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Few issues seem to cause more angst among some students than the issue of word counts.

Some modules have assignments that state "a maximum of X words" or "write no more than X words" but students still tend to ask if they can have 10% extra.  Some seem surprised when I say that the words "maximum" and "no more than..." mean what they say.

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Me in a rare cheerful mood

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Could that be because students get other advice from elsewhere?  The "elsewhere" in my experience has been social science, technology, psychology, philosophy and history modules.  In all of those we have been permitted to go 10% over, no limit for going under but expected to not waffle.  I have had warnings that if we submit a TMA approaching 10% over and it has repetitious language or too many points saying the same thing, that some marks can be removed for not being concise.  But it has also been made clear that going a bit over the limit would never result in marks being removed.

I see from your blog you deal with language modules.  Could it be the absolute word-count is specific to that discipline?

Alternatively, I assume you remove marks for being one word over the limit?  If not, there is no penalty, and if there is no penalty, there is no crime.  That would also explain their reaction.

Anyway, if you are finding students are surprised at what you say, either OU students are particularly stupid, or they are getting a different message from somewhere else.  Given the angst they exhibit, that does suggest the experience of your students is the same as mine: they are getting a different message from elsewhere.

Me in a rare cheerful mood

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PS Ditto the mid-day deadline for TMAs.  It's midnight really since there is no penalty (just huge risk) using the 12 hour grace period.

shadow

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on modules I have studied students have been told the word limit is given because all the necessary information can be given within that number of words, so, if you go over the limit you are probably including material not required,

on a personal level I have noticed that if I think about it more I can sometimes say the same thing another way using less words, just doing this on a few sentences can make quite a difference to word count,

Simon, reading the first paragraph of your comment I was surprised as none of the modules I've taken allow 10%, then I read your second paragraph and yes as you know my modules have been language modules, so perhaps it is the Modern Language Faculty policy,

Frances

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Hi Simon

In language modules, the word counts and attitudes towards them vary (and I do not think this is problematic as long as it is clear). 

My point is that sometimes the rubric says "about X words" or even "X words".  In these cases, students are allowed up to 10% extra but when the rubric is "no more than..." or a maximum of ...", it seems that this is not ambiguous and it means what it says and the 10% does not apply.


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Hello Frances

I agree that in most cases, making the word limit by careful editing can vastly improve the quality of a text.  I almost never find it impossible to cut down texts that I write (eg I might have written something like "it is usually possible to reduce the length of my own texts")

shadow

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hello Patrick, I did say 'on a personal level' meaning my own work, you have expressed it better and I am learning,

thank you for the noun phase link in your previous post I am working my way through Sarah North, English: A Linguistic Toolkit at the moment, Frances

Me in a rare cheerful mood

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Is it possible the Level 1 modules they do before the language modules do allow the 10%?

shadow

Simon

hello Simon, I'm not sure what you mean by level 1 modules before language modules as the language modules start at level 1, beginners and lower intermediate, the only level1 English module, which is now compulsory, is L161 and when I studied it 2yrs ago no 10%, this is what the assessment guide says: 

'....On the other hand, if the length of your answer is much longer than the specified length, your tutor will stop marking after the limit has been reached.'

my other 3 level 1 modules were all foreign language modules, all these modules including L161 gave a min and max word limit, I have read on forums before about this 10% and had wondered what they meant, Frances

Me in a rare cheerful mood

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You can also start the language degrees with AA100 The arts past and present which, although I haven't done it, I'd bet that allows the 10%.  Perhaps that could cause the confusion too.

shadow

Simon

Simon a student taking English and another language would need to already be able to speak the target foreign language at lower intermediate level 1 and a student taking one of the 2 foreign language pathways would need to be up to level 2 in at least one of the foreign languages if they used up half their 120 level 1 credits on A100, so yes if you want to and are already well versed in your target foreign languages,

infact when the compulsory L161 was brought in taking up 30 credits at level 1 a lot of language students taking 2 foreign languages complained that they would now not be able to take one of the beginners level 1 modules for their chosen languages, so I don't think they would want to spend 60 credits on A100,

and A100 is part of the humanities faculty not the languages faculty, just as the U214 module I am currently studying is not part of the languages faculty,  ok! Frances

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Hi Frances

The links on noun phrases and the one on processes might be useful for you if you later take E304.

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Hi Simon

Your question about being one word over is an intriguing one and I feel conflicted.  On the one hand, it is a very small number.  On the other hand, is it really ever possible for a student not to take off one word?  Going over by one word perhaps suggests that they are not really bothered to get things completely right. I know that if I wanted to cut one word from this shortish message, I would be able to do it easily.


Sharon Hartles

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Funny big grin

I quite agree Patrick

I xxxxx agree Patrick 

See I managed to take out one word. 

Yah 

clown

word count

A bit late too the party but better late than never eh?

I've completed a BA Honours in History with the OU and have now started a BA Honours in Creative Writing.  There is absolutely no continuity, in my own experience, in terms of word count practice.  Even if a question says 'no more' I will always ask if the 10 percent rule applies, because in both my History and creative writing degree, I have had tutors who have said, 'no more, means no more', and I have others who have said, 'no no the 10 percent rule always counts'.  Maybe the fault does not lie with the  students and maybe there needs to be greater continuity in how these rules are applied?


Iain.

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I think no more than means just that and that the word limit is the limit.

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Thanks for the comment, Trevor.

Reducing the word count is an important skill, I think.  Occasionally my computer crashes when I am halfway through writing something and I usually find when I restart I write more concisely and effectively.  I suppose this shows how important revising a piece of writing is but we often think we do not have the time.