Student aces essay exam by combining all required elements into one short paragraph.
A university creative writing class was asked to write a concise essay containing the following elements:
The prize-winning essay read:
‘My God,” said the Queen, “I’m pregnant. I wonder who did it!”
The prof coldly announces, “It’ll take quite some time to write an essay of this nature and smoothly incorporate all subjects, so please begin.”
About fifteen minutes later, a boy raised his hand and announced that he was finished. The startled prof says, “I don’t see how you can be finished with an essay of that nature in that short a time.”
“Well, I have,” said the smiling student.
“If you think so, read it aloud.”
The student read, “‘My God,’ said the queen, ‘I’m pregnant. I wonder whose it is?'”
The “brief essay” legend has been documented as far back as 1935. It has since surfaced in a number of humor books and folklore collections, and now the Internet is breathing new life into it by circulating it as a
“true story.” (No one is quite sure why identifying it as such would be deemed to increase the enjoyment factor, but this has become a common enough claim to make about various bits of ancient lore now being shunted about in cyberspace.)
The phrasing of the second example showcased above provides clues as to how we’re supposed to view this particular chapter in the eternal struggle between student and professor — we’re supposed to applaud the brilliance of the essay the “smiling” student used to put into his place the snooty professor who by addressing his charges “coldly” had implied the assigned task was at the limit of their capabilities. College lore is replete with wish fulfillment legends in which clever students one-up their instructors by taking advantage of semantic ambiguities in the instructions given to them. (Our page details another legend that invokes this theme.) In real life, an “essay” such as the smiling student had taken such pride in would likely earn him nothing other than a kick in the pants: Grades aren’t awarded for cleverness; they’re earned by performing the required task well.
The legend appears in non-academic settings as well:
Another writer who leaves very little unsaid in his books is the Frenchman Jean Paul Sartre. The Left Bank of Paris is usually buzzing with stories about this witty writer. It is said that he sent a scenario manuscript to a Hollywood film studio, and in due course he received back the script accompanied by a rejection slip.
Evidently it was thought that he had talent for this type of writing, because he was advised that the studio would like to see something else, but that his present submission did not measure up to the prerequisites of a good film story. For his information these were: religious sentiment, dramatic surprise, human interest, brevity, and, last but not least, sex appeal.
Sartre took this well-meant counsel under advisement and penned a reply to the studio secretary.
“How would this do?” he queried. “‘My God!’ cried the Duchess, ‘let go my leg!'”
If one thinks about it, this sentence contains all the ingredients for the model film story, but it sounds more like a line out of an Oscar Wilde play!
Admittedly, the veracity of this anecdote founders on its Sartre-chasm; it’s been told about others, as well:
Charles Morton of the Atlantic Monthly revives the story of the group of writers who were discussing the ideal opening for a commercially successful piece of fiction. They agreed that the first paragraph should contain life and big money, and unconventional situation. On that basis, one of them contrived this unbeatable beginning, “Damn it,” said the Duchess to the King, “take your hand off my leg.”
How to Write a Short Essay
A short essay can often prove to be more difficult to write than a longer essay. While in longer essays, you have ample space to explain and clarify all your points, in a shorter essay you might feel like you do not have enough space to make a strong argument. The key to writing a short essay is including only the most pertinent information necessary to make your point.
Components of a Short Essay
There are two things to consider when writing a short essay: placement and complexity. The shorter your essay, the earlier your thesis should appear. If you are writing a 3-4 paragraph essay, your thesis should be one of the first three sentences. If you are writing 1-2 paragraph essay, your thesis should be in the first sentence and should also function as an acting hook. The thesis must be both interesting and all-encapsulating. The shorter your essay is, the less time there is for nonsense, and the greater the need to cut straight to the chase.
It is also important to be aware of the complexity of your topic. Pick topics for which you have enough room to elaborate. Do not cite three or four pieces of supporting evidence in an elaborate thesis if you are only allowed 500 words. If you only have a few paragraphs to write your essay, you will likely only have room for one main point of supporting evidence. Keep your thesis short and limit your supporting points, since you always need to set aside plenty of room in your essay for introspection.
2) Topic Sentences
It is important to delineate the entirety of your argument at the very beginning of the paragraph. You want your message to be extremely accessible, so make it snappy! Do not wait until the end of the paragraph—and definitely not until the end of the essay—to present your argument. Present, support, and introspect.
3) Supporting Evidence
Try to limit the amount of sentences dedicated to supporting evidence. If possible, have one sentence rather than two citing a story, anecdote, or example. This may seem difficult, but it is important to provide only the details that are necessary for understanding the main idea of your essay. If you cannot find a way to fit supporting evidence in just one or two sentences, use a different example altogether. There are certain topics that require a lot of room for explanation, so be careful not to choose a topic for your essay that will require too much evidence to support.
Whether your essay is 200 words or 5,000 words long, introspection will always be the most important aspect of your college application essay. Only by examining how you reflect on your qualities can college admissions officers gain an understanding of how well you think critically and how well you can present an argument.
It is not your stories that get you into college, but how they have affected your character and your thinking. You should strive to portray yourself in the best possible light and keep your essay focused on answering the prompt.
While we always recommend not getting sidetracked in a 5-6 paragraph essay, it is even more crucial that you do not allow yourself to stray away from the point in a short essay. Any sentence that is not directly relevant to your thesis not only weakens your argument but also takes up valuable space.
The strongest way to end a short essay is to include a brief summary of your main argument and a statement that includes the implications of your thesis on your future. This will depict you as a goal-oriented and forward-thinking person without veering you too far from the main idea of your essay.
Limit your conclusion to no more than three sentences. Conclusions are important, but you do not waste time and space rehashing points that were already made.
Condensing Strategy: Starting Big
Some people find it especially difficult to write a short a piece right off the bat, so they write a longer piece that includes everything that they find relevant, and only then do they start to trim their essay down. If you choose to use this approach, remember that it might become necessary to remove information that you had initially deemed important. Here are some tips on how you might cut down your essay.
Get out the highlighter
If your essay is significantly longer than the suggested word count, read through it and highlight everything that is most important—this includes important points of introspection and supporting evidence. Have a peer or parent do the same.
Read through your writing and make sure that every sentence has a specific and unique contribution to the essay. If two sentences convey two only slightly differing ideas, try to find a way to combine them. Use semi-colons, em dashes, or compound sentences if necessary. Check for wordiness as well. For example, do you have any sentences that start with, “It is” or “It seems that”? These are extraneous words that can be taken out without altering the sentence’s meaning.
The Necessity Test
If you are stuck and cannot find a way to shorten your essay, try the necessity test. Take out every sentence in your essay to test whether your point has become weaker without it. If there is no noticeable difference in your essay after removing the sentence, then the sentence is not integral to the rest of the essay, and it can be removed.
Simplify the Argument
If there is no way to cut down your essay without keeping your argument clear and strong, you must simplify your argument. In short essays, it is often better to have a broader thesis that you can support with one or two specific examples. This way, readers can infer implications from your thesis that you did not explicitly state.
These points should prove useful in guiding you through composing a short essay. Here are a few dos and don’ts in summary of this article.
- Make the essay snappy: present, support, introspect. Only include the details necessary for understanding the main idea of your essay.
- Put your thesis in one of the first three sentences of the introduction if you are writing a 3-4 paragraph essay, and in the first sentence if you are writing a 1-2 paragraph essay.
- Limit supporting evidence. You need to leave room for introspection.
- Answer the prompt and showcase your best qualities.
- Condense when possible. Use semi-colons, em dashes, or compound sentences if necessary.
- Assume that longer is better. Be sure that your essay meets the word and page length requirement of the prompt.
- Pick an overly complex topic. Pick a topic for which you have enough room to elaborate.
- Write a lengthy introduction or conclusion.
- Become too attached to your ideas. Be ready to cut unnecessary segments out in order for your essay to meet the word count.
Remember that a short essay should have all of the same components as a larger essay, but in less space. Try to include all of the necessary introspection and not present too many different points. It is better to have one or two well-articulated and supported points than many good points that are poorly supported.