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Wednesday, September 7, 2016 When your Prompt is Too Short

It’s happened before. You’ve scoured your syllabus for the final essay prompt for five minutes and it is nowhere to be found. You’re getting kind of nervous because your paper due in two days and it’s supposed to be six pages long. Then, out of the corner of your eye, you see the smallest sentence you’ve ever seen in your life. Horrified, you realize it’s your essay prompt. What on earth are you supposed to do?

Most times when essay prompts are short, they’re also pretty broad. In this instance, you have some freedoms with creating your own topic niches. Of course, if your professor has specifically told you what areas of the topic to write about, do that. But if they haven’t, try to work up some specifics on your own. I’ll give you a few examples on how to increase the length of your paper by narrowing your topic. 


“Write about music history”

For this prompt, you could write about the different eras you learned in your class or other aspects like how art influenced music history, the sociological aspects of music through history, or important individuals that influenced music history. Then, you would take 3-5 of the ideas and form a thesis around it.

For the idea about the individuals that influenced music history, you could choose five people and write one paragraph on each of them. This would be a great way to look at specific aspects of music history through a chronological time period.


“Discuss the importance of the Civil War”

There is no denying that the Civil War was important, but in what way was it important? That’s for you to decide. Was it important socially, physiologically, and physically? How did it influence the America we have today? For the last idea, you could discuss 3-5 different aspects of the Civil War that directly affect the development of contemporary America, like the removal of slavery and the establishment of the flag as a symbol of freedom.


“How should a parent raise their child?”

For this prompt, as with the others, there is so much information that could be written, but remember, you want to focus your ideas. You could focus on parenting styles, physical actions that parents can use to raise their children, or a spiritual path that parents can take to raise a family. You could write a compare and contrast paper on how parents should and shouldn’t raise their child to emphasize the positives as well. Try to find 3-5 ideas within a specific niche (like physical, spiritual, or psychological) to write about. That way, your paper will be specific, focused, and answer the prompt.


There is also the chance that you might be forgetting other instructions that the professor gave during class or in other documents. Look through them CAREFULLY because while you can write a great paper on small prompts like the ones above, if you don’t follow the instructions, you’ll be in trouble.


If you’re still stuck and really can’t figure out ideas, come see us at the Writing Center! The coaches are great sounding boards to talk about ideas with, and we can help you brainstorm and organize your paper. Good luck!


Posted at 9:10 AM | Comments (0)
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