Padding

Have you ever wondered how you were going to reach the word-count goal on a particular writing assignment? I have, whether it’s as few as 1,000 words for a trade article or as many as 80,000 words for a book manuscript.

The subject came up today in a teleconference with a client. Even though the company had been asked to submit an article to a trade publication (and is glad to get the visibility), the topic is a sensitive one. We’re wondering how we’ll be able to give you enough information to meet the word count, the company reps told me. We can’t reveal much about what we’re doing in this area. It may take some creativity. I’m used to that, I replied.

They answered my pre-submitted questions, and they were right. A 40-minute conversation yielded mostly generalities. This is where “padding” may come in, doing what I can to write a serviceable article that fulfills the word count with few specifics and concrete examples. Padding might be a dirty word to some, but most wordsmiths have had to inflate their work. Editors, especially of print publications, have word-count requirements because they have pages to fill. Of course, they don’t want to fill them with junk, but fill them they must.

Here’s how I do it. I collect all my information. I write some notes, bullets, or a simple outline. Then I start writing. I’ll probably get there, sort of like when the gas tank is on empty but you can drive farther than you thought was possible. One thousand words is only about four double-spaced pages. It might turn out to be fairly easy.

There are two other things that can help fill space: large photos with captions and sidebars. Both add value to the editorial. I imagine one or both might be added to the article I write next week.

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