This is a guest post by author Peter Felton
The craft of writing brings many challenges to those who partake in the pastime whether by personal choice, or business requirement. From developing an idea, to creating an organized outline for what you want to discuss in your written work, to actually putting the words down on paper in a smooth manner from both your and your readers’ perspectives, keeping the rhythm going without stopping requires some essential buildup in the form of well laid out literary thought that allows you to produce a satisfying literary creation. But as soon as you type that final punctuation mark at the close of your concluding sentence, the second main task of writing—editing, presents itself for you to tackle.
In a nutshell, editing is as arduous a task as it is open-ended in its outlook. In order to ensure that all of the essentials of strong writing mechanics remain intact in your sentence structure, basic proofreading during and after the completion of your work proves that you read your own writing throughout the process, with the following ingredients being measured correctly on paper: spelling, grammar, capitalization, and punctuation, with all paragraphs receiving proper indentations at the beginning of their first lines of language, along with proper spacing between words in the interim. When it comes to revising the written content at hand, you, the writer, have the final say as to how it will appear in print. In some cases, however, you may receive some restrictions from one of two different resources as to how to keep your literary product succinct in its presentation. These resources take the form of online website features, and homework writing assignments from classroom teachers.
As students during our childhood and young adulthood, we have all experienced the following encounters with writing. Let us say that you have been given a writing assignment along the lines of a book report analyzing a fictitious literary character in a fictitious scenario during a fictitious time period carrying out a fictitious activity and conversing with their fellow fictitious associates within a certain section of the text you are presently reading for school both in class and at home. In another course, you have been assigned an essay reflecting upon nonfictional historical figures in actual circumstances undergoing a time-changing, life-altering series of events as the leader of the pack in an epidemic of utter chaos all around. On top of these two hefty literal tasks, in a third academic realm you are required to execute a term paper or research report on a topic you know very little about, but are either (a) appointed against your own will or (b) given multiple options of topics of interest from which to choose to suction into your brain within a brief period of time before the present grading period ends and your learning as you know it officially concludes until you return to school after the upcoming vacation time block. Overwhelmed with these three writing ventures dumped in your lap simultaneously, your brain freezes and you feel like writing has never been so difficult ever in your life! Do not worry: there is a lifeline that can help you sort through the multiple, hefty layers of literary obligations before you when it comes to determining what to put down on paper and how to write the underlying content for your academic circle of an audience to witness when the day comes for your glorious oral presentation to be delivered before your peers and instructors.
Often times, when it comes to completing any or all of the above writing projects, as you read through the assignment criteria, you will undoubtedly observe the tiny but arguably essential factor highlighted in brief towards the bottom of the hardcopy handout or online PDF dictating the gist of the guidelines, articulated in a manner similar to the following: “This essay must be at least (x-y # of) pages in length, single-/double-spaced, and/or containing a minimum of (z amount of) words.” Having virtually skimmed the assignment outline located above the above italicized language on your class leaflet of sorts, it is the closing requirements that ultimately catch your eye and make the ensuing task of writing seem less daunting knowing that you do not have to go all out in making your final product a #1 bestseller (although, it definitely would not hurt to give your best effort nonetheless). In your head, you think “as long as I meet those numeric requirements in terms of matching the aforementioned bare minimum page length and/or wordcount accordingly when penning my paper, then I will have successfully reached that light at the end of this long, dark tunnel known as literary expression. What happens between now and then will just have to be taken in turn.”
Well, I have news for those of you who think that all you really need to do is dish out random language in order to climb the ladder of the writing process successfully. While wordcount and page length requirements in writing can definitely prove helpful when outlining (in your head and/or on paper ahead of time as you desire, if not required per the given assignment) your thoughts and ideas, they simply exist to assist you in terms of thinking short-term (for short essays) and long-term (for long term papers) in regards to how you can best sort out what you want to say on paper within a standardized palette. For example: let us imagine that you have reached the last line on the numbered page of your essay writing assignment. You are in process of completing your closing statement on the writing topic at hand and you are wondering if you should make it more or less detailed based on the underlying page length and/or wordcount requirement. After all, you do not want to “break the rules” by going over the top and including more details than you (feel you) should in an effort to defy authority and add more information to your already elaborate piece of writing that you (a) cannot wait to finish and (b) anxiously await your teachers’ and peers’ approval of in person, and through written commentary of their own to follow. After you title and Save the document with all of its edits on your computer, you look down at the bottommost margin on your open document on the screen to make sure that you are not even one word or one typed line short of meeting the corresponding requirements. Upon viewing the numbers for each category, you wonder, “will my teacher really care, or even notice, if I was a few lines or words short of the minimum page length/wordcount requirements? After all, they are not actually going to COUNT the number of words that I wrote, right? And essays always look different written down after they are printed out from how they appear on the computer screen, in terms of how close to the top, bottom, and side margins the typed language lays. Should I take a risk and turn in my paper as is, despite these horrible shortfalls? Or should I go back and add more details to lengthen my descriptive writing and subsequently reach (if not surpass) the page length/wordcount requirements?”
My literal friend, you have just asked yourself some key questions when it comes to designing effective pieces of writing that meet criteria like those outlined above. Wordcount is less of a goal and more of a recommended guide when it comes to expressing yourself and your knowledge in any genre of writing. Constantly keeping your eye on the numbers of words added to or deleted from your language present on paper will hurt more than help you develop a truly meaningful literary work of art. What matters is that you have stated your message in a manner that best suits your own developing writing style, AND that would also appeal to your anonymous readers. But before you complacently give your work two thumbs up upon knowing that you have met the requirements of its technical backbone, you might want to take a second look at your writing from beginning to end to in fact determine whether or not you have either (a) written enough or (b) written too much—in terms of respectively excluding or including any excessive, detailed language that, brought on by your utmost knowledge of the topic at hand and your enthusiasm for the writing process at large, makes your writing appear as though it is rambling on and on and on and on and on, with the writing itself not stopping until the break of dawn the next morning! At this point, the time has come for Phase Two of tackling the strategies of wordcount.
Realizing that perhaps you have gone a little overboard in your rampant language—exemplified by run-on sentences and an abundance of information pertaining to your message delivered quite elaborately—you stop and think about ways in which you could trim your writing so that it would in fact fit into the rather helpful “constraints” of maintaining a self-imposed (or predetermined given quantity on the part of your scholastic master) maximum wordcount or page length, while stating precisely what you intended to relay all along, albeit in simpler but equally effective terms. All you have to do is rely upon your outstanding vocabulary expertise and growing editing skills when it comes to intuitively tidying up basic writing mechanics to fine-tune your already impressive written performance and allow its content to appear more succinct than ever before, thus being able to reach your readers more clearly and quickly—bringing much satisfaction to both parties on either end of the spectrum, while showcasing your unique character as a writer.
Speaking of characters: outside of those created within novels and chronicled within biographies, a novel aspect of expressing yourself literarily online involves the lingering presence of numeric character limits in website features including: boxes for thread posts at online fan clubs, email inquiries made to company CEOs directly on their business networks, as well as summaries created for online videos uploaded for public appeal. In these recurring instances, having to deliberately summarize your ideas and confine your language usage into the tiniest of spaces and corresponding character count to meet the demands of electronic benchmarks proves frustrating and discouraging to the most articulate writers out there. Yet, these restrictions can actually be a blessing in disguise. They may initially seem like they are trying to demote literacy by providing such slim pickings of food for thought (as indicated by that brick wall you often run into when you have hit the character limit and are now in the red electronically, with the network refusing to let you add another single letter, space, or punctuation mark to your present writing for the time being). But in actuality they encourage all users to maintain the depth of their written output by taking a similarly succinct approach to that which you exercised previously when racing down the lines to meet the wordcount/page length requirement—via exhibiting useful editing strategies to ensure that your verbal articulation upholds your intellectual justification in tandem with the technical demands of your writing at hand.
When all is written and done, you will find that when it comes to successfully getting a universally relevant-but-personally meaningful message across to a mass audience through impressionable written words: less is more.