How to win 25-words-or-less competitions


I’ve won my fair share of 25-words-or-less competitions.

I’ve won small things; I’ve won big things. The prizes that spring immediately to mind include a BOB Ironman stroller, a Robomaid, custom Uberkate jewellery, an iPad Mini, a year’s supply of Tim Tams, a trip for two to Adelaide including flights, accommodation and tickets to two events at the Word Adelaide festival, bed linen, wetsuits for my children, books, more books, DVDs, more DVDs, and… I’ll stop there.

So what makes a good competition entry? How do you win them?

If you find yourself entering these sorts of competitions and winning doughnuts (figuratively, not literally), here are my seven top tips.

Tip 1: Do NOT go over the word limit.

It is truly amazing how many people get this one wrong. Gone over the word limit? You’re done. Finished. Out. Automatically. No matter how good your answer is. Sorry, thanks for coming, see you later. Oh, the humanity!

(Related: I currently have a book giveaway on the blog, ending 28 February. I’ve asked people to enter using 15 words or less, and many of the entries are far longer. So if you feel like entering, and can keep to the word limit, pop on over – your chances are good!)

Tip 2: Answer the question.

Seem obvious? It should be. But just as with the word count, a lot of people get this wrong.

This can be broken into two parts. First of all, read the question. It might say, “Tell me why you want to win.” That’s straightforward, and difficult to get wrong (although I guarantee that many entries will still not answer the question).

But it might say something trickier. “What’s your child’s favourite game to play outdoors, and why?” There are lots of elements to this question. What is your child’s favourite game to play, not yours. What is their favourite game to play, not toy to play with. Outdoors, not indoors. And the most important part: WHY?

Second? Answer it, making sure you’ve incorporated all the elements noted above. “My daughter loves to play tiggy because she thinks she’s ‘the fasterest ever runner in the uniberse ever’.” Child’s favourite: tick. Game: tick. Outdoors: tick. WHY? Tick.

Tip 3: Think about the prize (specifically, the product or brand).

This is a tricky one to balance. You want to be aware of the prize, and the product or brand backing it, but you don’t want to fawn. You don’t want to look like a blatant suck-up. If, for example, a high-end shoe brand is asking you to describe your favourite pair of shoes, you don’t have to list one of theirs. “I ONLY ever buy XYZ shoes because you guys are the best!” Groan. But you also shouldn’t say something like, “I only ever buy shoes from Kmart. Seriously, who’d waste their money on expensive shoes?” Um, our target market would. Which is clearly not you.

Here’s an example from my own entries. In 2013, the wonderful Bianca from BigWords hosted a giveaway for the trip to Adelaide I mentioned above. The main focus of this trip was to attend Word Adelaide, a festival of all things wordy. If you’re a regular reader, you’ll know I’m a word nerd of the highest order, and I simply HAD to win this prize.

The question was simple enough: “In 25 words or less, please tell me why you’d love to come to Adelaide.” But I knew that one of the events was focusing on words in music and lyrics, and Bianca gave this extra bit of advice: “It’s all about the words and passion people.” So this was my entry:

BigWords Word Adelaide festival

Tip 4: Know who is judging the competition.

Is it the organisation providing the prize who will be judging your entry? Is it a third party? Is it the blogger or website hosting the competition? Your answer may vary depending on who it is, and what they’ve asked.

Time for another example. I entered a competition to win an iPad Mini provided by Origin Energy. The question was, “What is the strangest, left-of-centre out-of-the blue question your kid has ever asked you?”

My daughter is queen of the quotable quotes, so I could have approached this in a few different ways. But the giveaway was being hosted by the one and only Mrs Woog of Woogsworld, so I thought humour would be the best way to go. And I was pretty sure she wouldn’t mind a cheeky mention of alcohol either. So I went with a ripper my daughter had come out with a few weeks prior:

Mrs Woog iPad Mini

Tip 5: Be honest.

Don’t make up a sob story because you think it’ll hit people in the heart and win you the prize. (In fact, humour is generally more likely to win you the prize than blatant bids for sympathy.) Don’t say you love everything a brand produces if you’ve never tried it. Don’t talk about how much you love your kids if you don’t have any. (And yes, that happens.)

Late last year, I won two personalised Uberkate Love Band Rings (with Your Script) from the wonderful Sonia at Life, Love and Hiccups. To enter, you had to answer the question, “Who would you give the other love band to and what would you have engraved on them?” There was no word limit to this competition, and I instantly knew what I would do with the other ring, so I submitted the following:

Life Love Hiccups Uberkate rings

I cried when I found out I’d won this prize. Last week (on the 20th anniversary of his death), I gave my mum her stunning ring with my father’s handwriting on it, and there were more tears.

But if it hadn’t been true? Two problems. One: I couldn’t (and wouldn’t!) have been able to fake that level of emotion with my entry, so probably wouldn’t have won anyway. But two: even if I had, I certainly wouldn’t have been able to fake the Valentine’s card when Sonia and Kate contacted me to arrange the prize!

Basically, be a good person. Don’t win by faking emotion, inventing scenarios or co-opting other people’s stories. People will see through it. And I’m sure you have moving/funny/engaging/hilarious/clever/witty stories of your own to share.

Tip 6: Provide a valid email address.

Another seemingly obvious one. Provide not only a valid email address, but one you check often. And spell it correctly.

I’m embarrassed to say that I have learnt this from bitter experience. This time last year, I won a year’s supply of Tim Tam Chocolicious Bites. But I entered through Facebook, for which I had a different email address. One that I didn’t check often. So I didn’t get the email within the claim period.

So I MISSED OUT on a year’s supply of Tim Tam Chocolicious Bites. Which sucked enough for me to write a post titled ‘Things that made me cry this month‘. Pathetic? Maybe. But true. Sob.

Tip 7: Don’t overthink your entry

I know this probably contradicts what you’ve read so far, but don’t overthink your entry. Nothing stands out more (in a bad way) than an overwrought entry. None of the examples I’ve given you took me more than three minutes to think of and submit.

If a question is asking for a personal experience, go with the first one you think of. Second or third if the first one is a story you don’t want to share, but don’t go digging back through your memory archives. The prizes on offer are rarely worth that sort of effort.

If it is a big prize, you might be tempted to work harder on your entry, and come back to enter later. Don’t. You’ll overthink it and your entry will sound too ‘done’. You’re meant to be excited about this prize! You want to enter straight away! And you’ll kick yourself if you forget to go back and submit an entry at all.

Write something, cross your fingers, hit submit, and be done with it.

And good luck!

Do you enter 25-words-or-less competitions? Do you have any tips to share?


    • says

      Ah yes, well my kids are not quite 5 and almost 2, so I don’t get many requests to play on the iPads, thank goodness. I know they’re coming, though!

  1. says

    You are so clever Em (have I fawned enough yet????) I’ll sometimes have a go at these sorts of comps but I’m not good at winning them – you are obviously the reason why!!!! Seriously, great tips and may your winning ways continue into the future (except not when I enter – okay?)

  2. says

    Yes to everything!
    I have won loads of these competitions. My best yet: I won a honeymoon in Vanuatu (all expenses paid) for a 50 words or less poem that I wrote in 10 minutes while I had concussion!! I only entered because I was home from work and had the time. They told me 15,000 entered across AU and NZ with some very elaborate entries.
    Still smiling about that one to this day!

  3. says

    Oh my Gosh! How amazing you won that ring for your mum on the anniversary of your Dad’s death. That is too special for words. Those are excellent tips there. I sometimes steer away from those comps because I don’t know if I’m creative enough or not. I’m no poet like you. On another note, what are your views on going under the word limit?

    • says

      Jus give it a go! Under is perfectly fine – in fact, never use more words than you have to. That said, an occasional (very occasional) comp will require an exact word count. So you have to go there!

    • says

      Thanks Pinky! Keep entering, though. I just had a giveaway and in one of the categories, only one of the entries was under the word limit. Winning by default is an option!

  4. says

    Wow! Look at your swag of prizes. This is obviously your thing! Well, one of your things, anyway, you are very good at it, so thanks for sharing, I am lazy and tend to click away from ‘This is a game of skill” competitions. Though I did win a book earlier this year, but that was more a personal message. I think that I will give some competitions a go though, based on your advice. Thanks :)
    Your entry for the rings made me cry. What a beautiful idea, and I am totally going over to check out that product too.

    • says

      Thanks Dani, and I hope you did check out the rings (and other jewellery) – Kate’s range is wonderful and the handwriting engraving is spot on.

  5. says

    Great tips! I never usually win anything but since entering comps through other bloggers I’ve won heaps!!!
    My grandmother is like you, very clever with words and has won many comps by writing a little poem or ditty as the answer!

    • says

      That’s my approach! If you’ve already read the blog post and are going to comment anyway, you may as well enter – it doesn’t take any extra time.

  6. says

    Thanks for the tips. You make it sound so easy Em – I might have to start giving these types of competitions a go! I’ve only ever won one 25 words or less comp and that was a family pass to see Sam Moran perform with WASO at Perth Zoo. I had to say why I wanted to go and I said it would be a great way to celebrate Miss TT’s birthday (which was on the same day). I couldn’t exactly make that one up – it was just meant to be! Just as well you didn’t win the Tim Tam comp. Giving up chocolate would be a lot tougher with all those balls in the house…

    • says

      What a great prize to win! We love the zoo and we love Sam Moran. So jealous!
      And yes, now that I’ve given up chocolate I’m glad not to have Tim Tams in the house. That said, ‘a year’s supply’ was only one packet per week. PFFFFT.

  7. says

    It never ceases to amaze me how many people don’t answer the question or stick to the word limit of there is one. Also on blog giveaways so many people ;eave anonymous entries without including their email address which is sad because some of them are really good an would’ve won if I knew who they were.

    • says

      Yep, meeting the minimum entry requirement should be a no-brainer. But no, it’s what most people get wrong, even before the cleverness/wittiness comes into it!

  8. says

    I used to enter quite a lot of these 25 word or less competitions but now blogging consumes most of my spare time.

    When I was comping more I also found that sometimes my left of centre answers, and like you also said, my humourous ones, tended to do better than the predictable answers, probably because they stood out from the hundreds of other entries.

    Oh, and missing out on a years worth of Tim Tam Chocolicious Bites, I’d be mighty upset too!

  9. says

    These are such awesome tips Em and I’m so going to try them out. I am a terrible over thinker and often end up not entering at all because I can’t come up with anything decent. Got to be in it to win it though. Thanks for sharing xx

    • says

      Overthinking is killer! And I’m usually an overthinker, so now you’ve got me (over)thinking about why I can let that slide for these comps! Haha!

    • says

      It can be daunting, until you realise that everyone else feels the same way and if you enter, you’ve got a better chance than everyone who doesn’t!

  10. says

    Such good tips Em! You know what’s going to happen now, right? Competitions all over the interwebs are going to be inundated with a whole heap of first class entries with 25 words or less and they just won’t know who to choose! You are my new word guru! Congratulations on all your winnings, I love that you won the Uberkate prize and the story behind it. That warmed the cockles of my heart that did!

  11. says

    I love this post. I always want to enter these types of competitions but I never know what to say so I never do. Now, I’m thinking I’ll give it a go. What a great story about the ring for your mum!

  12. says

    You ARE the Queen of these things! I never enter 25 or less comps because I always think ‘toooo hard’!! But then on the Writers’ Centre podcast recently I hear Val (or Al) say that they’re a great way to hone your writing skills. So I’m on board … even more so now I have tips from the Queen!!

    • says

      Must start listening to those. I rarely have a good enough connection to listen without stops and starts. That’s a great tip from them – you lose the excess when you think smaller.

  13. says

    You make it sound so so easy! I always think “Yeah! I’ve nailed it” but no winning phone call. I just assume they give it to the hard luck stories. Will take your professional tips on board lucky lady! xx

    • Emily says

      Keep trying! I won a book the other day because all the other (hundreds of) entries were invalid. They forgot to answer the question!

  14. Joanne says

    I recently won my first, tickets to a musical. I went with witty and a little flippant.Nearly every other entry was some kind of dead-relative one upmanship. Most seemed insincere or an obvious grab for the sympathy vote. It was a bit distasteful really.

    • says

      Nice work! Yes, when it becomes a ‘whose story is saddest boohoo’ competition, it quickly degenerates. Not to mention that, as the judge, you often feel bad if you pick one and not the other. It’s easier to pick (and justify) funny and/or quirky.

  15. Natasha says

    I’ve just entered a 25 words or less competition. Without doing it on purpose, I hit 25 words exactly. Your advise was very helpful, it made me read what they were asking of me a couple more times just to make sure my response made sense! It was a simple and to the point answer, but as you said over doing it can ruin it so fingers crossed, you’ll be the first to know if I win!!

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  20. Marinella Richichi says

    There’s only one prize I wanna win and that’s a pool. Finally there is a comp going for it but it’s 25 words or less. I have absolutely no idea what to write There’s so many answers going through my head but it would hurt not to win so I’m thinking to move on. Winning is the only way my husband will except a pool lol

  21. Pauline says

    Hi Emily, great tips, I noticed also unless it’s for “creative content” grammer & spelling & punctuation are all important. I won a Milo beach cricket set, with a 25 word or less competition by using 2 small 3 letter words, It was the usual question”In 25 words or less please tell us why you would like to win a Nestle Milo Beach Cricket Set? I focused on the question “why?” I couldn’t think of a reason why so I said”Why not?” I won 1st prize & was told that mine was the most creative funny & HONEST answer. Honesty is important because you not only cheat yourself, but you heat others, & you may well be asked to supply proof to back up your answer if possible.

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