A recent post in Tomorrow’s Professor treats the forces converging on that often irritating but essentially benign student question: “How many pages?” Here’s the lead:
He said, “How many pages does that paper have to be?”
She said, “As many as it takes to make your case.”
This exchange is pretty common, and annoying. The student is trying to set the boundaries of the assignment and is probably annoyed with the vague response he got from the instructor. The instructor wants the student to learn how to make a good argument, and is probably annoyed that the student seems to be focusing on quantity rather than quality. But there’s a motivational theory that might help each party understand the other.
Teachers, read the full post for insight into students’ impulses for this question, and your own motives for deflecting this question, if you do indeed deflect it.
A note about the image that illustrates this post: That’s a photo of an 8,600-word draft of an essay I had to cut to 5,000 words in order to submit it to a journal. I’d simply like to convey that page lengths exist everywhere in the professional world, and making students guess at our expectations for the length of a paper or presentation is inconsistent with the submission guidelines they will someday encounter in their vocational and even avocational lives.