Pearson Adult Learning Centre HomePearson Adult Learning Centre: Tips for Writers by Brad Hyde



Do Words Count?

Usually, my students let out a collective groan when I inform them that a narrative essay they will write for a major assignment will have a suggested word count of between 750 and 1 000 words.

“We’ve never had to write something this long before!” is a common complaint. Realistically, however, the students will face much longer assignments during their hoped for university career.

But there is a different problem I face every term: many students—the ones who don’t complain—will tend to “overwrite” rather than write too few words. Oftentimes, the extra words add nothing; other times, the excess verbiage gives them an unfair advantage over those who adhere to the counts.

I have an answer for that tendency. Each assignment and test paragraph has what I call my “10% rule.” Students may write 10% under or over my word counts. Otherwise, marks will be lost for failing to keep to the word count.

At the end of term, more than one student will comment on how staying within word count guidelines has forced them to be better, clearer writers. And, as I often say, “Why force your reader to wade through more words than necessary? Usually, the reader will dislike you for wasting time, rather than admire you for your prose!”

(September 5, 2011)

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