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Cutting verbs to meet word-count limits

I edit a lot of proposals and other documents that have a strict word limit. Invariably the documents have too many words and need to be cut when I receive them. Here’s a trick I use to reduce the number of words without losing any of the meaning: check the verb.

  • Delete unnecessary prepositions after verbs. For example, “up” probably is not needed in the sentence, “We climbed up the mountain.” Context and common sense usually make the preposition extraneous.
  • Use one-word verbs in place of longer verbs. Replacing “take place” with “occurred” cuts a word from the document. This tip holds true when a preposition that can’t be deleted follows a verb. For example, instead of saying, “The ungrateful son brought back all of his Christmas presents,” “brought back” could be replaced with “returned.”

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