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Advanced Writing

Reducing Manuscript Length Without Sacrificing Content

 

Teri Surprenant, Managing Editor, Language Editing

July 2021

It is an exciting time! You have completed your research and you are ready to make your findings known to the scientific community. In your enthusiasm, however, you have overdone your manuscript and you now have what resembles more of a novel than a research paper. Here, we explore the top five text-limiting strategies that have worked not only for this Editor in her own writing but also when she has assisted authors in reducing the word count of their articles.

How can you reduce the length (or word count) of an academic article?

1. First, determine what is essential to your manuscript. Detailed information may be better suited for display as a table or, depending upon how your article is organized, your data could be moved to a supplementary information file. For example, if you have conducted experiments involving multiple groups, it may be best to create a table that contains the specific information in an easy-to-read format instead of summarizing in paragraph form what treatment each group received.
2. Active voice is now encouraged by many journals, so if your target journal permits, write in active voice. Not only can it make the information easier for your readers to comprehend, but you can also eliminate unnecessary phrases, such as “it can be seen” or “it was found that…” Instead, you can be direct and say “[X] downregulated the genes…” Using active voice is a much more succinct way to present the information than passive voice.
3. Remove any generic statements that do not add value to your paper. For example, if you are writing an article on COVID-19, you should not say that COVID-19 is a deadly disease; it is common knowledge because we are all living in the pandemic and the topic is still dominating the daily news. Rather, provide detailed information in your statement, such as “As of X [insert the current date], X [number of] people have died because of COVID-19.” This gives the reader context and emphasizes the importance of your work. Along the same lines, do not include filler words, such as “very,” greatly,” or “largely.” These words only consume prized space in your manuscript; they do not tell the reader anything more than what is already in the sentence, and they can be considered vague by peer reviewers. Remember, specific and direct is best.
4. Use abbreviations, acronyms, or initialisms when possible, especially for common field-specific terminology. You do not want to clutter up your paper with too many of these so that your reader has to keep looking back in the paper to see what each one refers to; however, when used appropriately, these can help reduce the overall word count.
5. Be sure that you are presenting the information in your article in the appropriate section and do not duplicate the information so your writing is redundant. Results should be in the results section, and discussion should be in the discussion section. While there are times that you may need to reference certain findings, you should not repeat information verbatim in multiple sections.

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