Or, as Gertrude, Queen of Denmark, says in the same play: “More matter, with less art”.

I must have written at least 10,000 words (click on the link to see) during the past academic year or so, and believe me, I have deleted at least as many. Wordy, gabbling students of the social sciences and humanties: we all talk and write too much, and so professors impose strict word limits on assignments to save themselves from the torrent of words flowing from our keyboards. “Anything over 3500 words will be penalized”, so runs the legend in their course syllabi and guidelines; “one word over 2500 and I’ll shoot you” – no, they don’t actually say that, but they mean it.

So, we write and we delete, but oh- it is so difficult! Each sentence means so much to us- besides, we have to have these quotations, just to show we’ve read such-a-one and so-and-so.  How can we edit these brilliant, incisive words of ours, surely the world will be deprived of the next Karl Marx or Michel Foucault- neither of whom were known for brevity. (yes, I know, “the soul of wit”. Pot calling the kettle black indeed.)  

So here I am, staring at a paper of 4800 words. The guidelines say seriously: “Manuscripts must not exceed 3000 words”. Oh please, have pity, how do I even start to edit my brain-child?  I start by removing some easy phrases: “As a result of…”, “as will be discussed below…”. After an hour, I have succeeded in reducing it to 4500, while thinking of ten other things I absolutely have to say, which are relevant, germane, important, which will mark me as the new Hannah Arendt… No good,  I need to cut out some whole paragraphs, recast the whole passge, get rid of some quotes… Another hour passes. 3800 words.

An uphill struggle, indeed.



  1. I have the exact same problem when giving an assignment. But I don’t care what the stupid prof says or wants, I do as I wish. 😀

  2. Are you serious? I used to have the opposite problem. Writing an article in health care management, I was searching for more words to achieve the minimum requirement. The problem was, I knew what I wanted to convey, it was simple for me; however, I should have considered it was not that simple for readers! so, I needed to explain and explain and explain, and it was boring. Referring to references are also very critical; strict rules against plagiarism, you know.

  3. thenewcomer

    Well, health care management… i dare say… I think that is another difference between people who are studying `real`things like health care and engineering and `fun`things like eng lit and social sciences…

  4. Pingback: WORDPRESS ANALYSIS « Thenewcomer's Weblog

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