How to Write a Short Essay That Stands Above the Rest

“Short” is a relative term.

Your English prof might assign a “short essay” that’s 3,500 words, while your history instructor might assign a “short essay” that’s only 500 words. Big difference.

A longer paper has its advantages. Sure, you’ll have to write a lot, but a 3,500-word essay means you have more chances to write something that will impress your prof, right?

But what about that 500-word essay? Yeah, it means you only have to write 500 words (sounds easy enough), but that doesn’t leave you a heck of a lot of space to express your true genius.

So how do you fit in everything you want to say in a truly “short” essay? Here are some tips on how to write a short essay that stands above the rest.

How to Write a Short Essay That Stands Above the Rest

short essay

There are a lot of writing tips I could point out to help you with your paper, but I don’t have space for all of them in one post. We do, after all, have an entire blog full of expert writing advice.

This post, though, will offer you a few specific tips to help you write a short 500-600 word essay.

Tip #1: Understand your topic

Your prof assigned a short essay to assess your knowledge about a specific topic, but of course, you need to know at least a little about your topic before you can demonstrate that knowledge.

It’s pretty obvious that if you’re writing about something like the Electoral College, it helps to know what it is. Makes sense, right?

If you don’t know much about your topic, you’ll need to research. Understanding your topic means you’ll need to do more than just read a Wikipedia article. Read your textbook, a few journal articles, and maybe even a book in order to know enough to write about your subject.

In need of a little help with resources? Read 5 Best Resources to Help With Writing a Research Paper.

Tip #2: Organize your thoughts

short essay

Once you understand more about your subject, you need to put your ideas into place. You need to decide what you want to say.

This, of course, will be partially determined by your assignment. So read the assignment guidelines carefully to know if you should be informing, arguing, comparing, or writing some other type of paper.

And if you’re supposed to write an argument essay, don’t just start writing with a topic like, “I want to argue something about the Electoral College.” This is too broad for any paper, let alone a short essay.

Instead, figure out what you want to argue before you start writing.

Maybe, for example, you want to argue why the Electoral College should be abolished. This gives you a solid start as you can then decide roughly three reasons (backed by your research) that you believe it should be abolished.

Next: outline. It seems like a major pain to outline your ideas, but trust me, it’s a useful strategy. It saves you lots of time in the end.

Don’t believe me?

short essay
“Map of the United States Electoral College” by US Embassy Canada, Flickr.com (CC BY 2.0)

Consider this scenario: Let’s say you’re writing about the Electoral College and are arguing why it is or isn’t an effective system. You’ve written three solid arguments (and about 450 words) before you realize you haven’t even gotten to the one really important point you want to make.

This leaves you with two options:

  1. Leave the paper as is, and skip the most important point (and jeopardize your grade by doing so).
  2. Scrap one or two of the previous arguments, and start writing again to make room for the key argument you forgot.

You know you need to revise if you want to earn a passing grade, so you’ve just wasted a lot  of time by not outlining your ideas first.

Don’t forget: A thesis statement is also an important part of your outline. Take a look at How to Write a Thesis Statement in 5 Simple Steps to learn more about writing a concise thesis.

Tip #3: Don’t add anything extra

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“Tweet” by Zakeena, SketchPort.com (CC BY 4.0)

Think of writing a short essay like posting a Tweet.

Twitter gives you 140 characters to make your statement. You need to be precise and include only the most important points.

While your average Tweet might be something inspiring like, “Need Skinny Caramel Macchiato ASAP,” these types of declarations aren’t usually what you’ll be writing about in academic essays.

But you get my point. Stick to what’s important.

How does that translate to a short essay?

First, keep in mind that Twitter and texting allow you to use a common shorthand language, such as FWIW to mean “for what it’s worth.” Of course, you can’t use such slang in academic essays. If you’re used to writing this way, take extra time to proofread to eliminate these errors.

Next, don’t forget that you should include only the most important points.

In other words, if you’re supposed to write a short essay about your stance on the Electoral College, don’t write a detailed explanation of the history of the Electoral College or compare the system to other election systems across the world.

These are points to be included in a longer research essay. You simply don’t have space for them in a 500-word paper.

Remember my example above that stressed the importance of outlining? Take my advice. Use an outline to make sure you stick to key ideas.

Finally, concise writing counts. If you’re writing a long essay and struggling to meet word count, it can be easy to throw in a few extra words and phrases like “extremely” or “most experts completely believe that…,” but these are just fillers. They don’t add anything to your paper.

Here’s a quick sentence to illustrate.

Wordy sentence:

The Electoral College is an unfair system that should most certainly be abolished because it means that in many cases, a candidate could definitely win the presidency with a small percentage of votes and would then likely become president without the majority of the popular vote of the US citizens.

That’s a 50-word sentence with a lot of unnecessary words.

Concise sentence:

The Electoral College should be abolished because a candidate could win the presidency without the popular vote.

This 17-word sentence says the same thing but uses 33 fewer words. A 33-word difference might not seem like a big deal. But if you only have 500-600 words to use, it can make a big difference in the content (and quality) of your paper.

Looking for additional information about why you should write more concisely? Read Why Eliminating Wordiness Is So Important for Your Essay.

Be a Shining Star

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Remember how happy you were when you got a gold star on your work when you were in kindergarten? Getting an “A” on your paper can make you feel that way again.

Check out these resources to help you polish your short essay to stunning brilliance:

Check out our essay examples to see what how other students have tackled short essays. You can even narrow down your search to show only essays that are 500 words or fewer.

You can also review two easy-to-digest annotated examples to see what works and what doesn’t in essays written by other students.

Kibin editors are also expert resources, so let us review your work. We might not hand out gold stars, but our feedback can make you feel like you earned one. Plus, we’re really good at trimming word count when you need it!

Psst... 98% of Kibin users report better grades! Get inspiration from over 500,000 example essays.