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Substance over Style

By Stacy Smith

It’s an all-too-familiar scenario for a freelance writer. It’s 9 p.m., you’re sitting in front of your computer, and the work that your client needs by midnight is staring back at you. You were doing great for the past hour. You made some excellent points, you have a killer call to action lined up, and your keyword density is right on target.

Only one thing stands in your way from completing your assignment and moving on to the next one. The word count. You have 200 words to go and you’ve hit a wall. You’ve said everything you can think of, but you still don’t believe you can get more than 50 words out of your ending. You can’t stop now: your client is counting on you. But not only are you running out of time, you’ve run out of steam. What are you going to do?

When you are panicking, it’s tempting to decide to pad your writing. What’s the harm in adding in more adverbs, adjectives, and superlatives? If something is good, surely really good would be even better, right? You can easily complete the assignment with the correct word count, and everyone wins.

Unless you are writing fiction for a client, the problem with this idea is that actually no one wins. In the freelance writing industry, this technique is called padding, or adding fluff. Words that don’t contribute value to your article are called filler words. And while there’s nothing wrong with using some adjectives-of course your client wants customers to know they have a tremendous selection available-laying it on too thick devalues the quality of the writing.

Great, you may be thinking. Now you’re back to square one. And you still don’t know how to finish this assignment and deliver quality work in the word count required. But don’t worry, all is not lost. Now is just the time when you are going to have to dig a little deeper: get a little more creative. Try these techniques the next time you hit a word count wall.

Review Your Information
Take a 10-minute break, then go back and read what you have already written. Did you possibly forget a detail or two in a paragraph? Is there something that you can expand on that fits the tone of the article? For example, if you’re writing about a car dealership, maybe you can add their hours and days of operation. Customers would certainly like to have that information, and that will legitimately increase your word count.

Add Another Subheading
Even if you gave plenty of details already, you can probably add another section. That will give you an extra paragraph to work with. Using the dealership example again, add a piece talking about the repair and maintenance section. Explain that they have certified professionals specifically trained to work on every make and model of Chevy, with flexible drop off and pick up hours to work with a customer’s busy schedule.

Do More Research
Search the rest of the client’s website to come up with a fresh angle to write about. Maybe this client has won several awards in the past few years for excellent customer service. Or maybe they have been the number one Chevy dealership in the area for five years in a row. Information like this lends credibility to the business, which can result in more new customers while also helping you to meet your word count.

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