For the next five months, I spend a substantial amount of my day editing these essays, pushing my students to get more personal, to think about what aspects of this experience will stay with them in the future. And every year, I start to notice one common mistake that all my students seem to be making. This year, the thing that keeps coming up is the phrase, “and many other things.”
This phrase usually appears in a list. While talking about the summer camp they go to every year, a student might write that they spend their time kayaking, tie-dying t-shirts, and many other things. A student who loves art might describe how she enjoys working with acrylic paint, pens, and many other things. Or a student who’s working as a marketing intern might explain how he is responsible for organizing focus groups, researching new products, and many other things.
While discussing this particular rhetorical convention with one of my students, we jokingly imagined what it would be like if people used this phrase in other areas of their life, like at work. For instance, when I was younger, I worked as a Starbucks barista. Customers would often ask me what was in a Java Chip Frappuccino or a skinny vanilla latte or a matcha tea latte. Starbucks is all about providing legendary customer service, so it would not have gone over well if I had replied, “Milk, sugar, and many other things.”
Likewise, many of my friends work remotely, so they don’t get the traditional face time with their bosses that people who work in offices do. Remote employees are therefore much more proactive about communicating with their supervisors, and making sure that their bosses know that just because they’re not in the office (and off on a Mediterranean island somewhere), doesn’t mean they’re not working hard. Many remote employees send weekly or daily updates summarizing the projects they’re currently working on, but it would not be super productive if that update read, “I finished revising the content for the new website, coordinated with the marketing department, and many other things.”
Specificity matters – at work, in your college essays, and many other places (ha). There’s something satisfying about a list of three, but if you genuinely only have two things to share, leave it at two. But my guess is, if you look a little harder, you can probably come up with one more example. You could probably even come up with many other things.