How long should a short essay be? Find out

Last Updated: 24 August 2023

Short essay guide

By now, you already understand that an essay could be short or long, depending on many factors that control essay length. Although we also know that essays are not as extensive as research papers, we can further break down essays into long or short.

If you are here because of the imminent confusion the length of essays brings, you are better off reading this article to the end. It is the only reliable, in-depth, and most elaborative guide to writing an excellent short essay � any short essay. We talk about short essay answers, college admission essays, personal statements, personal profile essays, short biographies, summaries, and other short papers.

Although we covered the ideal length of a comprehensive essay, in this guide we delve deeper specifically on a short essay.

We demystify everything from the definition of short essays, how to write the short papers, and other aspects related to short papers. And because today is your lucky day, we will also provide examples to illustrate further how to write a short essay and score the best grades.

What is a short essay?

An essay refers to a piece of formal prose writing that highlights the author's arguments, claims, counterarguments, and opinions, mainly dealing with a single subject. Essays are meant to persuade the readers using selected research evidence. Essays can either be formal or informal, depending on the audience. However, they are primarily formal.

Although there is no code as to what is a short essay, we can insinuate based on word count or essay length what a short essay is and what it is not.

A short essay, also called a brief essay, refers to an essay with a word count of between 200 to 500 words or one/two typewritten pages in length. It is a complete essay with a brief thesis statement, hook sentence, introduction background, body paragraphs, and a conclusion.

Sometimes, short essays might require the use of one or two external scholarly sources to support the thesis statement or the main argument.

You can be assigned to write a short essay in high school, college, during undergraduate, or when you are pursuing your graduate school. Graduate school essays, graduate school admission essays, and exam answers in graduate school exams are examples of advanced short essays.

A short essay is focused, clear, and has a direct line of argument. A short essay also has a shorter deadline, mostly in hours or within a day, except for the admission essays. In addition, short essays answer questions or topics that are assigned. Finally, the introduction and conclusion should be no more than one paragraph in a short essay.

Regardless of the length of your essay, remember that the introduction and conclusion comprise 10% of the total word count, and the body paragraphs make up the rest of the 80% of the word count.

Short Essay Format

Unlike an extended essay where you go broad in terms of explanations and evidence presented, in a short essay, you have to limit the words you use in your arguments and presenting ideas. In addition, it follows a specific structure that can either be five paragraphs or three paragraphs.

General Format of a short essay

A typical essay has three parts: Introduction, main body, and a conclusion. Let's explore what goes to each point.


The introduction is the most significant component of a short essay. You should limit yourself to one short paragraph, comprising 10% of your entire paper. It should grab the attention of your readers and pique their interest to read the essay. It should also be the point where you declare the essay topic. Keeping it concise, clear, and informative carries the day.

The first sentence of your short essay should be a hook. It could be a claim of the urgency of the topic, a statistic, fact, or quote. The body sentences should give adequate background, explore the problem or issue at hand, and transition to the thesis statement.

Main Body

The main body comprises 80% of the entire paper. Depending on the preferred format, it can either have three or five short paragraphs.

The body paragraphs should each contain a unique idea that supports the thesis. The first paragraph should have the strongest argument supported with proper facts. Also, ensure that you use a quotation, summary, or paraphrased ideas from other sources. As you write the paragraphs, ensure that you link them together using connectors or transition words and conjunctions to make the text coherent, clear, and relatable. A good flow is desirable for the main body.


This is the final part of your short essay; it should equally comprise 10% of the total word count. Therefore, it is best to maintain it as one paragraph.

This section summarizes your entire paper offer insights to your readers about the significance of your subject or topic. Finally, the conclusion should satisfy your reader and offer some sense of closure.

Three paragraphs short essay format

As the name suggests, the 3-paragraph short essay format comprises an introduction paragraph, a body paragraph, and a concluding paragraph.

The first paragraph, the introduction, states the essay's main idea. Then, in the second paragraph, you will support the main idea and summarize the main points of your short essay in the third paragraph.

Since it is rather a short essay, in most cases, the first sentence serves as the hook and sometimes the thesis statement. You can launch to the main points directly without bothering with the introduction and conclusion.

In most cases, you will write a three-paragraph short essay when responding to essay questions. It can be the essay-type questions assigned in an exam or a stand-alone short essay assignment. You can answer the question without sticking to the formalities and conventions required for a comprehensive essay.

Not much distinguishes a short answer from a short essay since both have a few sentences and paragraphs. However, the latter will probably be a paragraph long. And if you notice that your short essay goes to something like 600 to 900 words, you can write it in the five-paragraph format.

Five paragraphs short essay format

In a 5-paragraph short essay, you can keep your essay shorter but still adhere to the conventions of a formal structure. You will have an introduction paragraph, three body paragraphs, and a concluding paragraph.

Although you will have five paragraphs, you must balance them to ensure they address the points they should. For example, the three body paragraphs must support your thesis. Each has a topic sentence, supporting ideas, and a concluding sentence. You must also use transition words and connectors to maintain flow within these paragraphs.

At the end of your essay, you will write the conclusion. The conclusion should restate your main idea in your own words. If assigned to write an essay between 600 and 900 words or three pages, you can format it as a 5-paragraph short essay and develop the paragraphs.

How to write a short essay step-by-step

You can be assigned to write a short essay. It can be an admission essay, descriptive essay, argumentative/persuasive essay, thematic essay, or synthesis essay. If that is the case, you need to follow the following steps to write a good short essay that will attract better grading from your professor.

Step 1: Identify your topic

In most cases, when assigned a short or brief essay, you will be provided with an essay prompt that details the instructions and sometimes how the essay will be assessed. Reading through the prompt helps you identify the essay question, topic, and scope.

After reading the prompt, you can either pick the listed topics or choose an interesting topic that meets the requirements.

Most students who fail do not take their time to read the essay prompt or do it hurriedly, missing the important elements.

At this point, if you have questions about the topic you have chosen or understand the instructions, it is best to contact your professor.

Step 2: Research widely on the topic

With the topic at hand, it is time to find more information. You can only do that through researching on the internet.

Do not go for a too broad topic. Instead, choose a narrow topic. The topic can come from the question.

You can read materials that can make you understand how to contextualize your essay. As this essay is short, you will need a few sources. But the preliminary research aims to familiarize, develop ideas, and take a stance.

A good topic could be: "The rise of Broke Millenials in contemporary American society."

Step 3: Develop and narrow your main argument

In a short essay, there is no wasting of words. Therefore, you need to focus on a central idea. With the light of research, you already would have developed an insightful mind and taken a stance.

You will choose the angle of analysis for your essay depending on the topic and available information.

If you write a short essay for an in-class assessment or college application, ensure that your chosen main argument answers the prompt or questions.

Step 4: Carefully select 1-2 reliable sources

As you were researching, you were expected to take notes and organize your research because that is the drill everywhere when writing an essay.  

For high school, college, master's, and graduate essays, you must support your ideas with high-quality scholarly articles, scholarly books, peer-reviewed articles, and credible website content information. For a short essay, you can use either one or two sources.

You can get scholarly articles from databases such as JSTOR, PROQUEST, LION, or Google Scholar. Use articles from reliable websites if your instructors allow using web content. In this case, focus on magazines, organizational, government, or media websites.

Step 5: Create an outline

As you compose your short essay, you must map how you will approach the essay. Creating an outline before writing a short essay helps you organize your paragraphs. You can number your paragraphs and list the transitions to be used. An essay written after outlining is well-organized, convincing, and flows well.

As you outline your essay, ensure that you write a convincing and arguable thesis statement. Having a solid thesis statement in short/brief essay will determine your paper's tone, direction, and scope. In addition, the statement should sum up the central argument or the stance you have taken in the essay.

An example of a thesis statement: "Even though immigrants are being mistreated at the US border, USA is a country that has more to boast about thanks to early immigrants, and immigration laws should be reviewed."

Step 6: Write the first draft

Begin developing the paragraphs of your essay. First, you can write the introduction paragraph, which should explain the topic of your essay.

Make a specific statement about the essay topic and your main argument, and give facts (more like a mini background statement).

Explain what the essay discusses and give evidence you will use when writing. Go direct to the point without wasting time. Write the thesis in the second or third sentence in your introduction to orient the readers into your body paragraphs.

The introduction and the conclusion should be shorter, not more than 10% of the total word count. For example, the introduction of a short essay can have 6-7 sentences, while the conclusion can have 3-4 sentences.

Your body paragraphs should develop your main argument. Ensure that each paragraph focuses on one point. Prove the claims of the paragraphs using quotes, facts, and examples from your selected sources. Ensure that the paragraphs have a brief topic and concluding sentences.

As you write, include in-text citations if necessary. Ensure that you write short sentences in an active voice. For example, you can begin sentences with a subject and their action.

The conclusion for a short essay should restate your main claim in your own words and reverberate the evidence provided in the essay.

Step 7: Polish your essay

After writing your short essay, take a short break to break the monotony. Then, after a while, come back and edit, proofread, re-write, and polish your essay. You can use the third eye to see for you what your subjective eyes might miss.

Therefore, you can use an online proofreader or ask your friend to read your first draft to spot mistakes and errors. In addition, criticisms from the third-person help you hone your writing skills.

If it is a short exam essay, ensure that you polish everything.  

Step 8: Revise the first draft into a final essay

With the feedback on your rough draft, get back to work again, this time with an objective mind. Correct the mistakes, realign the paper's contents, and ensure that everything flows to turn it into a final draft.

Shortening your essay is necessary, especially with a strict word limit. If you are below the word count, ensure you also lengthen your essay. If the essay is okay, ensure it has the right format and citation style, then submit it for grading.

Short Essay Example

Short essays can be between 1-2 pages and sometimes 3. Below are some good examples of short essays that can inspire your research and writing.

Sample a short essay on the Effects of Road Rage

Below is a sample short essay of 900 words. Look at it to familiarize yourself with the process of writing a short essay. The instructor wanted more sources to be used. The sample essay is about the effects of road rage.

Sample short essay

Sample Personal Statement (Geology Student)

We indicated that personal statements are examples of short essays. In this sample adopted from Penn State College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, we show you how to write application essays and personal statements that will wow your markers.

Personal statement sample

Final Remarks

Related Read: How to write an informative essay.

You will encounter a short essay as an assignment in high school, college, and university through graduate school studies. It is a brief essay meant to test your grasp of essay writing and course concepts.

It can be a response or reaction essay. The discussion posts in class are perfect examples of short essays within the class context. These short essays should integrate ideas from the class, class readings, and notes from class while at the same time borrowing ideas from secondary sources.

Be extra careful with your choice of words, phrases, and expressions. And observe the eight steps we have highlighted above when writing your next short essay.

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