The 500-word Essay: Some Thoughts Gordon Thompson
The 500-word length is consistent with many other kinds of professional writing, from blogs to book reviews. Moreover, if you want to capture and hold your audience's attention, the three-section statement maximizes your opportunity. The statements below provide ideas on how you might successfully write.
The short essays for this seminar have several goals.
1. They provide you with an opportunity to explore a topic we have covered in our discussions and readings and to formulate an opinion about some aspect of those ideas.
2. These essays also provide me with a sense of your engagement and understanding of the material we cover, as well as your ability to explain your position.
3. Each essay offers you a focused opportunity to improve your writing skills. Grammar, punctuation, spelling, and citation all figure in the act of scholarly writing. A short essay allows me to work with you on these details.
4. The 500-word essay represents a miniature paper that includes all of the same features of a longer paper. Indeed, the longer papers you will write as Skidmore students will often consist of subsections consistent with the goals of these shorter essays. That is, you can form a large paper by organizing your ideas into short subsections that address the different issues comprising your topic.
Finally, you should have writing clearly as your unambiguous goal. Consult the The Skidmore Guide to Writing for examples of how to cite, to punctuate, and to improve your ability to communicate in writing. For my seminars and classes, I ask that students use the MLA style of in-text citations with a "References Cited" section at the end.
The Essay A good essay has an arch with a beginning, middle, and end. Just like a half-hour (20- minute) television show, you need to grab your audience's attention with your opening sentence, let them know your topic, and project a thesis about what you plan to prove. A good title can also grab their attention. If you look at a newspaper, the front page will have several articles on it, each one hoping to capture your attention. The authors intend their titles and their first sentences to pull you into their articles. The title of your essay and your first sentence should identify your topic and make your reader want to continue. Often, the last sentence of the first paragraph presents your position.
The middle of your essay should explore the data that you hope will prove your thesis, just as in a mystery the detective compiles the evidence through observation, interviews, and analysis. You only have a few hundred words with which to accomplish this so choose your topic selectively and, just as you might find red herrings in a detective story
(i.e., clues that lead nowhere), choose your sources carefully. Citing your sources represents a particularly important feature of an academic essay. A reader should be able to trace the sources of your information back to the...