A Question of Streamlining…

In the Managing Technology and Innovation MBA course I am teaching this summer there is a paper due at the end of term that has a minimum and maximum page count. One of my more talented students asked me if there is a penalty for going over the ten page limit.

Thought my reply might be of interest because it applies to writing in general and business writing in particular:

One question I ask when reading a paper is: “Could the writer have found anything that distracted from their primary points to cut?”  My experience indicates that the answer to this question is usually yes when the paper falls within length guidelines and almost always yes when it runs longer than guidelines.

This is not to say that what you might need to cut isn’t interesting or in some way important. Or that you won’t have to rewrite a sentence you like to be shorter. It’s a question of streamlining – removing extraneous information so that your key points come across more clearly.

I personally hate editing my own writing. Takes a lot of effort to get the points down on the page.  Unfortunately, I’ve also learned over time that my work tends to improve If I assume that the first edit should target a 30% cut in words.  Very painful – but it does force a thought process that is necessary when you think about the one truly limited resource you are dealing with – the reader’s attention span.

So – is there an automatic penalty for going over the limit? No. I always will admire a point well stated regardless of length. However, it would probably force me to go in and show you what I would have cut…

Of course, the above deserved further editing itself. Ah well. 


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2 Responses to A Question of Streamlining…

  1. Bill says:

    Good point. Thanks for the reminder.

  2. Kay Plantes says:

    Thanks for the reminder. Mark Twain once said something like, “I would have written you a short letter but I ran out of time.” I struggle with my writing as I can hold so many thoughts in my head at the same time and see how they are all inter-connected. I need to remember the main storyline and see myself as a sculptor when I write, based on your blog advice. Thanks!