500-Word Essays – An Effective Technique You Learned In High School

by Randy Murray on January 27, 2010

This week I’ll be publishing five short posts on the craft of writing.

Today: The 500-Word Essay

Many people struggle with writing. Clear communication is one of the fundamental tools of good management and many find the act of writing a simple explanatory memo daunting. And now that business owners and “thought leaders” are being told that they have to blog and tweet, they find writing back at the top of their to do lists.  I often speak with business owners and their top complaint is that they don’t have the time or energy to write about what they’re doing. They tell me how difficult it is for them to write. They can’t get started.

But you don’t have to struggle. You know how to do this. You were trained how to do it in high school. It was drilled into you in college. The 500-word essay is the ideal tool to help you clarify your thoughts and ideas and deliver them to your audience.

Your teachers didn’t care about the 500 words. What they wanted from you was clear thinking and a strongly presented argument. Expository writing is about informing, explaining, and describing. Isn’t that what you need to do today on your blog and in your marketing? 500 words might have seemed daunting to that twelve-year-old version of yourself, you now know that 500 words is actually a very small space in which to convey an idea or argument.

The form is simple. You need these three things:

  1. An introduction that includes your thesis. Your introduction does not have to be limited to a single paragraph. My thesis for this essay is at the end of the second paragraph.
  2. The body where you deliver clear information and the details to state your case. Use of strong imagery, evidence, and description will help you to convey your ideas.
  3. A short conclusion – approximately 50 words - to summarize and reinforce your argument.

And here’s something that most people have forgotten from school. Sitting down and pounding out 500 words isn’t the point. If you really want to communicate, you need to structure your arguments and test your ideas BEFORE you start writing. That means making notes and laying out your ideas with a pen and paper (or the computer equivalent) first. This is the hardest thing to teach, especially to adults. Yes, you know your business. But thinking and communicating are more difficult than you think.

To be successful in writing you need to spend time before you type your first word to capture your ideas, gather your information, and consider the impact on your reader. If you do this, you’ll find that writing 500 words is simple. In fact, you’ll probably discover that it is difficult to restrict yourself to 500 words.

When you master the 500-word essay, I think you’ll find that you no longer have to stick closely to the basic form. You’ll find that once you are comfortable organizing your ideas and presenting them clearly that you are free to write as you wish. You won’t fear the blank page.

That was my 500 words. Your assignment for next week: write a 500-word essay on your business (or personal) objectives for this year and why they are important to your ongoing success. Please enter your topic in the comments below.

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