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Ron Cooley, English Faculty

Word Limits

How do I reach the set word limit without padding my essay with repetition, wordiness, and useless information?

Adding extra words, sentence by sentence, [asking yourself,] "how can I make this sentence longer and that sentence longer?" so that your 500 word essay magically turns into a 1000 words.... that's almost always a recipe for a bad result. So if you really have nothing more to say, it's better to turn in a short paper than to turn in a padded paper, but there's almost always something more substantial to say. So [it is better] if the question is, "how do I find something more substantial to say?" Usually in the paper that's too short, there's one of two problems: (1) The person hasn't found enough evidence, and that means going back to the primary text and finding additional illustrations for points you've already made, or additional points that can be made in support of the thesis and evidence to substantiate them. That is probably the less common problem. (2) The more common problem with papers that are too short is that students have found the evidence but haven't provided detailed enough commentary on what the implications of that evidence are. So that almost always means if you've quoted some longish passages, saying MORE about them, [by] looking quite specifically at the wording of the passages and why your conclusion flows from the choices that the writer has made in putting it together this way.