Monthly Archives: September 2017

HEA Fellowships: Cutting down your wordcount

Colleagues preparing their HEA fellowships often complain that the 3000 word maximum (for Fellowship) is not enough words to say what they want to with the depth and detail required. While academics face this challenge when writing journal articles or books I’m going to concentrate here on the writing aspects of the HEA Fellowship. At Brighton we have an absolute limit for our fellowship application.

This is only a guide and though it may seem that each example only saves a few words, these savings mount up considerably over 3000 words. I am not an expert on pithy writing, but some colleagues may find this helpful.

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John Canning, September 2017

  1. Use adjectives, adverbs and modifiers sparingly. They do not add as much to your writing as you may think.
Instead of...

Try...

“The students were very satisfied with the course” (8 words). “The students were satisfied with the course” (7 words).
“The students were really successful on the professional exam.” (9 words) “The students were successful on the professional exam.” (8 words)
“The students put their samples in a cold freezer.” (9 words) “The students put their samples in a freezer.” (8 words)
  1. Remove words that have do not add really add anything to meaning. Some examples include:
Instead of...

Try..

Appropriate”
e.g. “Students are assessed using the appropriate rubric” (7 words)

Students are assessed using the rubric. (6 words)

“students analyse their data with the appropriate software. (8 words)

“students analyse their data with [software/name/ type] (5 words)

Going forward”

“We are exploring studentfolio going forward”. (6 words)

“We are exploring studentfolio” (4 words)

As a matter of fact”

As a matter of fact the number of students on the module has increased by 20% since 2014.” (18 words)

“The number of students on the module has increased by 20% since 2014.”(13 words).

Different”

“The students examine three different species of toad.”(8 words)

“The students examine three species of toad.”(7 words)

  1. Short, pithy statements usually have more impact than longer statements.
Instead of...

Try

“In 2015 I began to get my students to use Blackboard”. (11 words)

In 2015 I started using Blackboard [with my students]. (5-8 words)

I do this in order to try to make my students understand the software”. (16 words)

“I do this so my students understand the software” (8 words)

 

  1. Unnecessary words also creep in when using hedging language. It can tempting to use this language where we don’t want to sound overconfident.
Instead of...

Try...

“In this module I attempt to teach my students how to use SPSS”. (13 words)

“In this module I teach students to use SPSS” (8 words).

“In this seminar I try to get the students to think critically about Jane Austen’s use of language”. (18 words)

“In this seminar students explore Jane Austen’s use of language”. (11 words)

or if the context is clear

“In this seminar students explore Austen’s use of language” (9 words).

On the request of my Head of Department I became the Level 4 tutor in 2016.” (16 words) “I became the Level 4 tutor in 2016.” (8 words).

5. Although application of scholarship is important in Fellowship applications beware of using every possible reference after making a point.

“Assessment and feedback are key problem areas identified by the National Student Survey (NSS) (see Race 2015, Ramsden 2002, Carless 2015, Yorke et al 2015, Higher Education Academy 2013).”

6. Beware the pleonasm (using more than words than necessary to describe one thing).

Instead of…

Try...

“The students dissect a tuna fish” (6 words)

“The students dissect [a] tuna”. (4-5 words).

“During fieldwork the students go scuba diving underwater”. (7 words).

“During fieldwork the students go scuba diving ”. (6 words).

(Presumably they don’t go scuba diving anywhere other than underwater).

“The students work together in groups.”

The students work in groups.

7. Multiple words which can be replaced by one word.

Instead of…

Try...

“There were not a sufficient number of students to run the course.” (12 words) “There were not enough students to run the course.” (9 words)
“Students are able to choose literature or language” (8 words) “Students can choose literature or language” (6 words)

8. Unnecessary clarifications

While it is correct to assume the assessor is not familiar with your discipline, there is no need to clarify terms which are widely understood.

Instead of...

Try...

“ZZ404, ‘Introduction to amphibians’ (frogs, toads, newts, salamanders etc.), is...” (10 words)

“ZZ404, ‘Introduction to amphibians’ is...” (6 words)

“TV soaps (programmes such as EastEnders, Coronation Street, Neighbours) … “ (9 words)

“TV soaps… “(2 words)

9. Unnecessary background

Instead of...

Try...

“I first started teaching at the then Brighton Polytechnic in 1985 when degrees were validated by the UK Council for National Academic Awards (CNAA). This was prior to the 1992 Further and Higher Education Act when the polytechnics became universities and were able to award their own degrees.” (48 words)

“I started teaching at the University of Brighton (then Brighton Polytechnic ) in 1985.” (14 words)

Though I wouldn’t image assessors would get hung up over:

“I started teaching at the University of Brighton in 1985.” (10 words)

 

10. Unnecessary and usually unhelpful filler:

Listing courses taught:

Instead of...

Try

I teach on the following modules:

ZZ 401 Clinical basketmaking 1

ZZ 406 Clinical basketmaking 2

ZZ 514 Forensic baskets

ZZ 516 Computational basketmaking

ZZ 621 Advanced clinical basketmaking

ZZ 723 Sussex Trug making (34 words)

I teach undergraduate and postgraduate modules on clinical, forensic, local and computational basketmaking. (13 words)

11. that

The word ‘that’ is often unnecessary in a sentence.

Instead of...

Try...

“When I started teaching this module I found that the content was out of date”. (15 words)

“When I started teaching this module I found the content was out of date” (14 words)

12, Names

a) Using people’s full titles can be nice, but they can be dispensed of here:

Instead of...

Try...

I co-teach this module with Professor Bill Badger and Dr Freddy Fox. (12 words).

I co-teach this module with Bill Badger and Freddy Fox. (10 words).

b) First/ given names are not required when using references.

Instead of...

Try...

“ As John Biggs and Catherine Tang (2011) note, … “ (11 words)

“ As Biggs and Tang (2011) note, … “ (9 words).

Further reading

Fowler, H. W. 1908. The King’s English, 2nd Edition.” Accessed September 7, 2017. http://www.bartleby.com/116/

Strunk W., E. B. White, and Roger Angell. The Elements of Style, Fourth Edition. Edited by Test Editor. 4th edition. Boston: Pearson, 1999.

IoE writing Centre http://www.ucl.ac.uk/ioe-writing-centre/develop-academic-voice/reducing-word-count

Plainlanguage.gov http://www.plainlanguage.gov/howto/guidelines/FederalPLGuidelines/writeOmitUnnecc.cfm

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Language café

The Language Cafe was an project funded by the EU from 2006-2008 which some of my colleagues at LLAS were involved in. The website no longer exists but is is available at the web archive . I've uploaded some of the resources here.

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