Super-Sizing Those Punctuation Marks

You've probably seen it, because it's been circulating quite a bit among folks who talk about the teaching of writing (does that define you? maybe not ...). Anyway, it goes like this: a simple self-help video about how to make an essay or report longer (in MS Word) by changing the font size of punctuation marks. Though the author doesn't mention this, the hack works because MS Word characters involve not just the "inked" part that you see, but the line height as well.

Paper Tip/Trick - Click Here for more great videos and pictures!

Of course, teachers who are freaked out by this kind of stuff can simply get student papers or copies of them electronically and then easily correct for these kinds of hacks. (Select all, change font and font size, fix character spacing, and tweak margins.)

But what I prefer to do is not specify a paper length at all. This invariably freaks students out, as they're generally used to being told how many pages to write, but I still find it to be worthwhile in that it enables us to talk about what students should write, and how they should write it, not how much they should write.

With that said, I'm teaching a class next year with "25 pages of written work" specified in the requirements. For students in that class or others with length requirements, I offer this list of four simple ways, in addition to super-sizing punctuation marks, to make your paper longer.

Four More Ways to Make a Paper Longer
→ have and then add more of your own ideas
→ talk about other people's ideas more
→ add more examples
→ discuss those examples

Is that so hard?


  1. My longstanding "trick" to foil these sorts of formatting gimmicks is ridiculously simple. I present length requirements/suggestions using word counts. This doesn't stop students from padding out papers with "fluff" sentences, of course ... but it's much easier (for me anyway) to mark (down) such padding than it is to try and police font and margin sizes.

  2. Tried it on a 30-page diss chapter and it only took me to 32 (very disappointing). I think the magic must depend on how many spaces people put after periods. I was trained by an old-school typing instructor to use two spaces, so I've apparently maximized my cheater period potential.

  3. Anonymous11:53 AM

    As a translator, I bill by the word. (As do copy editors, may writers, etc.) As a result, I am the queen of verbose turns of phrases. The German word "bezueglich," for instance, can mean "regarding" ($0.14) but it pays better to translate it (still correctly) as "with regard to" ($0.42). Fortunately, German culture values convoluted, verbose writing, so it's not really necessary to tweak things too much. German culture makes translations expensive unto itself all on its own.

    Microsoft Word does not count as separate words two words that are separated by a dash or hyphen, so I often--in violation of the Chicago Manual of Style--insert spaces on either side so that I get paid for all the words I type. Similarly, after a slash ("virgule"), I often add a one-point space so that I get paid for the two words separated by this punctuation mark.

    Another trick: I don't use automatic bullets or numbered lists in Word, because typing the bullet or number counts as a word.

    Anyway. These essay-lengthening techniques have actual, real-world applications among professional people!


  4. Making the big bucks with more words! I love it.

    I like the idea of assigning student papers that have a word-length range, as that's very "real world" in a lot of ways.

    Back to that 7,000-7,500 word article. :)

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  6. Sometimes there is an alternate problem:

    This semester, in an attempt to be realistic about what the students could produce - and what I would grade in a timely manner, I assigned items that, to my surprise, have troubled students mightily.

    First, I assigned 3 response papers, one after each section of the course. I said they should be 2-4 pages in length, and that was the only instruction that I gave initially. Well, they kinda freaked out, asking in class, then emailing me even after I told them I was not looking for particular content or specific length. Finally I had to get more specific, just to get them calm enough to give eme something, even though I had assured them that I wasn't looking for anything more than proof that they had read and engaged with the material.

    Next up were two journaling assignments. I asked them to keep account of how many resources they used and how much waste they produced for a week. But I told them that the results had to be presented in a one-page summary. They are all convinced that it can't be done.

    And for the final project I told them that it had to be -- "related to the topic of the course, of interest to you, and of sufficient length to demonstrate that you have thought about, researched, and analyzed your chosen topic. The final product may take any form or length you choose." Well, in thinking that I was letting them use their creativity and tailor the product to their own interests and abilities, I seem to have made their brains explode.

    The lesson here is that, for urban planning students at least, they want a finite task, a specific route to complete it, and a quantifiable endpoint. Everything I hate.

  7. Ahhhh, I know all about students with those kinds of expectations. (And I guess I'm often a lot like that too; or at least am gratified by that kind of stuff.)

    It's funny how having a long paper to write meets resistance, as does a short summary.

    I have a friend from grad school who used to have students write their responses on note cards -- one card per response. It was cool in being easy to grade and encouraging of synthesis ... a cool skill to get good at.

    Sometimes, you just can't win.

  8. p*m*g7:23 PM

    i'm totally backcommenting, but i think it's okay -- i'm just trying to catch up on the Meta, knowwhattamean?

    anyhoo, word requirements are the way to go when it comes to paper requirements, if that's your thing. (and for a lot of students it is.)

    however, word requirements are not without their own Achilles heel. i agree with gil: fluff sentences are easy to compose, and sometimes really fun to write, too. e.g., for one of my essays (2000-word requirement) i wrote this:

    No matter how much it is extolled, no matter how often it is praised, nor the number of paeans that are sung to it, the identity will always be inadequate because, as Gary Gutting of the University of Notre Dame notes, ‘for virtually any level of achievement, the scale shows that there is an even higher level possible’. And Gutting’s ‘scale’ cannot exist for a single datum, for then the point would be the upper and lower limit, the best and the worst, the pinnacle of achievement and the embodiment of failure.

    using the rule of 3s, i repeated thrice what could have been expressed once. there was no need to use 'upper and lower', 'best and worst', and 'achievement and failure'. nor was there any real reason to invoke in the introduction the act of 'extolling', 'praising', or 'singing paeans to' (ha! how absurdly poetic is that!), for all speak of admiration. but sometimes you just gotta admire fluff, and a student's ability to thread it into their work.

  9. fluff! oh you just KNOW that I love the stuff (http://www.marshmallowfluff.com/)