When an instructor of any grade level imposes a specific word quota on an essay assignment, it's for one of two reasons that will benefit the student later in life. The first is to get him to invest serious time in the research and development of a complex topic beyond a simplistic answer such as, "The Civil War happened because the North and the South didn't get along." The second is to hone her analytical and organization skills so that she can recognize when she has delivered enough content to make her point. Here's how to write an essay that will satisfy both instructional objectives.
Gather all of your study notes and research materials in one place where they'll be easily accessible. This will save you time and stress; the less frantic you are about assembling your data, the more focused you'll be on the creative process when you actually start writing.
Make a list of all of the pertinent points and/or persuasive arguments you want to address in your essay (i.e., why you believe the legal voting age in the United States should be dropped to 16). This can either be a list you create on your computer or on individual index cards. The latter is often the easier method if you're not sure what the best order is to develop your essay so that each element flows smoothly and logically into the next.
Create a five-act outline for your paper with the following headings: Introduction, Act 1, Act 2, Act 3, and Conclusion. Acts 1 through 3 will form the bulk of your essay and each of these sections should hold equal amounts of content. Since the project is limited to a maximum of 2,000 words, allocate 500 words to each act. This leaves 500 words for your introductory thesis and your summary. Assign a cap of 150 words for your introduction and 350 words for your concluding remarks.
Identify what your essay is going to be about. Even if the topic has been given to you by your teacher, you'll need to elaborate on this in your introductory statement by providing the reader with a brief preview of how you intend to address the material. You'll also need to determine what the takeaway value will be for your readers; i.e., persuading them to embrace your point of view on a controversial subject after reading your arguments and supporting evidence. The takeaway value will be reflected in the introduction as well as reinforced in the conclusion.
Assign each of the points you came up with in Step 2 to one of the three sections of your outline. Even a nonfiction essay adheres to traditional storytelling structure by presenting a problem in the first act, compounding that problem with more obstacles in the second act, and then resolving it by the third. For example, in an essay about the causes of the Civil War you would devote the first section to background information on both sides, add fuel to the controversy in the second act by showing how their hostilities toward one another impacted trade relations with Europe, and devote your final section to how irreconcilable differences led to four years of bloodshed.
Write your first draft of the essay straight through, then go back and start the editing process. If you're trying to edit at the same time you're writing, it's harder to establish a smooth rhythm from one section to the next.
Stay on message by frequently referring back to your thesis statement and making sure that each section relates to it.
Rephrase and reiterate the three key points of your essay in the conclusion. As a demonstration of your interpretation skills, your closing summary should also convey to the reader what you learned from your research and, in some cases, how you intend to apply these insights to your own life.
Give your essay to friends who aren't familiar with your subject matter and ask them if it reads well and is easy to understand.
Refrain from making broad generalizations (i.e., "everyone thinks such-and-such") that aren't supported by solid evidence (i.e., "Civil War expert and author Stella Fitzwitz believes thus-and-so"). Refrain from using slang and contractions unless your teacher has advised that these are acceptable.
Think of your introductory statement as a trailer to a movie. In order to "hook" your audience to want to see more, you need to grab their attention with an intriguing premise or a provocative question and establish the tone (i.e., comedic, dramatic, spiritual) that will prevail throughout the entire essay. Compare your introduction and your summary side-by-side to make sure they're in agreement with each other.