyphenation and to move whole sections to text boxes and then claim they are outside the word count.

nolly3 Sat 15-Oct-16 23:24:01

Ha yes, good one. Also excessive use of acronyms

RaisingSteam Sat 15-Oct-16 23:42:26

From reading your posts, I'd say your style has scope for trimming. It's educated and elegant but could be briefer. Or have you already done the Plain English bit?

I have some very intelligent colleagues who write beautifully, but increasingly clients want something brief. Sometimes I challenge myself to cut a third of the words out just for the challenge!

shouldwestayorshouldwego Sat 15-Oct-16 23:57:15

Read each paragraph in isolation. Ask yourself- does it directly relate to the topic? Is it necessary? Could it be more concise? Also think about how you write, e.g. 'In addition' becomes 'Additionally'. Get the thesaurus out to find words to replace phrases. You need a combination of the two approaches. Also consider whether you can give a reference rather than describing something in the paper. Being qualitative I assume you are using first person, if the journal style accepts it then that will often reduce word count. I find that an edited shorter version is almost invariably better than the original.

shouldwestayorshouldwego Sun 16-Oct-16 00:08:34

Taking one of your paragraphs above you could write:-
Specifically, I am trying to cut 1,500 words(!) to make the journal's word limit. I am aware that not every word is a pearl of wisdom, but I am struggling to communicate in the words available. Does this happen to everybody, or am I trying to squeeze too much in?

Cut down from 69 to 50 but all the main points retained. You probably also need to cut paragraphs. I waffle too so I feel your pain but editing really does make it better.

shouldwestayorshouldwego Sun 16-Oct-16 00:10:55

Should clarify that I don't necessarily think that my rewrite is better than your original, but your rewrite of your own work will be better. Am waffling now!

superdocious Mon 17-Oct-16 10:35:45

Thanks so much for all the comments, really helpful and good advice. I am EDITING today!!

Bountybarsyuk Wed 19-Oct-16 10:23:54

The other thing I'd say is that I've got better over the years at writing tighter earlier on and trying to hit just over the word count with a first draft. I just don't allow myself to go over so much that I have to do a huge re-edit. I think thinking in terms of chunks, so 1500 for the intro, 750 for the methods, 2500 for the results and so forth does help with this type of planning.

It is an opportunity to add polish as well. Whenever a student says to me 'I don't think I can cut anything out' they are always wrong and it can always be tightened and brightened by a good savage edit.

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