Summary: Writing and Roberts Essay

Submitted By meow20
Words: 799
Pages: 4

Summary: How To Say Nothing In Five Hundred Words Professor Paul Roberts (1917-1967) argues that “the writer’s job is to find the argument, the approach, the angle, the wording to take the reader with him” in his 1956 essay, “How to Say Nothing In Five Hundred Words.” Roberts establishes a likely scenario of a college student in the 50’s: to write a five hundred-word essay on college football. He begins the scenario essay with mediocre writing, summarizing the potential student’s struggle for words. Roberts finishes the first draft of the example essay, stressing the difficulty students have when trying to meet the criteria of a 500-word essay. Roberts continues with the scenario, informing his audience that the submitted essay is returned to the student with a D grade. He ponders the possible explanations of why the student earned such a low grade; then flips the switch and defines the writer’s job, complete with how to earn a higher grade through writing. Roberts explains the first step to getting a higher grade: avoid the obvious content. Using the same college football prompt as before, he claims: “sometimes it is a good idea to sum up and dispose of the trite and conventional points before going on to your own.” His example then demonstrates this concept, getting the obvious ideas out of the way and making room for more creative ones that should be focused on instead. His next suggestion to improve the essay is to take the less usual side. Roberts believes that writers should “take the side of the argument that most of the citizens will want to avoid.” According to Roberts, using this technique makes the essay more interesting to write, and it also helps the essay appeal to the reader. Another point Roberts makes to diversify the traditional essay is to slip out of abstraction. The writer must include valid detail that helps the audience see his or her subject in a dramatic, or more exciting view. “You have to display the evil,” Roberts declares, “You must dig up more real content.” He talks briefly about professional writers and their flow of writing before moving on to the next technique.

Roberts informs his audience that writers need to “get rid of obvious padding.” He uses examples of sentences that start off small but increase their wording to the point that they mean nothing. He states: “Instead of stuffing your sentences with straw, you must try steadily to get rid of the padding, to make your sentences lean and tough.” Roberts then turns sentences that are too long and unfocused into sentences that are strong, flow well, and are to the point.

Robert’s next tip is something most college students are guilty of in their writing: excessive timidity. The timidity most college students demonstrate in their writing proves that they are too scared to take a side; they fear their professors will disagree with them and give them an unsatisfactory grade. He claims writers need to “call a fool a fool.” Roberts uses an example of a student calling their high school principal a fool, but the student makes the sentence more timid. “If he was a fool, call him a fool,”…