Homework assignments: Count words not pages
As I draw my graduate educational experience to a close (tonight is the last class of my MBA!), I’d like to
send an open suggestion to all educators who ask their students to
produce written assignments. Let’s assign essays with a required word count instead of a page count. I’m
guessing the page count is a throw-back to days when some students
hand-wrote their assignments. This was true for me in high school 20
years ago. But today, turning an essay written in long-hand is
unthinkable. Professional writers and editors usually consider the
length of a document by the number of words, although "column inches"
is still common in newspapers.
All modern word processors make
it trivial to change font size, margins and spacing, making it possible
to fit almost any number of words onto a page, from tens to thousands.
But instructors are probably expecting 250 – 400 words per page. Some
of my instructors have gone so far as to specify that essays should be “6 pages, 1 inch
margins, 12pt Times Roman font, double spaced.” Wouldn’t it be easier
to just say “2,000 words”? Every modern word processor has a word
Aside from being simpler, it allows students to focus on writing great
content rather than getting the content to fit on the page. I’ve had
to turn in essays with really ugly papers because it was the only way
to fit all of my ideas into the specified page count. And educators
who aren’t completely explicit open themselves up to students gaming
their assignments. In college we had a phrase called the “Courier
Transform” (rhymes with Fourier Transform) which one would apply to a
paper that didn’t meet the necessary minimum page count for an
assignment. By switching to a fixed-width font, we would boost our
content to meet the required page count.