You've Reached Great Heights: Developing Revision Strategies for Condensing Your Work -->

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You've Reached Great Heights: Developing Revision Strategies for Condensing Your Work

Sometimes you may have so much to say about a topic that you’ll find yourself several pages over the suggested page limit on an assignment—and then what should you do? Assignment page limits are a challenge in writing clear, succinct and direct works, but figuring out how to cut out what you’ve already written can be the hard part.

The good news is that there are some simple steps you can take to help eliminate unnecessary information and really pack in the information you need. These tips are also great even if you’re within the page limit but want to try and condense your writing in general!
Shard Tower in London with text

Re-Examine Your Evidence
Look at your paraphrases and source information and really ask yourself if you need all of it. While it is important to cite, I often see papers that have sources saying something very similar in the same paragraph or later in the paper—and you probably don’t need both sources, especially if they are making a similar point or observation.
1. Do you reiterate facts that are explained by another source later?
2. Do you use the same or a similar citation more than once?
3. Could you shorten your citation/paraphrase more?

To help you determine if you have overlapped any of your evidence, I recommend putting all the direct quotes and paraphrases you have in your paper into a separate document and then reading through each one. Do they sound like they’re saying the same thing? If so, then you should:
  • Pick your preferred one, OR
  • Find a way to combine them—there’s such a thing as a combined paraphrase, you just cite both sources at the end. Example: (Smith, 2005; Johnson, 2010). Check out our Multiple Sources in Same Citation entry on our Citation Variations page.

Pare Down Your Explanation
Look at your work and see if you’re “handholding” for the reader anywhere.

Example: In this paragraph I will define the key concepts of X, Y, and Z. The concept of X has definition A. Y concept has B definition. Z concept has C definition. I have defined these concepts to give context to the reader.

Revision example: The concepts of X, Y, and Z are important in context because…

Similar to the too much evidence issue, it’s possible to have more explanation than is necessary in your paper—this doesn’t always mean that you shouldn’t define terms or explain concepts, just that perhaps you could do so in a more condensed way.

Also, ask yourself if defining a concept is necessary or not for the reader. If your assignment instructions say “Define the concept of X” then you should definitely define that concept. But if your instructions ask you to “Explain how you would use data to inform your topic” then your reader probably doesn’t need a lengthy definition of what “data” is. Always bring your explanation back to your thesis and explaining terms in context.  

Compare to the Assignment
As we mention in our recent webinar Walden Assignment Prompts: Learn the Writing Requirements  you can use your assignment prompt as a guide for revision!
1. Organize your prompt into an outline
2. Put your outline and your paper side by side and ask yourself—Am I meeting all of the requirements?
3. Compare and contrast your outline with your paper.

Is one portion of your prompt taking up five paragraphs in your essay? Then you probably have too much on that topic. Is one main point in your prompt only discussed in half of one paragraph? Then you may need to elaborate on that and cut elsewhere.

If you’re having trouble figuring out where you address various aspects of the prompt and in how much detail, try a reverse outline.

Read Your Paper Aloud
Read your paper aloud (or sound it out in your head).  Listen for A) repeated words (we all have writing tics) and B) if it sounds to you like a sentence is going on and on.

For repeated words: You can usually delete some of the uses of that word and have the meaning remain the same, especially words like “so”, “then”, “because” etc. if you use them frequently.

For long sentences: Work on simplifying your sentences. We have some  great tips and examples on writing concisely here on our webpage.

We also just had a wonderful blog post on eliminating unnecessary words that can help you with revising if you feel your sentences are repetitive or long.

As you’re reading through you may find that you don’t have enough information to support a full paragraph where you’ve condensed—that’s okay! It probably means that either you don’t need that information or that the information can fit in elsewhere. If you do need to add some information back in, keep the MEAL Plan in mind to make sure your paragraph is cohesive.

So if you're looking for ways to condense your work, use this handy checklist to help you exercise a wide-variety of tightening strategies: 

1. Review your Evidence—is everything you have necessary? Can you combine paraphrases?
2. Pare your Explanations—can you over-explain for the reader?
3. Compare to the Assignment—are there parts of your paper that don't match up with the assignment directions or where you focus for several paragraphs on the same point?
4. Read it Aloud—are you repeating words/phrases? Are your sentences too complex?

Do you have other strategies for condensing your work and/or have you tried any of these and found them effective? Let us know in the comments below! 

Claire Helakoski
 is a Writing Instructor  at the Walden Writing Center and holds an MFA in Creative Writing. She has taught writing and Composition as well as acted as a writer and editor in a variety of mediums. She lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and enjoys reading, writing creatively, and board games of all kinds 

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  1. Many thanks for the wonderful writing tips.
    Kind Regards,
    Nick Mawani BSc.RRT.CNPA.MPH.DrPH (candidate)

    1. Hi Nick! You are so welcome. :) Thank you for your kind note; we are so glad to hear that these tips are helpful.