The Advance-Titan

Word count requirements are pointless

Josh Mounts, Opinion Writer

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We’ve all been in a bind for a class before, trying to meet a word count requirement, happily avoiding the use of conjunctions and rambling on and on just trying to meet that mark. But, it may all just be a waste of time.

For as long as I can remember teachers have been requiring students to meet either a word count or page count on written assignments. However, even though this is to prove that the student actually knows what they’re talking about, a majority of these assignments students can easily complete quality assignments without meeting a 500 word count.

Having word count requirements can be a major waste of time. If a student can present the information they need to within a shorter essay, then professors shouldn’t penalize them for that.

Now, of course, these requirements are put in place for good reason, but sometimes the content the piece requires can easily be met with less than is required by the instructor.

Word counts for papers are put in place for a number of reasons, such as to make a uniform requirement for all students to follow to ensure that everyone puts out roughly the same amount of work for the assignment. It’s also to make sure students present the information needed without being underwhelming with their work.

Of course, I’m not proposing to allow students to write a paragraph for a final essay and be given an A. But one thing is for sure: certain standards that are in place for many classes and assignments just lead students to produce quantity over quality.

John Warner, author and creative writing professor at the College of Charleston, wrote the article “A Teaching Experiment: Eliminate the Word Count” discussing the concept of word counts for student assignments. Warner proposed an experiment to remove the requirement and see the results.

“I’m sure many of you have similar experiences with setting word minimums or ranges and having students turn in work which seems to suddenly wrap up once the minimum is reached, whether or not the piece of writing itself is ‘complete,’” Warner said.

This quantity-over-quality ideology is backward when taking into account that these assignments are designed as a measure of a students’ knowledge and expertise on a subject.

“But by removing a word count minimum or range, I’ve eliminated the student writer version of clock-watching and shifted the motivation from an external goal (word count) to an internal one (gotta say what I have to say),” Warner said.

Some students would definitely abuse an assignment if it didn’t have a desired word count, but overall I think that papers would be much more beneficial for students if the pesky word counts were abolished.

Having the ability to express ideas and concepts quickly is very important for students who are working toward a professional future. Requiring things like a word count leads many students to fill their work with fluff.

I’m sure that every student has heard the tricks and hacks to meet page or word limits. Increasing the font size of periods, avoiding contractions and using shorter words, repeating phrases or statements — the list goes on.

These little tricks, although clever and demonstrate a student’s ability to creatively solve problems, take effort away that could be used to create a well-executed and intelligent literary work.

Now that professors have access to things such as Dropboxes for students to electronically submit their work, it’s easier to actually check and enforce the exact word count on a student’s paper. Professors can just open it up as a document on their own computer to check your work, but when a hard copy is required that leaves the professor to count every word.

By forcing students to meet a requirement of words on their papers, this promotes students to use more fluff and other methods to fill space as to meet that mark and earn a passing grade.

Instructors should encourage students to write concisely. If quality work can be executed in a smaller piece, then I see no problem with that at all.

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Independent Student Newspaper of the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh
Word count requirements are pointless