Editing To Reduce Length and Meet Publisher Word Limits | Tips on How to Get Your Research Published
For some academics and scientists producing enough text to report the processes and findings of their research is a significant challenge and writing too much is never a problem. It is hardly rare, however, to encounter the opposite situation, in which the paper drafted for submission to a scholarly journal or perhaps a monograph collection of research essays turns out to be far too long to meet the length requirements indicated in the author guidelines. Some research projects are very large indeed, and almost all advanced research involves complexities that demand considerable explanation and clarification, so it can be all too easy to exceed word limits. Unfortunately, writing too much can be as detrimental to successful publication as writing too little, so it is wise to watch the length of your document as you produce it and have some strategies in mind for coping with excessive verbosity.
It is far better to catch and resolve a length problem yourself before submitting your writing for publication than to have the problem brought to your attention through rejection or the comments of an acquisitions editor. In fact, it usually becomes clear as a paper is being drafted that the manuscript is becoming too long, so if you have written only your introductory section and have already used almost half of the words allowed, your paper will very likely exceed word limitations. Designing an outline that anticipates the material you need to include and sets a prospective word limit for each part or section can be helpful, but only if you keep a close eye on your progress and work to observe your own guidelines. Producing a manuscript that is as close as possible to the desired length will save time and effort later, but some authors prefer to write freely about everything they think worthy of discussion, despite the dangers of exceeding word limits, and then deal with editing the text down to meet length requirements. Both methods can be equally effective, but the latter necessitates considerable reflection and editing after the first draft is finished.
A perspective as critical and objective as possible is required when faced with editing and shortening an overly large manuscript to meet publisher guidelines for length. This perspective is much more difficult to achieve when you are working on your own writing than on a student’s or colleague’s paper, so it can be helpful to have a mentor or friend with publication experience look over your draft. He or she may be able to see obvious places for cuts and reductions that would slip past your eyes simply because you are too familiar and likely too attached to the material. All of what you included in your draft may be valuable information, but not all of it might necessarily contribute to an excellent article or essay. Choosing the most important or engaging points over those that may be part of the larger picture but not central to your primary findings and argument can be extremely effective, and so can removing data that may contradict or complicate those findings and the argument you build from them. Such information can still be included, of course, for those scholars who want the whole picture, but they can be presented in tables, figures, appendices or online archives, and the same is the case with any material that may be interesting but somewhat extraneous. Tables and figures can be much more effective for communicating certain kinds of information in any case, and their use can significantly reduce the number of words needed to describe methods and results.
In extreme situations it may be necessary to cut away huge chunks of text or whole sections of a paper to meet length requirements. In such cases it may be wise to turn that single manuscript into two separate articles for two different venues, in which case your extra work can be put to especially good use. If there is not enough substance for two complete research papers, what is left over from one can perhaps become a short online piece such as a blog post. Finally, once you have managed to edit your work to a length that is at least close to the recommended word count, reading carefully through your prose and making every phrase and sentence as concise as possible can often reduce the count by many more words while also improving your writing style.
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If you are in the process of preparing an article for an academic or scientific journal, or planning one for the near future, you may well be interested in a new book, Guide to Journal Publication, which is available on our Tips and Advice on Publishing Research in Journals website.