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How to Write Short Answers to Questions


Short answer questions are exactly that: brief answers to questions that demonstrate your knowledge. In some cases, a couple of sentences will suffice. It could be argued that writing answers to short questions is more of a challenge than a personal essay since you are usually limited to a certain number of words. This means you must express clarity and get straight to the point while at the same time making sure you have written just enough to demonstrate your knowledge. Avoid using cliches, sarcasm, or providing way too much or even irrelevant details. Sometimes less is more.

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The Key to Writing Short Answers Correctly

  • Make sure the question is clear.
  • This might seem self-evident, but you would be surprised to realize how many students rush through the question, draw their own assumptions, and then writing something that does not even come close to answering the question.
  • Be persuasive and emotional.
By using persuasive, emotional language you can demonstrate to the reader that your points are valid. While students often lose points for including nonsensical or factually false information, it is also common to be penalized for not stressing how important their points are, even when the points themselves are reasonable on the surface.
  • Determine whether a point is truly worth mentioning before you include it.
The length of your answer is limited, which means every word counts. This is why you should be careful to only include the points that truly have an impact. Even if you think of an idea that seems interesting or unique, if it is not directly related to the topic, you will undoubtedly be penalized. Indeed, it will only distract from the strong points that you have made. Staying focused throughout the answer is key.

Short-Answer Versus Short Essay Questions

Contrary to popular belief, short-answer and short essay questions are not one in the same. While they might seem similar on a superficial level, the truth is they are different in so many significant ways.


Short Answer: A reader who has complete knowledge about the topic, especially the professor or instructor who designed the test. Short Essay: Someone with either layman’s knowledge or no previously knowledge about the topic at all. Adding some background information to familiarize the reader about the topic is a requirement.


Short Answer: A maximum of four sentences, if even that much. Conciseness is essential. Short Essay: Usually around one to three pages.


Short Answer: Often confined to very specific, fact-based information that is found solely in the course material/readings. Short Essay: Can also be based on a specific issue and include course material, but also contains additional sources that the student must research.


Short Answer: Consists of a couple of sentences or a paragraph at most. Choosing words carefully is important in order to create the strongest impact. Short Essay: A minimum three paragraphs that follow the conventional ‘intro, body, conclusion’ structure. The introduction gives a reader an idea about what will be discussed. The body addresses the main points and is usually between one and three pages long. The conclusion restates the main arguments, discusses the broader implications, and can serve as a call to action.

Tips for answering open-ended questions

What exactly is an open-ended question? It is simple. An open-ended question allows students a chance to answer a question in detail beyond merely “yes” or “no”.
  • Open-ended questions require you to use some thought as you develop your own person response to the question at hand.
  • These types of questions often follow multiple-choice questions on an exam.
  • While the time to complete open-ended questions can very, you should allow yourself around ten to fifteen minutes.
Suggestions that can help you succeed on open-ended questions:
  • Determine the main points and crucial details while reading the excerpt.
  • In order to make sure the question is clear, it is best to read it a couple of times
  • Use the ‘Question, Answer, Support, Insights’ approach
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A Proper Strategy for Writing Open-Ended Answers to Questions:


After being given the prompt, state the question in the answer. This signals to your instructor that you understand the question and are familiar with the text.


  • Do not skip over any part of the question.
  • Based on the number of bullets to the question, each one should be answered in its own paragraph. (i.e., two bullets = two paragraphs)
  • Should the bullet itself contain multiple parts, all of them need answers. Not answering completely is certain to lower your score.


  • This is arguably the most important aspect
  • The information should come directly from the source, whether it is in the form of quotations, paraphrasing, or summarization.
  • An example of proper transition could be: In the second paragraph, the author argues…


  • This final step consists of conclusions. How you do on this can make a huge difference on your score.
  • Discuss the question in terms of the broader implications or even apply it to personal experiences or current events.
  • You want to finish on the right note, so do not be afraid to use some creativity and leave a positive impression.

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