If your teen is taking a college course that requires writing forum posts, essays, or research papers with specific word count (200 words, 500 words, 750 words, etc.) I have a few tips that can help them meet their goal.
Note: this is not a replacement for actually writing a paper! There is no replacement for good content, but if your teen just finished a well-crafted paper and has fallen a few words short, these quick tips can help squeeze out an extra 25-30 words without generating new content or a lot of stress.
Get in the habit of…
- Taking out all contractions. Every “won’t” and “haven’t” should be replaced with “will not” or “have not.” If you’ve used 10 contractions, you can add 10 more words by replacing them! (While many teachers won’t care, it is considered more appropriate in academic writing to avoid contractions anyway, so do this even if your word count is on point)
- Taking out numbers and replacing them with words. This won’t work on dates or long numbers, but in cases where you’re using a simple 0-10 number (5 steps, 10 cases, 9 dogs) you should use words. Notice in tip #1 above, I wrote the number “10” two times? By replacing the number 10 with the word “ten” instead, I’ve added two more words to the word count. (See? I did it with “two” also!) Like the first tip, it is considered more appropriate to do this in academic writing, so while your teacher may not care, it’s still a good habit to get into.
- Add the phrase “according to ___(textbook/person)___” when making a statement of fact. This introduction will lengthen a sentence. Depending on the academic style requested by the teacher, you may or may not also add a citation at the end of a sentence – but using the above phrasing adds credibility as well as a few more words.
- Like tip #3, you can take apply this approach when stating your opinion. “in my opinion” in front of any opinion statements not only adds three words, but it tells the teacher that you’re drawing an opinion. Teachers like opinions, they demonstrate that a student is thinking about a problem.
- “In conclusion” is a great way to start the final paragraph. It adds two words, and it helps the reader understand that the summary is coming.
If you’re scrambling….
- Every paper needs headers and footers. If your paper is 3 or fewer pages long, this tip will add about a dozen words. A header will have your name, the paper’s title, and date (or whatever your teacher asked for). When you use a program like MS Word, you have the option of creating a header that will automatically appear on every page. This is great when you’re writing a long paper, but if you’re trying to boost word count, you’ll want to avoid this feature. Instead, type the header manually at the top of each page. This keeps it in the foreground and will be included in the word count. Automatically generated headers are in the background and not part of the word count. The same is true for page number/footer. Instead of letting the computer write “page 2” at the bottom using the automatic footer (background), writing it in manually adds word count (foreground).
- Add 2-3 more references. Depending on the teacher’s grading software, the words that make up the references are usually counted by a computer. The computer counter doesn’t always know the difference, which will allow the paper to pass through the automatic word count filter. While some teachers will specify that word count excludes references, this isn’t always the case. If your teacher is a stickler for details (and highly motivated), they’ll manually count the words in your references and subtract it from their computer’s word count. I would suggest avoiding this tip if your teacher specifically tells you how many references to use, but if they don’t, then it’s reasonable to have 1-3 references per finished page length. (2 page paper = 2-6 references)