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MyNewtBoobs's avatar

If brevity is good, why must I write long papers?

Asked by MyNewtBoobs (19041points) October 21st, 2010

A recent quote from a fellow jelly: The truest measure of a writers talent is their ability to keep things succinct. Writing a 600 page novel is time consuming, but it’s nowhere near as difficult as summing up that novel in a 3 paragraph query letter…. Verbosity is the enemy of specificity.

So if this is true, then why are students constantly taught to elongate answers? Those who are succinct can’t meet the 5-page requirement, while those who use fillers and bs can. So what’s going on here?

And while we’re on the subject, why are there absolutely zero articles on the internet, news, opinion, comedy or otherwise, that are brief instead of a stinking short story?

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20 Answers

The_Idler's avatar

I wrote a report for my A-Level Physics coursework that was a fraction of the length of everyone else’s and I scored 100%

Physics, no bull.

morphail's avatar

I can’t believe that writing 3 paragraphs is more difficult than writing a 600 page novel.

Foolaholic's avatar

From my experience, any decent teacher will overlook a length requirement if your piece is really, truly up-to-snuff. However, it seems like most people blur the between concise writing and being overly vague. A good thesis is so declarative that it requires a significant amount of evidence: but the more you have, the harder it is to be brief.

Nullo's avatar

It’s not brevity that’s good so much as it is succinctness. 300 words of content are worth far more than five pages of drivel.
Basically, students are supposed to provide content.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@Nullo Then shouldn’t we be requiring them to provide content, not length?

The_Idler's avatar

But it seems that in many areas of employment, it is extremely important to know how to bullshit.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@The_Idler Yeah, but I’m pretty sure most white, middle-class, suburban parents aren’t hoping their kids learn that at school, since then they can bs to you. I think it’s more a byproduct.

The_Idler's avatar

I don’t think anyone wants anyone to be bullshitters, but that’s just the way society works.

GeorgeGee's avatar

The 5 pages you must write will ideally be succinct and to the point. You might have to write 30 pages and pare them down to the essentials to get 5 great pages.
On the other hand, if you’re only supposed write 5 paragraphs, and you blab on for 5 pages, clearly you haven’t gotten the point.
The length of something that is terse, succinct and to the point depends on the complexity of the ideas being presented. If you’re only saying what your favorite color is, one word might suffice, but for a dissertation, 100 pages is probably a minimum. To get 100 good pages, you will write and rewrite 300 pages, throw away 200 and rewrite the remaining 100 another two times. Got it?

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@GeorgeGee I’ve read very few non-fiction books that couldn’t be shortened. I assume that dissertations are basically the same, only a lot crappier and much more boring since no one was required to publish it.

GeorgeGee's avatar

A dissertation is generally the longest essay one must write to express a single idea. A book on the other hand might cover a whole subject area, such as an introduction to psychology. There’s certainly no “requirement” that a dissertation be poorly written, though indeed many are. Almost by definition, those who write dissertations are not professional writers and their expertise lies elsewhere. This is much of the reason the process is so difficult.

Austinlad's avatar

In communication, written or verbal, there’s a big difference between shortness and brevity, in my opinion. Short is simply fewer words—but not necessary enough of them for clear, logical articulation. Brevity means articulating complex thoughts and ideas well in a minimal number of words. And one doesn’t learn how to do that until he’s able to do it using every word it takes to say what he means. Writing long papers gives one practice.

Jeruba's avatar

Brevity is good.

It is not, however, the only thing that’s good. An incisive analysis is good. A carefully researched study with well-documented conclusions is good. A thoughtful, insightful essay is good. A deeply philosophical novel is good. Most of us are not equal to the task of accomplishing such things and achieving brevity at the same time. You don’t have to be a literary master to write a paper for school, but you do have to know your subject matter and communicate your ideas. For the sake of evaluating and grading your scholastic performance, those things count for more than showing off your knack for brevity.

With all due respect to my fellow jelly, whoever he or she may be, I strongly disagree that “The truest measure of a writers talent is their ability to keep things succinct.” It is a fine skill among many, but to me it is by no means the pinnacle and ultimate test of the writer’s art. Some things that are wonderfully brief are also mindless junk.

xxii's avatar

Actually, brevity can be extremely difficult. In a philosophy class I took, I had to write papers of 10 pages or so, which is useful for developing skills like in-depth analysis, expounding upon or refuting the arguments of others, and providing specific examples for my points.

In my public policy classes, however, I’m faced with the challenge of brevity – condensing arguments and the evidence for them into policy memos of less than 4 pages. This trains me in different skills, like selecting which data best supports my point, or making my arguments as concise and digestible as possible.

I enjoy both tasks.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

Brevity is not the same thing as succinctly covering the topic. You are being tested on more than just your knowledge of the subject. You are also being tested on your ability to edit what you write so that you can get as much in the 5 pages as possible. Your writing ability is being tested, too. Can you condense the material from the class into a given space? Can you master the subject that well?

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@hawaii_jake No, I’m saying the class doesn’t give enough material for 5 pages, not that it gives too much for 5 pages.

Jeruba's avatar

What is it that you’re writing about that doesn’t offer enough material for five pages? There’s always another possible angle or comparison or interpretation, isn’t there? Five pages really aren’t a lot, and I mean five pages of substance, not verbose fillers and BS.

Nullo's avatar

If you’re having trouble filling the 5 pages, include viewpoints. Research. Ramifications.

notdan's avatar

The idea isn’t to fill pages with superfluous information. If you’re writing an essay and you are totally done saying everything that you could have to say about the topic in two pages, your topic is probably bad.

Some issues are complex, and require diligence and thoroughness. Could you shrink War and Peace? Maybe. Do you want to? What would you lose?

You should aim to express yourself as clearly as you can. Most times that means a brief statement. If you’re trying to express a complicated idea, it may required a complex statement.

Brevity being good isn’t an ultimatum. Better advice to follow would be something like “Only say what needs to be said.”

mattbrowne's avatar

Complex subjects require more pages, despite trying to be as brief as possible.

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