7 Tips for Cutting Words from Your Personal Statement

Dec 12, 2017

7 Tips for Cutting Words from Your Personal Statement

By Brittany Mihalec-Adkins

Adhering to strict word counts in personal statements can be rough. Just when you’ve finally worked in everything you wanted to convey, you realize you’re 40 words over the limit! Well, don’t panic. There are several easy ways to get the word count down – without cutting into your main message. Here are a few to get you started:

1. Eliminate adverbs

When operating on a tight word budget, adverbs are an easy first contender for getting nixed. You can cut a whole word by just replacing the verb/adverb combo with a snazzier verb. For instance, replace “ran quickly” with “sprinted” or “laughed quietly” with “chuckled.” A simple way to do this is to search for “ly” using the Ctrl + F function.

Doing so actually helps your sentences pack more of a punch, too! Double win!

2. Make sure you need every “very”

This is another easy way to cut words fast: ctrl + f for “very” in your document and review to make sure each use is adding something to its sentence. For instance, it’s doing nothing to the phrases, “I had a very great experience” or “I was very excited to have the opportunity to…”

3. Get rid of the word “actually”

Just take my word for it on this one – the word “actually” almost never adds anything to what you’re trying to say (making an easy word to cut when you have to eliminate a few).

4. Double-check how you use “that” and “which”

The space these words take up may be trickier to spot, but it can be worth looking out for if you’re low on space. We often use them unnecessarily in phrases like “I quickly realized that I loved psychology” or “My first thought was that I needed to find that book.” Try reading both of those again without “that” – they’re more concise and one word shorter. Boom.

5. Make better use of apostrophes

Utilizing punctuation is a great way to save on words. Instead of writing about the “taste of coffee,” write about “coffee’s taste.” Instead of writing that you work “in the lab of Dr. So-and-so,” write that you work “in Dr. So-and-so’s lab.” Nifty, right? (Bonus tip: Another easy way to eliminate “of” is to change phrases like “my first year of college” to “my freshman year” – your readers will know what you mean.)

6. Try to hyphenate words whenever possible

Want a way to lower your word count without actually deleting any words? This tip is for you. Change your “long term career goals” to your “long-term career goals,” and your “well known advisor” to your “well-known advisor.” Be careful with this tip, though, because it doesn’t work well for all parts of speech. You can change your “recently completed degree” to your “recently-completed degree,” but it would be incorrect to say that your “degree was recently-completed.” If you’re ever unsure of the rules, just know that you’re almost always safe to hyphenate two words to form an adjective right before a noun: “widely-known song,” “crowd-pleasing speech,” etc.

7. Don’t narrate your own writing

This tip isn’t as quick to address as many of the others on this list, but it can also save you a lot more words. You almost never need to say things like “I will first detail my leadership experience…” or “I have much leadership experience; specifically, I…” Just jump right in to writing about your leadership experiences – “I have held leadership roles in…” You don’t need to tell reviewers that you are writing about your leadership experiences – if you’re writing about it, they know.

While these tips won’t help you cut your personal statement in half, they can certainly help shave off those pesky few extra words.

Brittany Mihalec-Adkins is a first-year National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow and second-year Ph.D. student in Human Development and Family Studies at Purdue University. 

© Victoria Johnson 2017, all rights reserved.