COMMENTARY: Academics should stress quality over quantity

Daniel Dunston

Three pages into a five-page report and the blank page is mocking me. No way to fill this space with the information I have. Nothing left to say. It’s not for lack of research, lack of writing ability or even lack of effort. I was told to present a case about a certain subject and accompany it with evidence to support my claim. That does not always take long, overly wordy sentences being forced together into bulging paragraphs of repetition. 

This is the problem I have with length requirements for assignments. I understand maximum page lengths because nobody has the time to read 50 30-page papers. Employers, if you are in a profession that requires you to write often, prefer conciseness. Get to the point of the matter instead of trying to show off your writing endurance. If you make a convincing, well-informed argument in three pages, then why do we need to write an extra two pages of filler for no reason other than meeting an arbitrary length?  

Requirements are not restricted to academic essays. Many of the stories or poems or scripts I have written have struggled with the same problem.  Why should a story be a certain length if it doesn’t need to be? I’ve read brilliant short stories, both by students and professional authors, which were only two or three pages long. On the other hand, I’ve read some absolutely awful short stories that dragged on longer than the average human life span. Yet, to many professors I have had over the years, the longer ones were better quality because they met the minimum length requirement.  How is this fair to the content of these stories that they are treated as second rate to stories that are long and pointless? 

The question is how we are judging the work and creativity of others. Why do we consult the numbers rather than the material? Why are students required to provide filler rather than content? There’ve been few times in my education where I was judged more on the quality of the work rather than the quantity I provided and those are the classes where I do my best work. The truth is if you are asked to care about your work, you just might start caring accidentally.

Daniel Dunston

Williamsburg senior

This commentary doesn’t necessarily represent the views of the Herald or the university.