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Professor Etiquette
updated: Mar 18, 2014, 10:50 AM

By Edhat Subscriber

What does the community think about a professor that gives an assignment with a MINIMUM word count but does not give a MAXIMUM word count and then grades the student for doing "more?" If he/she never gave a maximum, how could he/she mark points down to the student for doing, too much?

Comments in order of when they were received | (reverse order)

 COMMENT 503856 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-03-18 10:58 AM

If one wrote too verbosely about something is it wrong to grade down? Learning to write concisely is a valuable skill. Say what needs to be said and then stop.


 AQUAHOLIC agree helpful negative off topic

2014-03-18 11:00 AM

I'd say that professor was doing his students a favor by challenging them to say more, with less.


 COMMENT 503862 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-03-18 11:03 AM

Sounds fine by me.


 COMMENT 503863 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-03-18 11:04 AM

When editing documents, I frequently use the mark tl;dr. tl;dr = too long, didn't read. I'm sorry, but tempus fugit. Bravo for the professor.


 COMMENT 503865P agree helpful negative off topic

2014-03-18 11:04 AM

In this age, brevity is important. Better know how to convey your points concisely.


 COMMENT 503866 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-03-18 11:04 AM

Who takes any class named Twitter 101?


 COMMENT 503867 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-03-18 11:04 AM

It really depends on the content. If the professor simply said it went over maximum words then that is not fair. But if they asked for a minimum of 2 pages and received 15 pages then I can see why it was graded down.


 COMMENT 503868 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-03-18 11:04 AM

I think it is entirely appropriate to ask the Internet world what they think. Many instructors are incompetent and should not be teaching. When an instructor requires the students to do oral presentations and spends much of the class time requiring the students to give these presentations - the learning process stops (learning from the teacher). The instructor does this so they do not have to actually teach!


 COMMENT 503869 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-03-18 11:05 AM

You should strive to be as close to that minimum, while being above it, as possible. I had a professor that I wrote the exact word count every single paper and he LOVED it, got me extra credit, A+ all the way. That was a challenge! :)


 COMMENT 503879P agree helpful negative off topic

2014-03-18 11:27 AM

I agree that it depends on the content - if every word was concisely expressing relevant information than I would question the professor. Actually I would question them anyways in order to understand what their reasoning was for the grade so future assignments might better meet their expectations.


 COMMENT 503880 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-03-18 11:27 AM

I think you should be asking your fellow students who know for a fact what the prof required and are not subject to the possibility of the facts being skewed one way or the other.

Also what you gave is a "soundbite" of the assignment or its instructions, hardly enough for an intelligent opinion on the matter.


 COMMENT 503885P agree helpful negative off topic

2014-03-18 11:43 AM

OP here. He doesn't know if the content is too wordy because he hasn't read it yet. He simply sent me an email stating that I will be marked down because it is too long. Many of the questions that were to be addressed asked my opinion on the subject. In his previous assignments he gave us a minimum AND a maximum of which I was within the guidelines and received A's.


 COMMENT 503891P agree helpful negative off topic

2014-03-18 11:52 AM

OP again. Thanks 866 & 888...


 COMMENT 503892 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-03-18 11:54 AM

Yes, the professor does know if it's too wordy without reading it because he has given this assignment before and knows exactly what he expects from you in this assignment and how many pages/words it should take to satisfy the requirements.

Your paper is clearly so much longer than the minimum/what he expects, he can tell you are wasting his time and is doing you a favor by warning you that your wordiness is harming you. And no, just because he asked for your opinion doesn't mean he's inviting you to pontificate endlessly.


 COMMENT 503903 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-03-18 12:19 PM

I never understood the minimum word count. All that does is train the student to use words like very and really excessively.
Teach concise writing and there isn't a need for max or minimums.


 COMMENT 503904 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-03-18 12:19 PM

Remember you should never use a big word when a diminutive one will do.


 COMMENT 503907P agree helpful negative off topic

2014-03-18 12:24 PM

I think you've all missed the point. No maximum word count was given.

Being able to communicate thoughts in a concise way is very important, but it sounds as though there was some sort of misunderstanding. The issue should be addressed with the instructor.


 COMMENT 503913 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-03-18 12:38 PM

I'd say this is a great lesson in life. Life ain't fair and fairness is greatly over rated. If the student feels wronged the student should meet with the professor and discuss in an adult manner. Then the student will learn even more and be better prepared.


 COMMENT 503920P agree helpful negative off topic

2014-03-18 12:51 PM

I love it ! A good writer learns to maximize thought with expression. A better writer does the same with economizing word count.


 SHOREBIRD agree helpful negative off topic

2014-03-18 12:56 PM

-904. LOL


 COMMENT 503927 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-03-18 01:16 PM

That's up to the professor. Part of getting grades is following the instructions. I've had plenty of professors ask me to explain something in about 2-3 paragraphs, no more no less.


 COMMENT 503934 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-03-18 01:38 PM

I had this same issue when I was in school. I found it challenging and forced me to be short and to the point with my opinion on a variety of subjects, a useful skill in my job today.

I would suggest the Professor has limited time on his hands and doesn't want to read 50 pages of fluff. If you can't get your opinion out succinctly, you might want to rethink your opinion.


 COMMENT 503942 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-03-18 01:46 PM

Great idea. Very few people can write a simple declarative sentence. An even smaller group can write a competent paragraph.


 COMMENT 503944 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-03-18 01:47 PM

In the U.K. I thoroughly enjoyed my English teacher's précis class and found it invaluable ever since.


 ZENYATTA19 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-03-18 02:08 PM

Writing to inspire or convince others of an opinion is an art form. Expressing oneself in a clear, concise and brief manner is difficult for those seeking recognition such as a grade. Often people use excessive adjectives or specific verbiage to sound more intelligent. Lengthy opinions bore the reader and are often transparent. Say what you feel. Organize the words carefully. Use proper punctuation and grammar. This is a fabulous assignment.


 COMMENT 503956 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-03-18 02:22 PM

Wow, did not know this was controversial since my teachers did it 30 years ago. It's the same as extra credit for working harder. I think it sounds fabulous!


 COMMENT 503962 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-03-18 02:29 PM

Nothing new to me and I've been out of college for a while.


 COMMENT 503971 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-03-18 02:39 PM

Sounds like the teacher is taking points off for poor writing, not "doing to much." Eschew obfuscation.


 COMMENT 504000P agree helpful negative off topic

2014-03-18 04:41 PM

It also sounds like the teacher wants or "needs" to limit their work load. I agree that the OP/student should clarify instructions with the teacher. The teacher also needs a good reader/grader, who has time to give real feedback to the students, which is all too rare. I had a good enough relationship with professors to ask them to grade my paper after a reader had done so. (I was hired by multiple professors as a reader/grader because I did a good job. If it was wordy, I read it, but I let the student know. I wrote extensive comments, much more than a prof did, in my experience.)


 COMMENT 504008 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-03-18 05:56 PM

Brevity is the soul of wit.


 COMMENT 504009 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-03-18 06:01 PM

Writers should learn to be terse, concise, and pithy. Thank you, Cate School.


 COMMENT 504011P agree helpful negative off topic

2014-03-18 06:19 PM

OP here: Thank you to those who wrote supportive, constructive, critical, and yes even rude comments. I took them all in...I believe my biggest mistake was that I did not clarify whether or not there was a maximum word count. As a first year Cal. State student, I will learn from my mistakes. After all isn’t THAT what school/life is about? I ASSumed that because he had put a max on the previous assignments (of which I abided by) that because he did NOT put a max on the last one, it meant just that! I was passionate about the topics and it was reflected in my paper. Furthermore, my final project did not contain an exorbitant amount of text as many have speculated, rather, a five page double spaced review on 120 pages of scholarly articles.


 COMMENT 504047P agree helpful negative off topic

2014-03-19 12:02 AM

whoa - that's too many words


 COMMENT 504073P agree helpful negative off topic

2014-03-19 09:12 AM

Eschew surplussage. --Mark Twain


 COMMENT 504076P agree helpful negative off topic

2014-03-19 09:14 AM

Depends what the course is. If it's a writing class, it still depends. In some cases, shorter is better.


 COMMENT 504081 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-03-19 09:19 AM

OP -

When I did my BA degree, I repeatedly studied under a prof who would always state minimum and maximum page counts. But if you managed to demonstrate solid research, proper thought development and reasoning, and to say something original and of significance, he would never give any grade other than an "A" no matter how brief you were. On the other hand, if you went on 34 pages on a 6 to 10 page assignment but wrote well enough that he couldn't put it down until he finished, you would also get the "A". I had another prof doing my BS degree who never read any term papers - he measured how thick they were (the thicker the better) and skimmed them briefly.

Both of these guys are personal favorites of mine and both taught me far more than the average prof. Learn the style, personality, and preferences of each instructor you encounter and play to them and cherish them - you will get excellent grades and learn a lot. Enjoy!


 COMMENT 504091 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-03-19 09:26 AM

I was an Eng Lit major so I wrote many, many papers. I seem to recall that typically we were given only a min word count, and I almost always wrote under the min and received an A or a B. Professors appreciate thoughtful brevity. Tip: Know your audience. Write what they want to read.


 COMMENT 504134P agree helpful negative off topic

2014-03-19 10:26 AM

I think you should make an appointment to see him during his office hours.


 COMMENT 504143 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-03-19 10:49 AM

This may sound old fashion but the instructor has full authority to set the requirements and to assess them accordingly. While discussion may help vent frustrations, the rules and the grades are the instructors. If you subscribe to the class, you get the whole package. If you don't like it, don't choose it.
Seems pretty simple to me.


  agree helpful negative off topic

2014-03-19 11:05 AM

It teaches the skill of expressive evaluation and clarity if the word count is small. If large, it would teach how to fully develop ideas which may not be readily apparent to the reader.


 COMMENT 504259 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-03-19 03:00 PM

It depends on what the assignment is. Quality is better than quantity. If there is a point to be made by being precise and targeting information, then over-doing it would be given a lower grade. I used to be a reader for a professor. I had to talk to the professor about 1 student who paper after paper consistently rambled on and on, thinking he was going to make a better grade. The professor said, "I know, I really do have to talk to him." He was putting off the discussion with the student. I told him that he wasn't doing any favors to the student by putting off a needed discussion. The student would be counted down in other college classes.


 COMMENT 504285 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-03-19 04:28 PM

"If I had more time, I would be more brief" - my junior high school English teacher. Good advice!


 COMMENT 504297 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-03-19 05:35 PM

yes, it is fair. Set up an appointment with the professor and discuss what you could have done to improve your paper. Perhaps then, you might really understand the reason for the grade. Be careful about the "fair not fair" mindset, college is about really learning, and at times real growth comes from "unfair" experiences. Try to use this as a stepping stone instead of a rock to fling.


 COMMENT 504301 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-03-19 05:47 PM

Just because the instructor did not give a maximum this time, does not mean you should go overboard. It also doesn't mean you should be taking up a complaint on the internet. If they said anything in their instructions about being concise, or something similar, then you did write too much. Learning to write concisely is important and hard for some. Perhaps this was testing to see if the students could write well enough without that extra maximum in the instructions. I think it's generous that they've given maximums in the past! It is hard to recognize in your own writing when you have been too wordy when you're passionate. I'm sure the instructor has good reasons. And following the directions but writing poorly/too verbosely does not mean you shouldn't be marked down.


 COMMENT 504307P agree helpful negative off topic

2014-03-19 06:21 PM

OP again...I just received an email from the Prof stating that he was "very sorry" that he didn't post concise instructions on this assignment (re: the word count-and other stipulations that he expected but apparently forgot to include in the original instructions). Apparently others made the same mistake(s) I did...At least I don't feel quite as bad now; especially after reading all these posts.


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