Here is a request I received today: “We have an article that needs to be translated from German into English for an American scientific journal. But it is 7899 words long, and the journal has a limit of 7000 words. Is there anything you can do?” This is to say: can an article be translated into English and shortened at the same time?
In most cases the answer is yes.
Normally, translations are on average 20% longer than the original (up to 30% if the target language is German), but I know the requirements of scholarly publications and can make sure that the text does not get longer in translation. In most cases it is even possible to shorten a specialist article slightly while translating it, but only to a small extent if the content must be preserved in its entirety. The job is even easier if a text – be it in German or English – needs no translation but only proofreading or editing. Correcting and revising a publication goes hand in hand with abbreviation: if you want to improve the style of a text, it will usually automatically become shorter. Same content, better phrasing fewer words / fewer characters: how do you do that? The main methods are: delete filler words and phrases, formulate as precisely and concisely as possible, eliminate tautologies, get rid of repetitions, use active instead of passive forms (“we have studied” is shorter than “we have conducted a study”). The introduction and conclusion offer themselves for a reduction in redaction: they can be usually pared down and summarized in a few sentences.
How much shorter can I render a text? That depends on the topic. In my fields – social sciences, arts and humanities – I can cut down a publication to any length if my customers allow me to intervene in its content. The important and new things remain and are emphasized; the obvious and less important things go – thus, an article or a book in literary studies, sociology, history, psychology or cultural studies can be made 20% or 30% shorter, it can even be summarized in less than half of its text volume. The situation is somewhat different in sciences such as biology or medicine. Here, I also do proofreading (in German or English), but I can only shorten a professional publication as far as filler words, awkward wording and repetitions are concerned. Due to lack of competence I would never interfere with the content of, say, a medical or financial text. Nevertheless, I can shorten technical articles by 10 or 20 percent. After all, brevity is the soul of peer-reviewed publication.