Writing with a Word Limit: Making Your Copy Count

Ah, the dreaded word limit: you’re entering your company for an industry competition, filling out the “about me” portion of an online application, or simply trying to write a LinkedIn bio that isn’t a total snoozefest (do those even exist?). But then you see it: the 100- or 300- or 500-word—and suddenly the pressure is REAL. As in, really real. What was just a bio is now your only chance to say everything you need to say about yourself in no more than 300 potent, powerful words. So how, exactly, to do you write toward a strict word count while still creating effective and engaging content? Not to fear—today, I’m breaking down my top three tips for making your copy count when writing with a word limit.

1. Write it through once, without much consideration for the limit.

When you’re trying to write with some sort of rigid rule in place, it can be difficult to get your point across clearly. You focus so intensely on the word limit or the character count that suddenly you find you’re writing with the sole purpose of not exceeding 250 words—rather than with the purpose of creating engaging or effective content.

You should always start with a general idea of how much content you need to write (a word limit of 100 will allow for about a paragraph, while a word limit of 500 will allow for about one, single-spaced page)—but don’t continually check your word or character count as you go.

Have a rough idea of the amount you’ll need to write as a general jumping-off point, but focus in on the quality of the content (rather than word count) as you write your first draft.

2. Eliminate repetition, unnecessary descriptions and “crutch” words.

After you’ve written your first draft, check your word count. If you’re over the allotted amount, read through your content looking for areas where two consecutive sentences say essentially the same thing (this is a habit so many of us have when writing). Eliminate the less powerful of the two.

Then, look for clunky or “empty” words that can be eliminated. Adverbs are usually unnecessary (as Stephen King wrote, “I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs.”) as are excessive adjectives. Another big one? That. The word that is a huge crutch for so many of us as we write. (Instead of saying “In my previous job, I learned that you have to delegate” say, “In my previous position, I learned you have to delegate…”.) Eliminating excessive use of the word “that” or changing “in order to” to simply “to” (they mean the same thing, after all) will not only help cut back on word count, but it also makes for clearer, less “clunky” writing.

3. Pepper your content with literary devices to make it pop.

When it comes to writing with a word limit, you’re aiming for quality over quantity. Once you’ve shrunk your entire life story down into that daunting 100 word-count limit, it’s time to make what’s left of your content sing. (That’s right—words on a screen can absolutely sing, people.)

Look for areas where you can inject some energy into lifeless content through the use of literary devices like alliteration and imagery.

For example, instead of saying “I have 10 years of graphic design experience,” say, “I have 10 years experience perfecting pixels.” Replacing something expected (“graphic design experience”) with playful alliteration (“perfecting pixels”) makes that sentence so much more memorable.

Overall, word counts don’t have to be paralyzing. Take a deep breath, pour yourself a glass of wine (or two), and work through your content with a goal of quality over quantity.

Need some help writing with a word limit? Um, that’s what I’m here for. Reach out today to chat your copywriting needs.