Whenever I received a writing assignment in college, one of the first pieces of information I looked for was the page length requirement. When one wasn’t provided, or when an instructor was intentionally vague about the requirement, I was annoyed. I had distinctly different strategies for tackling (and panicking over) an assignment that was 5 pages long as opposed to one that was 15 pages long.
I’m sure some of our students are equally
concerned about length requirements. This concern may be even more present in a 10-week course than the 16-week ones I was used to. And I imagine many of our students also treat shorter assignments, like discussion posts, as I did: they look at them as informal or less important to their development as a writer than those lengthy research papers.
But more and more I’m finding the beauty of short writings and their effects on my writing style and process. For several years, I have been blogging about daily life. In the blog, I keep entries short and focused. My initial reasoning behind this approach was that these posts would take less time to write, they would perhaps appeal more to readers with little time, and I could keep the tone light and fun.
Some of the unintended consequences of these short writings are, however, even more delightful. I tend to spend more time crafting language and tone in short pieces by thoughtfully considering my audience and my intention with every word and phrase. Much more time is spent revising and editing than drafting. My hope is that my writing voice is continuing to become more distinct and interesting along the way. If nothing else, I enjoy this focus on technique; it’s language play.
Perhaps students can be encouraged to use their shorter writing assignments and low stakes writing assignments to practice and enjoy the craft of writing as well. The content of a discussion post or short assignment is certainly important. But beyond the critical thinking and analysis, research, and synthesizing of information, with guidance, students can also look to these assignments as opportunities to experiment with writing techniques – word use, tone, expression, voice – and discover the joy of editing and revision. Instead of thinking of short writings as less work, students can look to them as opportunities for more play that will help them grow as writers.
By Joni Boone