Between White and Roberts

Between the descriptive essay “Once More to the Lake” by E.B. White, and the narrative essay “How to Say Nothing in 500 Words” by P.M. Roberts I find the descriptive essay to be far more interesting to read for the way it is written appeals to the senses of the reader. Both essays, however, carry good merit and are written very well. The essay that is currently being presented is an interpretation of the similarities and differences between the styles of these two essays, and the impact they have on the reader as well. Among the major differences between the two essays is the way they are structured. In the essay “How to Say Nothing in 500 Words” Roberts uses nine different headings relating to the key elements of what he is writing about. He breaks down each component of what he considers to be good practices of writing with each section consisting of its own idea. He uses this method to present multiple ideas pertaining to the same general subject of the essay. Using headings to separate ideas and points is a good way to present information clearly, but it also gives a paper an impersonal and formal feeling that most casual or average readers do not relate to.

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In “Once More to the Lake”, however, White does not separate ideas into different headings. The story he tells in his essay progresses forward without being broken up into multiple ideas, and the general subject does not change throughout the essay in any major way. The entire essay reads like it is its own chapter of a book. It provides the reader with a fluent story from start to finish. Another large difference between these two essays is in the tone and language that the authors use. Roberts uses a mostly formal tone and language throughout most of his essay. There are a few places in which he uses mild humor to keep the readers’ interest, but his dry tone mixed with the subject his essay is centered on limits the effectiveness of his attempts. One such attempt at humor is where he speaks of a college professor grading essays in the sentence, “As he reads paper after paper all saying the same thing in almost the same words, all bloodless, five hundred words dripping out of nothing, he wonders how he allowed himself to get trapped into teaching English when he might have had a happy and interesting life as an electrician or a confidence man.” (P.M. Roberts) He has a very dry sense of humor that leaves the reader wondering why he even makes the attempt at humor in many cases.

White uses an informal tone in his essay, and uses language that appeals to the readers’ senses. He makes no attempts at humor in his essay like Roberts does, but he instead paints pictures of scenery with words in exuberant detail. The depth and detail with which he writes stirs the readers’ emotions and memories in the way he tells of his own memories. He takes the mind of the reader on a journey with him as he recounts memories of his childhood. The tone he uses is one that is somber and serious, but also quite casual. “Summertime, oh summertime, pattern of life indelible, the fade proof lake, the woods unshatterable, the pasture with the sweet fern and the juniper forever and ever, summer without end; this was the background, and the life along the shore was the design, the cottages with their innocent and tranquil design, their tiny docks with the flagpole and the American flag floating against the white clouds in the blue sky, the little paths over the roots of the trees leading from camp to camp and the paths leading back to the outhouses and the can of lime for sprinkling, and at the souvenir counters at the store the miniature birch-bark canoes and the post cards that showed things looking a little better than they looked.” (E.B. White) It is with the use of this kind of language that White fills the writing canvas, as well as the reader’s thoughts, with the detailed images of the surroundings of the lake.

The subject matter between the essays by Roberts and White is yet another drastic difference. “How to Say Nothing in 500 Words” is an informative narrative essay about what to, and what not to do in the writing of a college essay. It is a strictly academic essay. It covers a number of points of what kind of language and ideas to use in a college level paper. The section of his essay that he names “Call a Fool a Fool” can easily be summarized as him trying to get across that one should say what they think of a matter regardless of what they think the instructor grading the paper or anyone else that might read it would think of what you have to say. He basically states that if it is your opinion, then state it without worrying that it may offend anyone that may not share the same view. The subject matter of Roberts’ essay is a topic that only a college student would truly care to read about. The subject matter of the essay by White, however, is nearly as far in the other direction as you can get from Roberts’ essay about writing an essay about college football. White’s essay “Once More to the Lake” is about his visit with his son back to the same lake that his own father took him to every summer with his family while he was growing up.

He describes in detail the changes that have occurred in the many years since he had been back to the lake, and the times he had with his family in his youth as well as the time he is spending there now with his own son. “Inside, all was just as it had always been, except there was more Coca Cola and not so much Moxie and root beer and birch beer and sarsaparilla. We would walk out with a bottle of pop apiece and sometimes the pop would backfire up our noses and hurt. We explored the streams, quietly, where the turtles slid off the sunny logs and dug their way into the soft bottom; and we lay on the town wharf and fed worms to the tame bass. Everywhere we went I had trouble making out which was I, the one walking at my side, the one walking in my pants.” (White E.B.) The way he describes and speaks of his surroundings and the small adventures that he and his son embark upon makes it evident that he truly cares about the story he has written, and that the entire composition is a nostalgic journey through his past and present. The feelings that he clearly has while writing his essay is something that nearly any reader can relate to. Now that the major contrasting points between the two essays have been presented we should move on to the similarities, but there are next to no similarities at all.

The most prominent similarity between them is simply the fact that both compositions are considered essays. They are written in completely different styles on completely different subjects, and with a completely different reading audience in mind. It can be said, however, that both essays are properly written for their intended audience, and one could also argue that the essays are similar in regards to the fact that both essays give the reader something to think about after having read the compositions, but that would be reaching very far to find some form of similarity simply for the sake of being able to say that they are similar in some fashion. It is easy to say that the two essays contrast in major ways, but it is not so easy to say that they compare in any significant way. The essays “How to Say Nothing in 500 Words” by P.M. Roberts, and “Once More to the Lake” by E.B.

White are both well written, but the descriptive essay by White is the superior of the two for his use of easily understood descriptive language and the seamless flow of his ideas and thoughts on the paper making for an easy and enjoyable read. His essay is also written about a subject that nearly any reader can relate to in some way while the essay by Roberts is aimed more at a particular demographic. Roberts also uses a “matter of fact” kind of tone that if he had not introduced a dash of humor here and there throughout his essay would have made it too technical to keep the average reader interested enough to read the whole composition while the essay by White draws the reader in and leaves them wanting more. The essay “Once More to the Lake” by E.B. White is a timeless piece of literature that the writer of this essay strongly recommends to any reader.


Roberts, P. M. (n.d.). How to say nothing in 500 words. Retrieved from

White, E.B. Once more to the lake. Retrieved from

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