Wednesday, March 07, 2007

On Wordcounts

Minimum wordcount requirements don't make good papers.

Any discerning, unpretentious, and charisma-majoring student can write the same thing using sixty-three words as he could write in a seven word sentence through the use of conjunctions, hyphens, unnecessarily long lists, lengthy descriptions such as 'discerning, unpretentious, and charisma-majoring' and 'unnecessarily long lists,' and fluffy latin phrases which look pretty but have no real effect on meaning. Ecce signum.

Minimum wordcounts and page lengths seem to be poor substitutes for 'good idea' requirements. Imagine if a teacher required a paper with four good ideas. Any class except an honors class would be in an uproar, and even the honors class would be moderately sursurrant! I think that's what they call it when they're mad. How could you be sure that your ideas were 'good' and how could the teacher tell?

Actually, you can't and they couldn't. But who said learning was supposed to be easy? The same people who said that a class of a hundred can be taught by a single professor and five TAs, I suppose. If not easy, at least mass-produced. Good ideas are never mass-produced.

The only way to make sure your ideas were good would be to talk to the teacher about them (gasp!), and the only way the teacher could tell which ideas are the good ones would be to read the paper carefully and know the material. Grades would be challenged and discussed, perhaps even changed! Hmm… doubtful. More likely everyone would get an A. Seems like a win-win to me. Grade inflation at its finest, or at least purest.

A good paper would be famed for its shortness, its concise and clipped writing style. Fitting ten new ideas into a two-page paper would be a feat worthy of the ages!

So I guess I'd better wrap this up. Wordcounts and page lengths are bad replacements for thinking. Instead of forcing students to write a certain number of words or pages, more maximum page lengths without lower bounds should be used. They'd take less time to read, force students to choose their words more carefully, and stop forcing ridiculously pretentious BS into ten-page papers.

A bad paper is a bad paper and a good one always good, whether two pages or twenty. In the words of George Orwell, 'Never use a long word where a short one will do.'

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