Writing in an essay is a common task in high school and college courses, especially in the humanities field. You will also be asked to write essays for college entrance and scholarships. In a short essay (250-500 words), you will need to provide an introduction with a thesis statement, a body, and a conclusion, just as you would with a longer essay. Depending on the essay requirements, you may also need to conduct academic or online research to obtain sources to support your claims.
Part 1 of 3: Choose a topic and collect information
Step 1. Read the prompt carefully to identify the topic
Underline the important words and circle the question, if any. You must fully understand what the prompt asks you to write so that you can choose an effective argument.
If you have any questions on the subject, ask the instructor. If the essay does not respond to the prompt, it is likely that you will not receive the full score
Step 2. Choose a single arguable point for the essay
In a short essay, you will want to write consistently around a central theme. You won't have enough space to mention derived subtopics. Therefore, choose a narrow topic that interests you and that you can talk about, regardless of whether it focuses on an academic indication or on you as a university applicant. This will prevent the test from reaching too great a length.
- If you are writing an essay for a class test or application, design it according to the given prompt and topic. Come up with some ideas quickly; For example, think about the positive things you can say about yourself for a college admissions essay.
- For example, the topic "Depression in American Literature" is too broad. Limit the subject to something like "Willie Loman's Depression in The Death of a Salesman."
- You could also write on a narrow topic, such as "The Rise of the US National Debt in 1950," rather than a broad topic such as "The American Economy in the 20th Century."
Step 3. Search 1 or 2 secondary sources in an online research database
Most of the research you do for higher-level college or high school courses will be done online. The databases allow you to search a large number of high-quality articles reviewed by experts in the field. In a short essay, you won't have time to present more than two fonts, and you may find that just one is most effective.
- Depending on the field for which you are writing the essay (such as pure science, sociology, humanities, etc.), the instructor will guide you to suitable databases. For example, if you're writing a high school or college-level essay for your English class, visit literature databases like JSTOR, LION, and MLA Bibliography.
- If you are writing your essay to apply to college or graduate school, it is unlikely that you will need to include any secondary sources.
- If you're writing a class or time-limited essay, you may not be able to find research articles. However, you should obtain information from books and sources that you have studied in and outside of class, and write based on points explained in excerpts from provided texts.
Step 4. Use an article from a trusted website if the instructor allows it
Not all trials allow the use of internet sources. If yours allows them, only use the ones that are objective and reliable. Focus on pages ending in.edu or.gob, as these will not be commercially biased.
- If you are writing about current events or journalistic topics, read articles from reputable websites, such as CNN or the BBC.
- Do not cite unreliable web pages, such as blogs or any other page that has a clear bias around the topic they write about.
Part 2 of 3: Build Your Essay
Step 1. Create an outline for the short essay
Before you start writing your essay, use an outline to plan what you want to say in each paragraph. List paragraphs 1-3 and write down a phrase or sentence that summarizes the main point you want to make in that paragraph. Also, write what secondary sources you will use in each paragraph (if you plan to use them).
If you write your essay without using an outline, it will be poorly organized
Step 2. Write a compelling and arguable thesis statement
A strong thesis statement is key for short essays. The statement should summarize the argument or position you plan to take in the essay. If your thesis statement is too ambiguous, obvious, or weak, you will have a hard time focusing your argument on it.
- This thesis statement is very weak: "The death of a salesman shows the difficulty of living in America after World War II."
- Instead, refine your thesis like this: "Arthur Miller uses The Death of a Salesman to show that the American Dream is materialistic and impractical."
Step 3. Use the introductory paragraph to explain the topic of the essay
Begin the paragraph by providing a specific statement about the topic of the essay, so that you can refine and clarify your argument from there. Explain concisely what the essay will address and why the topic is important. Also, give readers an example of the type of evidence you are going to use to make your point. Place your thesis argument as the second or third sentence in your introductory paragraph, so that readers understand the main point immediately.
- So don't start the paragraph by writing something like, "Since the dawn of time, all people have been consumed with the desire for father's approval."
- Instead, write something like "In The Death of a Salesman, Willie Loman's sons compete for their father's approval through various displays of masculinity."
- Then you can say, "To examine this topic, I will carefully read several key excerpts from the work and present analyzes of prominent Arthur Miller scholars."
Step 4. Write the introduction and conclusion with less than 75 words each
You may be tempted to use poetic language in your introductory paragraph and provide abstract or theoretical statements about your chosen topic. Resist this temptation and keep these paragraphs short. The introduction should only contain a maximum of 6 or 7 sentences, and the conclusion will only need 3 or 4. The introduction should explain the topic, offer the thesis, and tell readers why the topic matters.
In a short essay, the conclusion should only briefly restate your main claim and remind readers of the evidence you have provided
Step 5. Use body paragraphs to demonstrate various aspects of your central argument
Each paragraph should contain and demonstrate a main idea. You can demonstrate the claims in the paragraphs with a combination of citations and references from primary and secondary sources, and your own thoughts and analysis. Keep in mind that all the claims you make must prove your thesis successfully in some way or another.
- Therefore, consider the example of The Death of a Salesman. The first paragraph of the body could mention the ways in which Willie's children try to impress him.
- The second paragraph of the body could address Willie's hopelessness and despair, and the third could mention the way Miller uses his characters to show his mistakes in their notion of the American dream.
Step 6. Add information from your research sources to strengthen claims
If you include 1 or 2 citations or data from research articles, this will show that you are aware of the conversations around your topic. Keep your quotes or facts short, focused, and direct; so don't exceed the allowed word count.
- Always cite your sources, to avoid being accused of having plagiarized. Check with your instructor (or review the essay indication) to determine which reference style to use.
- For example, if you are summarizing the inflation of the US dollar during 1930, give 2 or 3 years and the inflation rate percentages. Don't provide a paragraph-length summary of the economic downturn.
- If you're writing an essay in class and you don't have time to do some research, you won't have to include outside sources. However, you will impress the teacher if you quote an excerpt from a reading or mention pertinent information that you learned during class.
Step 7. Ask someone else to read your draft first
Writers have a hard time spotting their own mistakes, whether they are grammatical or structural. So, ask a friend, classmate, or even your instructor to review your draft. Ask him to give you constructive criticism and point out the parts that are not coherent.
- If no one accepts, read your first draft and look for mistakes or points where you could clarify the meaning. Reading the essay aloud is often helpful, as you will be able to hear sentences that are not very coherent.
- This step does not apply to written essays during a time-limited exam or in class, as you will not be able to ask your classmates to read your work.
Step 8. Review the first draft to write the final version
After getting helpful feedback on your draft, include the suggestions in a final draft. Review any errors and look for ways to strengthen your overall argument. Avoid the temptation to only fix bugs on a superficial level. For example, you might have to add a new paragraph or rewrite the introduction from scratch.
- It is always a mistake to submit an unreviewed first draft, whether for a grade, an admission, or a scholarship essay.
- However, if you're writing an essay for a timed exam, it's okay if you don't have enough time to combine multiple drafts before time runs out.
Part 3 of 3: Synthesize the essay
Step 1. Only cite secondary sources related to your topic
When looking for sources for your short essay, eliminate unnecessary sources so you don't get overwhelmed. Only cite sources that directly support the issue you want to address. Check with your instructor if you are unsure which fonts are relevant or what type of fonts to use.
- Therefore, if you are writing about the Death of a Salesman, an article on symbolism in the works of Arthur Miller would be helpful. However, an article on the average cost of hotels in the Midwest of the United States in 1940 would be irrelevant.
- If you're writing a scholarship essay, double-check the instructions to clarify what type of fonts you can use.
Step 2. Avoid excessively unnecessary words to keep the essay under the allowed word count
It is vital that you do not exceed the word count, especially when writing an essay to apply to a university. Eliminate extra words and information that aren't strictly necessary. Eliminate adverbs, adjectives, and long phrases, as well as clichés and generalizations.
- A common cliché you might find in an essay is a phrase like "I am the most studious student in my school."
- For example, this sentence has many unnecessary words: "I have been an excellent and tireless student throughout my life in high school, as I am a very dedicated reader and I focus carefully on every assignment I received in class."
- Summarizing it, it could read like this: "I have been an excellent student my entire life in high school as I am a dedicated reader and focused on every assignment I received."
Step 3. Write short sentences in the active voice
Writing in an active voice will help you keep sentences short and direct. Write sentences that express the idea clearly and directly. To keep sentences short, start most sentences with the subject (the person or thing doing the action) and the action it performs, rather than describing how the action is performed on the object.
- Do not write something like "Willie Loman can be considered as someone who has achieved little in his life, since he was not respected by his children or valued by his co-workers."
- Instead, he writes, “Arthur Miller shows readers that Willie had few accomplishments in his life. Willie's kids didn't look up to him, and his co-workers didn't treat him with respect. "
Step 4. Only present the most relevant argument in the essay
If you are passionate about the topic of your essay, you may be inclined to include multiple arguments related to various facets of the topic. However, this will almost certainly cause you to exceed the word count. To avoid this problem, only include the best evidence to support your strongest claim.
- For example, if you're trying to show that World War II lifted America out of the Great Depression, just focus on an economic argument.
- Don't bring up other less compelling topics. Don't spend a paragraph talking about how much it cost the US to produce fighter jets in 1944.
- When writing your essay text, resist the temptation to take words from a thesaurus in order to sound academic or smart.
- If the school or university has an online or in-person writing center, book an appointment. Take advantage of this type of service, so you can improve your essay and help you recognize structural or grammatical problems that you would not have noticed otherwise.