Too Long, Too Short, Just Right?: How to Fit your Whole Argument into Only Two Pages

With the end of the semester upon us, many of us are spending countless hours organizing information, developing arguments, and churning out page after page.  Getting to that, say, twentieth page is certainly demanding, but what about when we encounter the opposite scenario?  When instead of struggling to fill the pages, we have too much to say and not enough space to say it?  How do we offer our own interpretation of a subject, which most likely already has whole volumes devoted to it, in only two pages? These types of short papers, occasionally required by professors, are often more challenging than the standard five-pagers, and involve an entirely different approach than limitless research papers.  Yet, being able to convey a point persuasively and succinctly is an essential and adaptable skill.  The people who we will encounter in our future lives, especially in professional settings, will most likely only be interested in what they need to know, not everything we do know about a subject.  Similarly, in a 2-3 page analytical essay, we do not have the liberty to include all of our own thoughts and musings; our analysis must be focused and exact.  We cannot include every piece of evidence that supports our argument; we must only use the most evocative examples.  When writing such a paper, we must pick and choose, refine our ideas into a linear argument, and be precise.  Here are some suggestions to keep in mind:

The Argument as a Whole: Try to make your argument sharp, and avoid including too much summary.  Be sure to support every point specifically and effectively. There’s no need to compromise your argument just because you have less words to make it in.  While narrow and focused is best, complexity should not be sacrificed.

The Introduction: Your introduction should be very brief.  Try to present the issue you are addressing in only a sentence or two.  Keep the introduction more analytically focused than you would in a longer paper.  Offer the context of the debate you are considering, rather than the full background of the topic.

The Body Paragraphs: Consider constructing your argument so that the body paragraphs have a direct point of comparison.  By having an assertive transition that equates elements between each paragraph, you can ensure that your analysis is linked, logical, and refined, and can effectively make a full argument in only two paragraphs.

Using Quotes: Keep your quotes very short and precise- you want them to have some bite.  Save the broad, sweeping quotes for a longer paper.

Using Notes: If the assignment allows for footnotes and endnotes that are not included in the formal page count, you can use these to squeeze more information onto the page.  There will probably not be room for all that you want to say in your actual essay, but you can use notes to include select tangents.

The Conclusion: Still attempt to make a final, culminating point.  This should not be too general and does not necessarily need to be a resounding closing statement. Allow yourself to reflect upon the nuance and complexity of your argument.  A modest conclusion can be surprisingly effective.

-By Emma Caccamo ’13, written in consultation with Professor Nathanael Greene

1 comment for “Too Long, Too Short, Just Right?: How to Fit your Whole Argument into Only Two Pages

  1. Stefan
    May 12, 2011 at 10:01 pm

    Great– do any other profs besides N Greene ask for papers this short?

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