In theory, I’m now only six words away from being able to submit the EMA (End of Module Assessment) to finish the Information Security module I have been studying with the Open University. That isn’t six more words to write but six to trim out in order not to exceed the 2,500 word limit. Whereas the previous three assessments on the course have allowed a 10% leeway, this time we stand to lose 0.5% of the mark for each 1%. I spent all yesterday afternoon applying nips, tucks and trims but that was with more of a focus on making the central thread of the argument. Knowing the way I write, I’m sure there are going to be a few more words that could be dropped painlessly and I suspect a few points where I say the the same thing twice and could find a way to put it once and more clearly.
Why do they have such a strict limit? Partly it is a kindness to the students. If I could count all the words I’ve put down during the work on my essay, it would probably add up to more like 5,000. I am probably a bit sloppy in my approach but, given the time to work on something, writing my ideas out is part of the process of exploring the material. By critiquing and editing what I wrote yesterday, I’m developing my ideas today; if the limit were higher, it would take even longer to sensibly reach towards it. Writing within a limit is also a discipline; you have to tighten all the screws and make choices about what is important rather than merely amusing. The reference I had to the opening of Pride and Prejudice in an early version soon got pruned although it was useful as part of getting past the blank sheet.
There is also another perspective to consider – the markers. My success or failure on the course is in their hands. I have to persuade them that I’ve read widely, thought deeply and can communicate that clearly. The system aims to be as objective as possible but I recognise that these people will have a lot of reading and thinking to do. For each essay, which explores three published articles on a relevant topic, they have to read not only what the student has written but at least the papers they are writing about if not everything added as a reference. I’ve got about 30 references from reading materials cited in my selected works and from reflecting on what has been learned during the course. If the word limit was larger then it would take increasingly longer to do justice to each script.
So, six words and probably another hour or two to go before I can submit. Almost there though!