A “shorty” is a 400-700 word essay which makes a substantive point about topic in the course of in the readings. The goal of a shorty is to address in very concise form a particular issue. Typically, the shorty contains a brief presentation of some aspect of the assigned reading for the week, as well as your own assessment of the view presented. Before you choose the topic on which to write, you must first carefully read all the assignments for that week.

Fair Presentation of Others’ Ideas:

Sometimes you will have a strong reaction against an article. This makes it easier to write a shorty. However, you must be very careful not to misconstrue what an author has said in your critique. (This is known as “creating a straw man,” because it is easily knocked down.) Instead, try to explain the position as sympathetically as possible. Ask yourself, would this writer agree that this is his or her position? Or would he or she indignantly (and plausibly) respond, “I didn’t say that and it doesn’t follow from what I did say!”

Sometimes you will really like an article because it expresses views you hold. That’s a little harder to write about, but it is possible. After saying what the position is, give additional reasons why you think it is right, or consider possible objections to the position, and try to answer those objections. In fact, you should always consider possible objections to your view, and try to meet them. It makes your paper stronger.

“But I Need More Space to Write Anything Meaningful!”

Actually, you don’t. It’s good discipline for you to be forced to be concise.


The style should be fairly formal and impersonal. (How you came to choose a particular topic, or whether it was difficult to write on is not relevant.) Use plain, clear language. Nothing is gained by fancy words or phrases. Avoid clichés, such as “From time immemorial, man has been concerned about….” Nor do you need an introductory paragraph. Too often, an introduction is just filler, and you don’t have room for that. Just start right in with your thesis or argument or take on the issue.

Do not refer to yourself in the third person, as in “This writer thinks…” Use the first person when referring to yourself, as in “I think…” Do not say “I feel…” when you mean “I think…”

You don’t need a title or footnotes. When you refer to an author, just put the author’s name and page number in parentheses. That should make the reference obvious.

Rewriting is an essential component of good writing. Ideally, you will write your shorty in enough time to allow for at least one rewrite before handing it in. If you can leave the shorty for a day or so, then when you come back to it, you will see the weaknesses, such as lack of clarity, lack of focus, or contradictory positions, more clearly. Edit ruthlessly to get it down to 1-2 pages. In your final draft, remove all irrelevant remarks and unnecessary words. Check to make sure you are not repeating yourself. Be professional about your writing. Proofread carefully the final draft to remove any spelling or typographical errors. Please check to make sure you have not made common (and irritating) errors, such as confusing the contraction “it’s” (which is short for “it is”) and the possessive pronoun “its” (which has no apostrophe). Please do not rely exclusively on “spell check.” It does not pick up errors such as confusing “to” and “too” or “your” and “you’re.”

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