College history instructor Ronna Pennington has a Master of Liberal Arts in History and a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Non-fiction.
Word Counts Are Scary
Week after ever-lovin' week, your instructor assigns you to write a 350-word discussion post or essay about a provided topic. And every week, you wonder, "Why?"
Here's why: there's a degree of knowledge you should have about the question. The instructor is assessing to see whether or not you "get it." In those 350 words, you are expected to elaborate, to show that you know what you're talking about, and make connections to the material through an example or sharing a personal experience, if applicable.
In my experience as an instructor, I find that if I don't provide a word count requirement, it only makes matters worse for students. They want to do enough, but obviously not too much so they can move on to the next thing. No matter what the word count requirement -- 350 down to 150, I find that many students have writer's block when it comes to getting started. These tips will help you knock that block off!
1. Count as You Go
Write in a word processing program like Microsoft Word. It automatically counts the words at the bottom of the page. You can progress as soon as you type the first word! If you happen to copy and paste your question at the top of the page, don’t forget to subtract those words from your total word count. To check where you stand, highlight the text you have written, minus the question. Look at the word count to see how many words are highlighted
2. Restate the Question in Answer Form
Start by answering the question in complete sentences, and use the question. Here’s an example:
Question: Discuss the significance of the color yellow in The Great Gatsby.
My answer would start something like this:
The color yellow is significant in The Great Gatsby for a number of reasons.
It’s a simple introductory sentence so the reader knows exactly what you’ll be addressing (also known as a thesis statement). It also starts your paper with 14 words that you probably could have omitted just by jumping into the question. But, those 14 words are a good, simple, solid thesis AND they knock your remaining word count down to 336. It also sets you up to use additional words like first, secondly, and lastly, which will also add to your word count.
3. Give an Opinion or Example (as Appropriate)
Add an opinion or an example. In the example above relating to The Great Gatsby, I might write something like this:
Yellow is often associated with cowards. For example, in a song called “The Coward of the County,” singer Kenny Rogers notes that a young man named Tommy was more frequently called “Yellow,” a nickname he received for his well-known cowardliness.
Yes, it’s cheesy. BUT, it shows that I relate to the idea that yellow is symbolic of cowardliness. That shows your instructor that you relate to the principle in your own terms, which is exactly what they are looking for. It also gave me 40 words to contribute to my paper!
4. Take a Look From Different Viewpoint
Consider an alternate or opposing viewpoint, then refute it. Here’s an example following The Great Gatsby topic:
Sometimes yellow is symbolic of sunshine. On the surface, Gatsby may appear sunny with his yellow suits, ties, roadster, and golden interior home décor. Really, though, those colors hide his fears and his loneliness.
That, my friends, is another 34 words!
Make clarifications. I could do that by adding this sentence to the excerpt in #4:
Since he is hiding behind his fears, he is really being a coward, which is the stronger symbolism of yellow. (That’s 20 words.)
By doing this, I’ve already written 108 words, and I’ve barely touched on the symbolism of the color yellow in The Great Gatsby.
Last, but Not Least
Lastly, always summarize what you’ve written. It’s a great way to close an argument and an easy way to end an essay. To close mine, I might write something like:
There are many colors mentioned in The Great Gatsby, but the color yellow offers the most symbolism. On the surface, yellow makes Gatsby seem like a happy or “sunny” man, but he is really hiding behind that color. He is actually a coward who fears a life without Daisy and does everything superficial that he can to win her heart again. He fears his past being made public and has even written off his family members to keep his former life of poverty from ever surfacing…..
You see how this is going.
Once you’ve practiced this for a while, it gets easier. Soon, you’ll be writing a page with little effort!
Questions & Answers
Question: How do you get ideas on writing an essay in 350 words if you have no ideas?
Answer: If you have no idea, ask yourself these questions:
1)What have we been studying? Is there something I could write about?
2) What do I love? What do I hate? Generally, those things that you are either passionate about or against will be good topics to start with.
3) Are you overlooking part of the assignment? Maybe you weren't assigned a topic but were assigned for it to be informative or persuasive. If it's informative, write about a hobby you have, the music you love, a person you admire. If it's persuasive, think about your strongest beliefs and write about one of them.
If you need more ideas, please write back!
© 2018 Ronna Pennington
jacobhill on May 09, 2018:
It''s a great information and thanking for share it