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Length And Citation Requirements In Academia

I’m now in my 11th semester of college (graduating this semester, hallelujah) and I know two things to be true: You can be a college graduate and still be a dough head and professors have no clue what the makings are of a good paper.

Don’t get me wrong, I know that they know what they’re looking for; I know what a good and bad paper looks like when I see them, too. The problem that I still see with many professors is that they insist upon imposing length and citation requirements on academic papers. Let’s just forget for a moment that the people that they’re teaching are technically adults (or are adults) and shouldn’t need their hand held to get through a class. Length and citation requirements don’t make any sense.

Allow me to provide an example; last week I had the following assignment:

  • Find a single news article about how digital media has affected business practices.
  • Describe what processes changed, how they changed, what technologies were used, and whether they were effective.
  • Make a presentation in a software like Powerpoint.
  • Must be 15-20 slides, not including title and references slides.

Do you have any idea how difficult it is to make a powerpoint with 15-20 slides? Do you even realize how long you would be talking in real life to cover information contained in that many slides? It wouldn’t really be that much of a problem except that you only asked me to cover 4 fairly simple points and now after 8 slides of content I’m pretty much out of stuff to talk about.

Do you know what happens when people are only halfway to the length requirements of their assignment and are out of things to talk about? They turn on the bullshit machine. So that’s what I did, for the remaining 7 slides required to keep my presentation within the requirements.

2 weeks prior in the same class I had an assigned paper that required between 1500 and 1750 words. If you’re familiar with my work on TechDissected, you know that I have no problem cranking out something twice that length (see OnePlus 2 review), but I’m not a wizard. When I start an article, I have no idea where I’m going to land, much less within a 250 word window (To this point, this post is about 380 words).

I missed the length requirements on that assignment by 3 words (yes, I counted) and the professor docked my grade by 5%. You might say I’m whining and to a degree you’re right, but the whole point of length requirements is to keep students from writing one page and thinking that they have satisfied the requirements of the assignment, when they clearly wouldn’t have. For that matter, they also put the cap on there to make sure students don’t ramble on forever about nothing. I understand these things; I’m not completely dense.

With all of that said, however, 3 words are completely negligible in the grand scheme of things and for me to have inserted them into the paper unnecessarily wouldn’t have helped me make the point in the assignment. Whether they existed in the middle under a sentence and made no grammatical hamstring sense, or I put them in there by taking contractions and extending them, where I normally would not, it doesn’t add anything to the paper and often is taking away from it.

The same goes for citation requirements, really. Requiring me to have 10 citations means that I’m going to go out and find 3 extra people to cite after I’ve completed my paper and insert them unnecessarily after the fact so I can meet your requirements. If something requires citation, I will cite it; that’s what being in college is all about!

So, teachers and professors of the world, I’m looking at you. Care to weigh in? If you’re going to have length requirements can they at least make a little more sense? If you think a paper is going to require citations, would it not be sufficient to just say that?

Students, do you have anything you’d like to say as well? Try to keep your grammar up to snuff, they’re watching.