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Author Topic: A question for undergrads (or anyone)
oldgoat
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posted 26 October 2005 07:20 PM      Profile for oldgoat     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
When you're assigned an essay with a given word count, do markers not include words such as "and, I, the," etc. A high school teacher told my kid this when she marked him down for a too short essay. Neither Mrs. oldgoat or I remember anything like that in university, and frankly as someone who attempts to write clearly, the idea offends me. Like try to write a coherent essay without them. Actually, she said 4 or 5 letters or longer only get counted.

Anyone heard of this?


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Raos
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posted 26 October 2005 07:32 PM      Profile for Raos     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I've always just used the word count on whatever word processor I was using. I don't think most teachers actually look at the word count per say, but are more likely to go by the number of pages (which is usually what length guidlines have been given to me as), or how long the essay "reads". An essay being "too short" usually meant you don't have enough substance or enough ideas, rather than the essay is physically too short.

Actually counting words and excluding short words. My guess is it's an attempt to prevent inserting words for the sole purpose of making the same idea longer without actually adding anything of importance to the statement.

For example: "Jimmy walked to the store" and "Jimmy went for a walk to the store", mean the same thing, but are of different sentence lengths, but by excluding short words, they're the same length.


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kuri
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posted 26 October 2005 07:32 PM      Profile for kuri   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Never heard of that. I had stricter word counts in my (UK) MSc programme than my (Cdn) UG programme (in that they included footnotes in the count and the maximum word lengths were shorter), but I've never heard of anyone differentiating between types of words.

Besides, doesn't one usually use their word processor's word count feature to determine how many words there are? Only counting words 5 letters and up would mean having to count them by hand. o__O


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johnpauljones
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posted 26 October 2005 07:50 PM      Profile for johnpauljones     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I have never had a prof or teacher not count words because they were not long enough.

I did in fourth year have a prof who did not count words rather he guessemated by stating that the paper had to be font 12 and double spaced. He then guessed that x words per page times y pages = the required length.


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mersh
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posted 26 October 2005 08:02 PM      Profile for mersh     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
In Grade 9 typing, I remember short words not being included in figuring out typing speeds. But as a TA and a lecturer, I've never counted individual words. I just figure a double spaced page with margins somewhere within the realm of one inch comes to about 250-300 words. Depending on the required length, I allow for a page (sometimes two!) short or long. What I hate are essays that are two pages, when the expectation is four. I once had a student who consistently doubled the recommended length of six pages in a class. Trouble is, she ran with each assignment and her work was just too damn good (although she did learn to edit them down).
From: toronto | Registered: Aug 2005  |  IP: Logged
DrConway
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posted 26 October 2005 08:21 PM      Profile for DrConway     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I've never heard of such a thing as actually going to all the trouble of knocking out words like "the". But I do know word counts were generally estimated based on pages written and that sort of thing.
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Kevin
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posted 26 October 2005 08:30 PM      Profile for Kevin   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I've not been told that in my courses. However, my Humanities TA has told us that the references and footnotes do not count to the final word count as they must be there.
We're also told a +/- margin so one way or the other my papers fit into the required lenghth.

It's just a little more entertaining when you have two papers due the same week, where one has to be no more than 550 words and no less than 450, and the other has to be at least 1,500.


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Papal Bull
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posted 26 October 2005 08:42 PM      Profile for Papal Bull   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Spah?

They actually count words?

I thought they only did that when you REALLY sucked at writing.


From: Vatican's best darned ranch | Registered: Oct 2004  |  IP: Logged
Sven
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posted 26 October 2005 08:50 PM      Profile for Sven     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by Papal Bull:
Spah?

They actually count words?

I thought they only did that when you REALLY sucked at writing.


No kidding.

If the full meaning of a subject addressed in a five-page paper can be successfully distilled down to a paragraph, that's all the student should have to write.


From: Eleutherophobics of the World...Unite!!!!! | Registered: Jul 2005  |  IP: Logged
mersh
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posted 26 October 2005 09:24 PM      Profile for mersh     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by Sven:
...If the full meaning of a subject addressed in a five-page paper can be successfully distilled down to a paragraph, that's all the student should have to write.

I have yet to see that done successfully -- although many have tried!


From: toronto | Registered: Aug 2005  |  IP: Logged
Sven
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posted 26 October 2005 09:31 PM      Profile for Sven     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by mersh:

I have yet to see that done successfully -- although many have tried!


All the more reason to give the student an A+ if they are successful doing it!


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James
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posted 26 October 2005 09:38 PM      Profile for James        Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I seem to recall (and this is going back, way back when, well before the days of word processors) that seven characters plus a following space was taken to be the length of the "average word". So, the number of characters per line of the prescribed format, times the number of lines per page of the prescribed format, divided by 8 would render the number of pages the marker could expect.
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cogito ergo sum
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posted 28 October 2005 11:51 AM      Profile for cogito ergo sum     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I remember something akin to what James remembers, except I seem to remember it being 5 characters counting as a word. Either way, at no point did I hear such nonsense as "short" words not counting.
From: not behind you, honest! | Registered: Oct 2005  |  IP: Logged
Cougyr
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posted 28 October 2005 12:10 PM      Profile for Cougyr     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
We had to use pen and ink; ballpoints were not allowed. My horror was mistakes, because erasures were not allowed, which meant re-doing it all.

I do remember a lot of stupid teachers.


From: over the mountain | Registered: Nov 2002  |  IP: Logged
Reality. Bites.
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posted 28 October 2005 12:18 PM      Profile for Reality. Bites.        Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Just for fun I pasted this entire page (prior to this post, of course) into my word processor.

It shows 1,315 words and 6,061 characters (no spaces) and 7,783 with spaces, so the average word length is 4.6

It also shows a Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level of 7.5.


From: Gone for good | Registered: Aug 2004  |  IP: Logged
Contrarian
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posted 28 October 2005 12:24 PM      Profile for Contrarian     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by RealityBites:
...It also shows a Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level of 7.5.
Alright, smart gyu, what's that?

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Crippled_Newsie
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posted 28 October 2005 12:29 PM      Profile for Crippled_Newsie     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
The "Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level Formula" translates the 0-100 score to a U.S. grade level, making it easier for teachers, parents, librarians, and others to judge the readability level of various books and texts. The grade level is calculated with the following formula:

0.39(total words/total sentences) + 11.8(total syllables/total words) - 15.59

The result is a number that corresponds with a grade level. For example, a score of 6.1 would indicate that the text is understandable by an average student in 6th grade.


Wikipedia


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neoluddite
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posted 28 October 2005 12:36 PM      Profile for neoluddite     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I've only ever been given assignments with rough page counts (ie, "4-6 pages double spaced") and I've never heard of anyone counting the actual words. (Heck knows they didn't pay me enough to count them when I was a TA.) Then again, I was in religious studies where no one believed in anything objective or quantifiable.

The only time I had anything resembling a *required* paper length, it was a maximum length. The prof has us writing weekly response papers that had to be less than a single page, double spaced. One sentence over, and your paper was rejected. It was definitely a much more valuable exercise than if there had been a minimum word count. Instead of adding lots of filler and BS, one was forced to distill the central theme of the week's reading. It drove me crazy, and I know I certainly played with some 0.75 margins, but in the end I liked the challenge. I vowed to use the same assignment if/when I ended up teaching.


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The Hegemo
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posted 28 October 2005 01:04 PM      Profile for The Hegemo   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
When I was a TA/instructor, I certainly never sat down and counted words. Generally I'd read a paper, and if it felt too short and incomplete, I'd check the page count, and sometimes do a rough estimate of words by counting words in one line (including words less than four letters) and multiplying from there.

What I always told students was that the most important thing was the completeness of their argument. If they had a streamlined enough style that they could fully flesh out an argument with appropriate supporting facts and citations, and do it in eight pages instead of ten, more power to them. Obviously, there are some limits -- if the assignment was ten pages and they hand in five, that's a problem with not following the instructions. But getting overly hung up on word counts and page counts isolated from the quality of the actual writing, always struck me as counterproductive. Not to mention that it encouraged the silly "tricks" -- some students seemed amazed that we noticed when they handed in a paper with two inch margins and 14-point font

And not trying to jump on any high school teachers here, since they do a tough, thankless job that I could not do in a million years, but in my experience, high school tends to be more where strict adherence to fairly arbitrary rules is more of an issue. In Grade 9 English, we were required to have at least seven sentences in every paragraph (which just led to a complete dumbing-down of my writing as I used the shortest sentences possible). I also had a History/Government teacher in Grades 11-12 who docked us a letter grade each time we used a contraction in a paper.


From: The Persistent Vegetative States of America | Registered: Mar 2004  |  IP: Logged
Michelle
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posted 28 October 2005 01:12 PM      Profile for Michelle   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by Contrarian:
Alright, smart gyu, what's that?

Oh sure, you just lowered it with "gyu".

Honestly, oldgoat, what kind of idiot is that teacher? Is she a frustrated typing teacher? The only time I've ever had teachers count words in that manner is in typing class, to calculate typing speeds, as was mentioned earlier in this thread.

Anyhow, she sounds like one of those teachers that teach you life's lessons rather than academic lessons. As in, "Well, son, you're going to run into your share of assholes in your life, and this one will be good practice."


From: I've got a fever, and the only prescription is more cowbell. | Registered: May 2001  |  IP: Logged
Contrarian
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posted 28 October 2005 01:23 PM      Profile for Contrarian     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Silly gril!
From: pretty far west | Registered: Jul 2004  |  IP: Logged
West Coast Greeny
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posted 28 October 2005 02:28 PM      Profile for West Coast Greeny     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by Sven:

No kidding.

If the full meaning of a subject addressed in a five-page paper can be successfully distilled down to a paragraph, that's all the student should have to write.


Ha! Reminds my of a 1st year english midterm I wrote 3 weeks ago. I had to write a 700-900 word essay and, because I was despritely trying to save the brief short answer section (20% of my test) and the fact I write slowly I only managed a 500 word essay.

I got a "D" on my short answer (for which I did not study for) and a "B+" on the essay.

Word counts really don't matter nearly as much as covering/explaining the right topics. A 600 word usually gets a better mark than a 1000 word essay with the same content and grammer, even if the paper calls for an 800 word count, because it's clearer and more to the point. Some short-sighted english teachers could shave 10 or 20% just for falling short of the count, but I (luckily) don't believe they do.


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oldgoat
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posted 28 October 2005 02:31 PM      Profile for oldgoat     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Thanks everybody, that was helpful.

This is actually a teacher I've dealt with in the past and we've gotten along. She also quite likes my kid. I spoke to her this morning and found her to be quite open. It was actually a very small paper and not worth much, but she agreed to take another look at it and mark it up.


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West Coast Greeny
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posted 28 October 2005 02:33 PM      Profile for West Coast Greeny     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
P.S My post has a 9.5 F-K reading level. Although I misspelt desparately "despritely", and grammar "grammer". Also, I should have capitalised English.
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Rufus Polson
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posted 28 October 2005 08:33 PM      Profile for Rufus Polson     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by Sven:

If the full meaning of a subject addressed in a five-page paper can be successfully distilled down to a paragraph,

then the paper was so full of filler it needed a "D" real bad.


From: Caithnard College | Registered: Nov 2002  |  IP: Logged
Sven
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posted 28 October 2005 09:01 PM      Profile for Sven     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by Rufus Polson:

then the paper was so full of filler it needed a "D" real bad.


In Canadian schools, do you see a lot of grade inflation? It seems to me that a average paper should be a "C" but that an average grade is now a "B". That's just my impression.

Although in law school, I saw little grade inflation. There might be a class of 30 students and only one "A".


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Left Turn
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posted 29 October 2005 01:38 AM      Profile for Left Turn     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Some profs do seem to want strict word counts. Some profs even want students to be as concise as possible, and will dock marks for wordiness.

I had a first year English prof who expected us to write two concise 800 word essays. When he said concise, he meant it. If the paper was 800 words but he could distill it down to 600 words by editing out wordiness, he would consider the student to have only completd three quarters of the assignment, and would give a maximum mark of 75%. And If he could distill the paper down to less than 400 words, he would fail the paper regardless of the quality of the argument.

[ 29 October 2005: Message edited by: Left Turn ]


From: Burnaby, BC | Registered: Mar 2005  |  IP: Logged
cogito ergo sum
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posted 29 October 2005 02:23 AM      Profile for cogito ergo sum     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Left Turn, did you think this prof was reasonable in his/her approach?
From: not behind you, honest! | Registered: Oct 2005  |  IP: Logged
Mandos
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posted 29 October 2005 02:51 AM      Profile for Mandos   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I'm opposed to excessive conciseness. Leave a little room for the beauty of language.
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Hephaestion
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posted 29 October 2005 03:57 AM      Profile for Hephaestion   Author's Homepage        Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by Mandos:

I'm opposed to excessive conciseness. Leave a little room for the beauty of language.


How very tersely phrased, Mandos. Would you care to expand on that?

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Raos
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posted 29 October 2005 04:06 AM      Profile for Raos     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by Sven:
In Canadian schools, do you see a lot of grade inflation? It seems to me that a average paper should be a "C" but that an average grade is now a "B". That's just my impression.

Are we talking high school or university? High schools tend not to curve any marks whatsoever, so average grades are a bit of a slippery thing to pin down.

As far as universities, I can only speak for the U of A, but for a first year course, they give the average grade between a C+ and a B- and the average goes up slightly for second year course, more for third year, etc. Not all the profs curve their grades, though, so some classes would likely end up with a higher or lower average.


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Left Turn
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posted 29 October 2005 05:44 AM      Profile for Left Turn     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
cognito ergo sum wrote:
quote:
Left Turn, did you think this prof was reasonable in his/her approach?

I would argue against the approach that my prof took, becauwe it caused unnecessary stress.

I tend to prefer to have paper length stated in number of pages rather than in number of words. With regards to wordiness: There is genuine wordiness, where one is using extra words and repeated words in order to take up space. Then there's good quality flowery prose. I like good quality flowery prose, but this one prof didn't, because it took up space and resulted in the students doing less research.

I dislike genuine wordiness, and I agree that students should loose marks if they use it to fill up space in their papers. However, I have no problem with space being filled up with flowery rhetoric. My favourite essays are those that have a good solid argument, expressed in flowery prose, and backed up with just enough evidence to prove the argument. However, with some profs, like the one I mentioned, that kind of essay gets a mediocre mark. Profs like the one I mentioned want the highest ratio of evedence to argument possible within the specified length of the paper. Because of this, much of my undergrad writing was stifled, as opposed to what I know I am capable of writing.


From: Burnaby, BC | Registered: Mar 2005  |  IP: Logged

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