OMG, I have finished the draft thesis and I am 7000 words over the 40000 (main text) limit, arghhh! How on earth am I going to remove this much without losing the plot? I have to laugh otherwise I would be crying. I never in my wildest dreams considered at the beginning of my thesis write-up that exceeding the word count would be an issue. Has anyone else had to radically delete so much? I really don't know if I can do this, as I have no idea what needs to be included and what I can get away without. I am awaiting my supervisory team to comment and the uni will not allow a percentage margin.
That does sound stressful but I don't think you've run over by such a massive amount that this is something to panic about. Whenever I have had to cut back on words I have generally done the following...
(1) Check, check and check again all the regulations about word limits. You say that there are no percentage margins. What are the regulations about extended footnotes (e.g. will you be penalised if you use footnotes to make space for points which can't fit in the main text)? What about appendices? Can you apply to have the word limit extended for any reason (this probably won't apply but I have heard of people being able to do that due to quotations in another language which they have translated - they informed the uni and their word count only included the quotation once, if you see what I mean). If you do this check out all this first then you will at least know your options.
(2) Go through and (with sups' advice if possible) identify the sections that are, comparatively, the flabbiest! It's tough but there will be some sections which are even ever so slightly less vital than others. A friend of my did this by grading his sections on a scale of 1 (absolutely essential) to 5 (quite waffley in parts)!
(3) Look at the flabby sections you have identified. Can you cut any whole paragraphs? Half paragraphs? Whole sentences?
(4) Repeat 2 and 3!
(5) Once you are down to a situation where you don't think you can cut anything more substantial, do a word count and work out what percentage of your words you need to cut. As it stands at the moment you need to cut 17.5% of your words. So, that's aiming for 18 words in every hundred to be on the safe side. Let's say you could get that down to 15 or even fewer by cutting a chunk or two in stages 2-4. Then take a block of 100 (or 1000) words, read through it, and do all the little itty-bitty rewrites you can. "I will claim" becomes "I argue" saving 1 word!, etc. This is tedious but it can help tighten up your writing style and I have found that it gets you there in the end.
Hey Dunni, where there is a will, there is a way! Seriously, cutting out words is my biggest nightmare, but cutting 7000 out of 47000 words should be doable, however impossible it seems! I have had papers where I have had to cut 50% of the content out- writing extremely concisely is not a talent of mine! But in a way I think you are in a better position than not having written enough- you don't have to worry about 'filling' your dissertation out with rubbish. I think to start with you are going to have to look at cutting things out at the paragraph level, then move to the sentence level, then the word level! Sometimes it's hard to see where you can cut stuff out in your own work, so perhaps have a pal or a relative read it and see of they can point out any of it that seems to be in excess. Often I find there are bits in my work that I want to mention, but that are not strictly necessary, and when I cut them out and re-read my work, I would never have known there was a bit missing or feel like more info was required. So you will manage it fine! And it is a great skill to learn if you plan to carry on in academia- one that I am still learning! Good luck with it, KB
Thank you Florence and Keenbean, you have inspired me to act on this with some enthusiasm. I was very worried that I am going to omit a critical paragraph or significant detail but with the direction given here I can see the potential of streamlining the thesis. Hopefully as you have suggested it will 'tighten up' the whole style of the thesis which must be advantageous. It just seems like a mammoth task, a bit like writing a theses lol.
I have highlighted my flabby areas :$ , in particular the lit review that I wrote first with no regard for my word count! I have also spoken to my supervisors and one has been fabulous in showing me an example page of how to reduce words. This is very similar to your suggestions of rewording sentences to remove waffle.
So although I am disappointed to have to reduce the thesis as I could be doing other things with it for submission, I have to embrace this new skill. The uni regs have been checked and they are ambiguous to say the least! However, a hefty thesis has recently been questioned regarding over-wording and there is a possibility that it will not be examined. I really don't want to fail like that.
Hi Costate, yes this is a science PhD thesis. The uni regs only allow 40000 but don't state a percentage range. As a previous but recent thesis has been questioned for word count with view of failing it for being too long, I need to reduce my word count! I have lost 740 words from part of the lit review chapter so far and have alot more to lose :-( I have not heard of many people having to reduce their draft by so much so was hoping for some feedback from those who have.
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