Cutting Words

How to get your essay down to 650 Words

  1. Summarize the thesis of your essay in one sentence, and look for parts of the essay that aren’t relevant to it. For example, “I worked hard to prove to my father that I could take care of a pet, and that shows my work ethic.” The thesis of your essay should really be that simple (and doesn’t have to be eloquent; it’s just for you and shouldn’t appear in your essay!). As you go through the following steps, continually ask yourself whether each part of your essay helps prove that thesis.

  1. Be careful. Your essay should show rather than tell your experience. DO NOT CUT the details that describe the experience, person, etc. at the center of your essay. Also DO NOT CUT any lines that you love, that show your talent as a writer (as long as these lines describe your experience).

  1. Consider your introduction. If you write your introduction first, it’s like a warm-up. It’s where you begin thinking about your topic and putting words on the page. Often, where you start your thinking is not actually where you should start your essay. If your introduction looks like a warm-up, or gives background information you don’t need in your essay, or isn’t actually what you want to start with, cut it. If you remove your introduction, rework your new first paragraph to start the way you want to (or write a new introduction).

  1. Cut extraneous paragraphs. Look at every paragraph and think about what it contributes to bringing out the thesis of your essay. If a paragraph contributes nothing, cut it. You may have to change transitions and rework your essay a bit after cutting entire paragraphs.

  1. Cut extraneous sentences. Now look within your paragraphs. Cut out any sentences that repeat something you’ve said before, or that don’t contribute to showing the thesis of your essay. Also cut any sentences that are too expository; you should be showing an experience or relationship, not summarizing it.

  1. Cut extraneous words. Look at the first style tip on this page to do that:

Example: 689 words to 499 words

Gerbils 101

In general, I had a happy childhood. My mom signed me up for gymnastics and swimming lessons, and my younger brother and I played together all the time. There was one thing I felt like I was always missing, though: a pet. One of my friends had an adorable dog named Muffin, and I loved playing with him. I would walk him at my friend’s house and was convinced that I would love my own dog just as much.

Like many other children, I wanted a pet when I was a child. However, unfortunately in my opinion, like many other parents, mine worried that I would forget to care for a pet, or grow tired of it after a few weeks. They always said no. By the time I was in sixth grade, I had scaled down my requests from dogs and cats to hamsters and gerbils. Once I started asking for gerbils, my brother started asking for birds, but he never followed through in the same way that I did. My dad said maybe, but on one condition. I would have to prove my readiness with thorough research and sound financial planning.

The requirements were as follows: a two page proposal, handwritten, to include the intended type of pet, basic facts about the animal, the care required to keep it healthy, the approximate monthly cost of caring for it, and a bibliography of at least three sources, cited correctly. I am uncertain whether my father thought I was capable of following through on this task, or if he thought he was setting the bar too high for his pre-adolescent daughter to succeed. But I followed through on my side of the bargain, and my parents followed through on theirs. I spent several afternoons at the town library and submitted my report in a binder. I put aside $50 for potential veterinary visits, put $32 in my pocket for six months of food and the gerbils themselves, and asked mom and dad for a ride to the pet store. I was soon the proud owner of Zach and Clyde, two Mongolian gerbils.

The first day they came home with me was the most exciting day that 12-year-old me had ever experienced. I opened the box they’d come home in inside their cage, to let them discover their new environment on their own. I’d learned that touching gerbils before they’re used to their new home can scare them, so I just sat in front of their cage for hours watching them on that first day. I hope that I would have cared for them equally as well if they had been handed to me for free, but I’m not sure I would have. The hard work that went into their acquisition made me appreciate those two critters more than anything else that I had ever called my own. I fed them every day, cleaned their cage every week, and let them run around my desk as I did my homework. Zach and Clyde were my first real reward for scholarship. Maybe I came to associate research and writing with furry pets, or maybe that’s stretching it, but as I grew older, my love for scholarship grew.

I wrote my first research paper because I wanted a pet. Later that year, I would propose and complete an independent study science project in which I would write a paper and create a poster about the muscles used in a softball pitch. In high school, I would join the debate team and do hours of research, writing and revising every week outside of my regular classes. I eventually became captain of the debate team in my junior year. When it came time for the sophomore year research paper, I would revel in the process of researching, finding important facts, and tying them together with my own words and ideas. I look forward to continuing to follow my passions in a collegiate setting. While I hesitate to say that my love of research, writing, and exploration stems directly from the work I completed to earn my gerbils, I can’t help but think it’s related.

BACK to Senior Writing

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