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What is a short essay format and how to write it?


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A student writing a short essay

A short essay is a type of paper, which briefly describes a problem, question, or a story. Writing a short essay might seem easier because of the limited word count and a lot of students think they will cope with it faster than with a regular one. However, it’s a common misconception.

When writing a paper that takes a few pages, you can allow yourself to dive deep into the discussion of the chosen points. However, a short essay format requires you to present your ideas and the factual information as succinctly as possible. Therefore, it might take a while to get to the desired word count without cutting out the necessary info from your paper.

Where should you start?

Before starting a short paper, it is important to choose a topic to your liking. It has to be interesting, appropriate, and intriguing to look appealing for the reader. If it’s an academic paper, choose something from your professor’s list or come up with a narrow topic that you can cover briefly.

If you are writing a short essay to apply to university or for a scholarship, choose a prompt that speaks to you. You will likely have to describe a life event that has helped you to become successful, changed you, or inspired you. Also, it may be some situation where you managed to cope with a serious problem or even failed but learned from it. Whatever you choose to write about, make sure it is something that shows the committee who you are as a person and why you deserve a scholarship or will be a great asset if admitted to the university.

How to write a short essay?

Here is an approximate plan you can follow after choosing the topic:

  • Do your research
  • Find relevant and credible sources
  • Create an outline
  • Put down the main points you are going to cover
  • Write a first draft
  • Proofread and edit heavily
  • Rewrite the parts that you do not like
  • Proofread one more time before the submission

Some of these points might sound rather vague to you if this is your first time working on a short essay. Therefore, let us elaborate on the major writing milestones in the next few sections.

Tips from experts

Meet our advisors

Read the essay question carefully!

Look for these words:

  • Describe/summarize means give the facts
  • Explain means analyze the topic
  • Argue means to reject/accept a viewpoint
  • Discuss refers to presenting a point of view
  • Critique means give both positive/negative sides
  • Compare and contrast discuss similarities/differences

Structure an essay

Beginners use the five-paragraph structure with references. Advanced writers use a variation of this method.


Write the first ugly draft – using first/third person depending on the requirements. Know how to paraphrase and summarize. Don’t plagiarize – everyone checks if the essay is unique.

Editing & Formatting

I use the chainsaw and surgical methods. Chainsaw cuts material that isn’t relevant. Surgical involves fine-tuning spelling and grammar.

What is the formatting style? APA, MLA, or CMS? What is the word/page count? Follow the rubric.

Penny J. Larsen

College professor with 30 years of teaching experience

What to include in a short essay outline?

The short essay structure is no different from that of a regular essay:

  • Introduction with a thesis
  • 1st thesis + argument; 2nd thesis + argument; 3rd thesis + argument (all in one paragraph or several very small ones)

The number of theses and arguments depends on the topic and the word count you were asked to hit. As short essay writing requires you to be concise, choose a limited number of points you want to cover and keep the supporting information brief.

How to write an introduction for a short essay?

The introductory part is one of the most difficult elements of an essay for many students. They spend long hours in vain trying to come up with something unique. The main reason for this difficulty is that in this part, you have to provide relevant background information and formulate a clear thesis statement.

What if you have a blank sheet of paper in front of you and no ideas on how to start a short essay? Just write down a rough draft of what you can potentially include in the intro and move on to the next parts. It might be much easier to write the final version of the introduction at the very end of the work, when you already have the main part and the conclusion.

So, to write a good introduction you should simply explain why you took this particular essay topic and/or provide some background information about it. Do not forget to include a thesis statement at the end of the paragraph to help readers understand what the paper will cover.

How to write a strong thesis statement for a short essay?

The basis of any essay is a correctly formulated thesis statement. This is usually a single sentence that explains what you are going to talk about in the essay and it might also briefly go over the supporting points you are going to present.

A strong thesis is the one that:

  • refers to a particular position that the author is taking.
  • serves as a basis for discussion.
  • has a clear and specific rationale.

When writing your thesis, avoid value judgments, like ‘interesting,’ ‘negative,’ ‘exciting,’ ‘unusual,’ ‘difficult,’ etc. as they will make you sound unprofessional. The more to-the-point the thesis is, the easier it will be for you to write the essay and for the reader to follow your train of thought.

Tips for writing a catching body paragraph for a short essay

Here are a few things you should keep in mind when working on the body of your paper:

  • Constantly ask yourself whether what you are writing now is relevant to your topic and the thesis. Otherwise, you will increase the word count but fail to address the prompt.
  • Try to be as specific as possible and use 1-3 sentences to discuss each idea you are presenting. This way, you will be able to fit more information into your paper.
  • Follow your outline and cover the points you have put down. This will help you make the paper more logical and comprehensive.

Working on a conclusion for a short essay

 Like the introduction, the conclusion should be organically linked to the main text. Here are the different ways to draw up a conclusion:

  • Generalization of the main thoughts. This is the most typical and logical ending of the essay, but be careful and make sure not to start listing the arguments once again.
  • An interrogative sentence that includes a rhetorical question. Use this option if you want to give your readers some “food for thought” so to say.
  • Call to action or direct address to the reader. You may give an advice or share an insight that came to your mind while discussing the thesis statement.

The final part should be clear and as short as possible to logically complete the essay. Try to avoid unnecessary repetitions and, at the same time, make sure you have briefly covered the points mentioned in the body. If you have troubles understanding how a conclusion should look like, search for a few sample essays to see how others finished their papers.

When you finish your short essay, it is always a good idea to have someone check it before you submit it. Ask your friends or relatives to read and evaluate it for you and then make sure to consider their remarks and comments.

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