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Objectives. In a test to determine whether a brief version of the expressive writing (EW) method was viable, 106 college students participated in an experiment dealing with the study of life transitions.

Design. Individuals were randomly assigned to write for 15 minutes on three occasions: either three times separated by 10-min break (1-hour condition), 35-min break (3-hour condition), or 24-hour break (3-day condition).

Methods. Participants were randomly assigned to write about their thoughts and feelings about the transitions (N = 80), or to describe daily behaviours surrounding the transitions in a non-emotional way (N = 26).

Results. The three emotional writing conditions did not vary in terms of their engagement with writing, their emotional reactions, short- or long-term reactions to the intervention. Compared to controls, those in the experimental conditions evidenced fewer symptom reports 9 months after writing.

Conclusions. The findings suggest that a brief 1-hour EW is more emotionally demanding, but that it has comparable effects on physical symptoms as the traditional 3-day method.