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“How to Say Nothing in Five Hundred Words” by Paul McHenry Roberts Essay

Paul McHenry Roberts’ 1956 article, “How to Say Nothing in Five Hundred Words,” deals with the common traps faced by many young writers while writing essays. His advice includes tips on making a dull subject exciting, engaging the reader with unexpected topics and arguments, and developing a fully thought out essay that will be sure to earn a good grade in the classroom. Roberts says to come up with a list of arguments off hand and write them down but do not use any of them, as they are most likely overused and predictable. Instead he suggests to take the path most people would avoid, since it will most likely be easier to make your writing interesting. In addition, do not overuse generalities by never truly getting into a subject. Include facts and stories to get readers interested, instead of a dull sentence with your point of view. Roberts says to get rid of the extra words that fill papers and really give no extra value to your writing.

He calls this “padding” in your paper. It is just a way to reach your word goal without saying much at all. Come up with more real content and take out the extra. Give your ideas and then prove why you are correct. Whatever you need to say, say it without apologizing. Roberts advises writers to avoid overused, common expressions such as, “over my dead body” or “under cover of darkness”. He says even the best writers cannot avoid them all together, but they should only be used when nothing else seems to fit, as they add nothing special to the paper. The last of Professor Roberts’ recommendations is the importance of using “colorful, colored and colorless words.”

Using colorful words paints the reader a picture and describes a subject further, although sometimes there may be no need to do so. Colored words are words that everyone can associate with, or would have mutual feelings towards. These include certain people, places or things anyone can relate to. Writers must be careful when using words that lack a strong emotional association with their audience, as failure to do so will send the wrong message. Similarly, colorless words are words that are common and have a very general meaning. They fail to add much when used to describe a subject and are recommended to be avoided when possible.

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