When less than the minimum is more than enough

Sometimes, it’s advantageous to do less than the minimum.

That’s the best lesson college taught me about writing. Professors would assign a paper with a 1,000-word minimum, and I would tempt fate by turning in just under 800 words. Usually, though, I would get it back with an “A” and a few illegible but probably positive comments scrawled across the last page.

The key, as a writer, is to pare down your word count without sacrificing content.

Think about it: professors are people. And people don’t like doing more work than they have to. If you can get your message across in 800 words instead of 1,000, you’ve saved them a couple minutes that they could spend chatting with other professors about literary journals or pipes or leather elbow patches for their blazers. Professors love that stuff.

Now that I’m a teacher, I appreciate the need to set a minimum. If I don’t, the student will skimp on content. I’ve tried to tell bewildered students, “Don’t ask me about the minimum. There is no A in minimum.” But they need some guidance about my expectations, so I need to give them a general goal. Still, when a student submits something shorter than what I asked for – but with an economy of well-chosen words that respects my time and still gives me something sharp, entertaining or insightful to read – that student has earned my respect, an “A,” and quite possibly some positive but poorly hand-written comments.


The Syracuse Pen provides writing and editing services for students, professionals and small businesses. Visit our home page for more information about what we can do for you.

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s