The word count dilemma


How many words are you ready to read? 500? 700? Maybe 1000 when the topic matches your interests. For some of you, you might click on this article but quickly get distracted by your phone notifications or your funny housemate. Nevertheless, this possibility of losing the reader is what writers fear most: having no readers is interchangeable with shouting into the void. Nevertheless, this possibility creates one of the most important characteristics of writing: space.

When you receive writing assignments, what is the first thing you look at? Of course, the word limit. While you might think the word limit exists to keep your favorite teachers from overworking themselves (or to keep poor, underpaid teaching assistants from questioning their life decisions), it also serves as training for your use. from space. The concept of space is easy to understand. First of all, we know we have limited attention spans (look at TikTok as Exhibit 1). Second, we also know that there are a million things vying for our attention. So, to compete for the prime real estate of our attention, writers and creators need to assess how much space they have and how to use it effectively.

To use space effectively, content creators must first understand how much time their target audience is willing to invest in their topic. For example, a reporter covering the coup in Burkina Faso knows that the average American is willing to read a maximum of 300 words about the coup. Thus, in 500 words, the journalist has the heavy task of summarizing the important facts about Burkina Faso, and of explaining the events of a complicated putsch. Now change the audience to experts or the topic to Russia, and that same reporter might now have a 2000 word space. Understanding this is important for journalists, because if they make their article too long, their audience will close the tab, but if they make it too short, they might not expand on the required information, which can give the audience the feeling of being cheated.

Space is not only relevant for writers and content creators, but also for us normal Joes and Janes. In fact, one chapter of life is decided by a test that tests our use of space: college applications. When applying to college, we’re asked to summarize 18 years of our lives (or 9,460,800 minutes!) in 700 to 1,000 words, in a space smaller than the Sparknotes summary of most novels. Through this process, we discard many important events and aspects of our lives to cater to our audience. Successful or not, this process teaches us two important and painful lessons: most of our experiences and beliefs don’t matter to most people, and people can only ever get a snapshot of our lives. .

A snapshot – a snapshot that both affirms and denies our worries, affirming our rejections by the possibility that we have presented the wrong image of ourselves. On the other hand, it cements the idea that we really are alone in the world, people only seeing snapshots of us, not the full movie. This thought becomes the foundation on which overthinking can build. Overthinking the snapshot we should present to fit in and make a good impression. Overthinking how much we should have introduced ourselves to this person. Overthinking comparing a person’s snapshot to our own.

Through this overthinking, we tend to mismanage our space, both in our writing and in our speech. The best example of mismanagement of space through the written word are resumes. As any career counselor would tell you, writing a resume is an art. The first step in writing a resume, and the one that people tend to get wrong, is deciding what to put on it. You put too much on it, and the important stuff gets lost in a sea of ​​words. Put too little on your resume and it looks barren as the desert. So don’t compare your resume to other people and add material to it when it’s already perfectly fine. An example of our tendency to mismanage space through our speech are dates. Talk too much about yourself on a date, and you come across as a self-centered asshole. Talk too little about yourself and you may appear to be hiding something or indifferent. So finding a delicate balance of using space on yourself is a must.

So whether it’s your next tryout or date, be aware of how much space you have to get a snapshot of yourself. But don’t worry if you don’t succeed this time, as new snapshots of you are always being discovered.

Abdel Shehata is a freshman at Trinity. His column is broadcast every other Thursday.


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