November 25, 2014, by Tilly Potter

Word limits which are really restricti…

This week I’m going to vent my frustrations towards virtually-impossible-to-stick-to word limits, as I’ve been having a fun filled time writing my project proposal (psychology’s version of a dissertation) and sending off a graduate job application. Unlike essay word counts (which can be bad enough) these are short answer questions – just what can you achieve with only 150 words?!

Here’s a screenshot of my project proposal form.

The joys of many tiny word counts

The joys of many tiny word counts

As you can see, there are several sections where I must write between 150-300 words. Seems fair. But look! Each section is composed of several points. For example, my summaries should say ‘what you intend to do, why it needs to be done, how you are going to do it and what it might tell us’. That’s four points which together must span only 150 words. If word counts were space, that would be like trying to fit all your possessions into one suitcase.

In order to motivate myself to get started on pieces of work like this, I try to type out a rough answer to each point before editing it all later on. Turns out this has a major downside. When your ‘draft’ answer is double the length it should be, cutting it down can prove extremely tricky, particularly when it seems like everything you’ve written is relevant and you have to allow for citations like ‘Smith et al, 2004’ which annoyingly take up space. The following process then begins:

  • Cutting down descriptive or otherwise flowery phrases
  • Getting rid of introductory sentences, so the reader has to just dive straight in, context or no
  • Trying to find the one perfect study, so no others are needed to be mentioned
  • Using savvy one-word conjunctions e.g. ‘because’ rather than ‘this is due to’
  • Constantly highlighting the paragraph to check the wordcount and feeling dismayed when you still haven’t done enough.

With job applications, this can be particularly tricky as most companies want you to use the ‘STAR’ technique, which stands for situation, task, action and result. This means instead of simply saying ‘I’ve been a club president, so I can manage a team’, you have to give a lengthy description of when, why and what you’ve done to show certain qualities. Except you’ve got hardly any words to do it in. I’m sure this is a sneaky way for companies to assess whether you’d be good at sending snappy emails.

On that note, I’ve definitely written for long enough, so I’d better…


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