Commentary by Terry Anker
Modern word processing makes counting pages and words easy and uncomplicated. At the bottom of this very page as it is being typed, Bill Gates has inserted a handy counter that identifies this as the 36th word on page one of one. As we mature through our literate life, we learn at first single words. Then, we come to pull together sentences. Soon, paragraphs, pages, essays, papers and, even for some, books follow in due course.
But along the way, we learn a few basic rules. The story must progress in an understandable, hopefully entertaining fashion and follow the expected standard for length, language and form. For some, a 10th grade English composition assignment of a five-page paper strikes fear. How can we ever use all that real estate? Then others of us angst knowing that there is no chance that we can get our point across with such few pages. So, to make it on to the 11th grade, we learn to edit. We come to know what is missing and, equally important, what is too much.
As adults, few of us carry on the habit. We use insufficient words, or too many, and leave the object of our intended communication hopelessly confused, or worse, with a misunderstanding of our intent. Even more, do our meandering epistles suggest a lack of command over the subject matter? How often do we ask an unassuming question, only to be inundated not with a simple yes or no but instead a surging fire hydrant of explanations and excuses? Do we use an abundance, or dearth, of words to clarify our point, or, perhaps on a bad day, to intentionally deceive? Are we our own editors, or do we expect those around us sort it out alone? Can we editorialize without editing?