Thursday, February 11, 2010

Following Directions

I'm on a committee that takes the work of other folks, reworks and edits, votes, and then, when appropriate passes it on to higher powers. The higher powers have set a strict limit of 3-4 pages for each piece of work. Everyone who's doing the work is told every single year, and then reminded, that the work is strictly limited to 3-4 pages.

I know these folks can read and write and follow directions, because they all somehow got advanced degrees, but I'll be gosh darned if I'm not looking at three, count 'em three, pieces of work, each onto the sixth page.

I want to hand these back with a big fat "fail" on them, but alas, I don't always get that choice.

Here's some advice:
Combine similar points. You're making point X and point X1 and point X2, and they're all very similar. Try combining them in a paragraph that says something about the similarity, and then uses ONE example to make the point. Don't write a separate paragraph about each one.

Get off your hobby horse. Yes, we know you want Y, but since Y isn't the only possible way, and other folks might reasonably want Z or Q, don't harange on and on about Y. Your preference isn't the issue here.

Don't quote yourself extensively. Seriously, summarize and paraphrase. Yes, you love your words, but cut them down!


  1. is it possible to shoot something back saying, "looks promising, but there really is a page limit; can you consolidate points, tighten things up?" that's pretty non-threatening.

    and if they want more feedback -- then you can say that it might help to consider these other competing concerns, and/or the larger committee will be looking for more than your cites to self.

    it is hard to be an intermediary, but you seem to be in a position where you can [a] blame the larger powers for the requirements, and [b] make the people submitting, who are smart people, fix up their own work, while [c] not being the bad guy. win win, even if it is a little awkward.

  2. academics are terrible at following directions. we know too much :)