Help! My Draft is Too Short!

This is the time to deal with a common student fear. Many students are afraid of boring people, so they simply touch lightly on topics, then let the reader's imagination fill in the blanks. That isn't really writing, and it doesn't deal with a common reader need: to become informed. People read things so that they can know, so tell them!

Diagnosing your problem

Underline Main Points

If one main point is just after another, you haven't developed the first one. Simply stating a big idea in a topic sentence, then dropping it, is not enough to really "develop" a point. Give examples. Explain what you mean. Show us statistics. Don't assume that we will believe you just because you wrote a single sentence.

Check your thesis

The thesis is the main point your paper is making. If you cannot say, in just a few words, what this paper is doing, you need to work on finding your point.

Too small?

Maybe it's so limited that there really isn't more to say. If it's really so tiny (this isn't often a problem) that you have exhausted all the possibilities in 300 words, consider expanding it a bit. Usually, though, the problem is that your thesis (and the paper as a whole) depend on fuzzy general statements: "My girlfriend is really great. She's always there for me. I don't know what I would do without her." (What, exactly, does that cliché "She's always there for me" mean? Can you give an example?)

Not focused?

Often a generalized thesis leads to very generalized statements. These have the feeling of exhausting the topic, but they are only naming it:

Strangely enough, the big, gassy, generalized thesis statements do not lead to big papers; they lead to small ones. Look at academic papers from journals or textbooks. They usually have very specific thesis statements that you won't instantly agree with (so they need to be proven with facts and logic). Here are a couple of examples:

Fix that thesis

Finding more to say

Return to Idea Generation

If you began writing the "final" before you did all the prewriting, go back. Freewriting, clustering, and brainstorming are not time-wasters; they are the phase in which you find the raw material for your essay.

Make it longer by filling in the blanks

Your job description is "explainer." Don't make your reader do that work! Don't assume that people know what you are thinking! Don't assume that a generalized "suitcase" word like beautiful or great or even generous will do the work. I know what I think those words mean, but I don't know what you think they mean. Tell me!

Expand your canvas

Does your little personal story have any larger significance?

What is the next question?

What's the next thing we need to know?

What's the next thing we need to do?

So what?

Is there any significance to this issue beyond the immediate? Any application to the real world? Any further research or thinking necessary? Does any of your essay actually mean anything outside the English classroom? Tell us! (But avoid a preachy tone that really violates your relationship with your audience!)

Consider legitimate reader questions.

Is there anything left unsaid? Anything that an intelligent reader needs in order to understand?


Adapted from Rawlins, Jack, and Stephen Metzger. The Writer's Way. 7th ed., Houghton Mifflin, 2009.


The views and opinions expressed in this page are strictly those of the page author.
The contents of this page have not been reviewed or approved by Ashland University.
Revised 1/23/18 • Page author: Curtis Allen • e-mail: callen@ashland.edu.