Date published November 25, 2014 by Shane Bryson. Date updated: December 4, 2017
Essays are generally around 2.500 words long. Make sure that you do not write fewer words than required from you because it will seem lazy and you’re likely to be under-explaining your arguments.
Usually, you are allowed to write around 10% more than the required words, so long as your writing is compact and your argument is good. Make sure to check with your supervisor if he’s okay with you exceeding the suggested length!
Avoid filler (added words to bulk up an essay) to reach the required number of words because this usage will always be apparent to your professor. Try to find another good point to support your thesis instead.
Is bigger better?
No. In essays, bigger is neither better nor worse. In an essay that can be 2.000-2.500 words (about 6-8 pages), for example, you should not feel obligated to hit 2.500 words. A well-argued essay that requires only the minimum length equals in quality any well-argued essay that requires more explanation.
How should I think about the suggested length?
While the word count seems like its primary purpose is to guide the length of the essay, it actually has two more-important, loosely related purposes.
First, it should help you determine how complex or ambitious your argument needs to be. If you need to go over the word count to make your argument, you’re argument is probably too ambitious, or your writing is not compact enough. If you can’t hit the minimum suggested length, you’re probably under-explaining yourself. And your argument may lack ambition—in other words, if you can fully support your argument with a paper significantly shorter than the minimum suggested length, you should make an argument that requires more support.
Second, the suggested length gives your marker a sense of how much work will be involved in evaluating the paper. This marker expectation is important, since in the mind of your marker, it’s usually vexing to realize on the eighth page of an eight-page assignment that there are still four pages left to read.
Can I exceed the suggested length?
Maybe. The best person to answer this question is your professor, but I can make a few general remarks to take into consideration.
A common guideline is that students have 10% leeway to go long: if your essay is to be 2.500 words, you are fairly safe going over the count by 250 words, so long as your writing is compact and your argument is good. It’s smart to check with your marker before you rely on this rule, though.
If you do go over, ensure that it’s absolutely necessary. If you have fluffy writing, for example, it may be the case that you could condense your paper with better writing, eliminating the need to exceed the suggested length.
Remember, any time you go over your limit, you’re imposing extra work on the person grading your paper. Some markers don’t mind the extra work, but some get very frustrated with it. It’s never wise to annoy your marker, so exercise caution.
Can I go under the suggested length?
No. The nasty truth is that, with only a few extremely rare exceptions, papers going under the suggested length appear lazy, careless, and under-wrought. Unfortunately, essays that are too short will often seem this way even if the writer has laboured with care to adequately explain the content of the essay.
Is filler obvious to my professor?
Yes. Filler usually takes the form of added words that bulk up an essay enough to hit the minimum suggested length. This is usually pretty obvious, since it often involves a series of irrelevant comments and unnecessarily wordy sentences. To a marker, one of the only things more disappointing than an essay that goes well under the suggested length is an essay that reaches the minimum length by wasting words.
If your essay’s too short, opt not to use filler, but try to find another good point to support your thesis. Rather than padding the essay with unnecessary words, add a good argumentative paragraph where it’s appropriate. While this addition will require more work, it will yield much better rewards.
Writing a Strong Introduction and Conclusion
Creating a strong, well-written introduction and conclusion is vital in writing an effective essay. Both give structure and meaning to the information you present in the body of your essay. In addition, they provide your reader easy access to your argument, position and purpose and keep the focus on them from the first word to the last word.
The introduction and conclusion are usually about 10 percent of your total paper length. For example, if your essay is 1000 words, both are around 100 words. This is not set in stone, but it is a good guide to help you determine the length. Aim to keep both around the same general length, and keep the information and tips below in mind as you write.
The introduction paragraph is your first chance to hook your readers. It should stay clear and concise while properly introducing your topic. A strong introduction meets the following four criteria:
- It explains the context.
- It answers the questions “what is this about?” by explaining the focus.
- It contains the thesis statement.
- It lays out the structure and organization.
The beginning is focused on context by providing background information on the topic. The first statement is somewhat broad, but be careful not to make it too broad. The goal is to establish what your essay is about by explaining the topic and subtopics you intend to share with readers.
The beginning of your introduction should be attention grabbing in some way. The following are methods with which to start your essay:
- Facts (data or statistics)
- Statement that is surprising
- General information
- Combination of any of the above
However you decide to start your essay, make sure it is interesting and makes readers want to continue reading.
Through subtopics and context that define the scope of your essay, the intro answers the questions of who, what, when, where, why and how. This means defining how your essay is limited, such as to a particular age group, time period, geographic location or something else.
Defining the scope does not involve providing lengthy explanations or definitions; save this for the body of your essay. Direct quotations should also be limited in the introduction. Facts or figures might prove helpful in identifying the background and scope, but limit these as well.
Your introduction also explains how the rest of the paper is organized. This is not detailed, but it does lay out how the information is presented. Whether the body paragraphs are organized in chronological, thematic or sequential order is identified in the introduction. Likewise, if each point is compared and contrasted, this is also explained in your first paragraph. Finally, your introduction ends with a transition to the body paragraphs.
Combined with your introduction, the conclusion puts the entire essay in context. Readers are left feeling as if the essay is unfinished when you do not write the conclusion well. Ultimately, you want the conclusion to tie things in a nice, neat bow—to show that your objectives were met. A good conclusion accomplishes three main things:
- It answers the question posed or provides solutions to the problem identified in the introduction by revisiting the thesis.
- It synthesizes/highlights the main points from the body of the essay and connects them.
- It explains the significance through relevance and implications of what the essay finds.
While the conclusion does the above things, it should also follow a similar pattern as your introduction. This means when restating the thesis, use similar language, but not the exact same wording. The conclusion is your last chance to convince readers of your argument, so take the most important points from the essay and restate them in the conclusion to sell your argument or perspective.
In addition, you can address what the implications are of a particular argument, why the argument matters or what additional questions it raises. You should not, however, introduce new information that is outside of the points addressed in the body of your essay. The following are approaches you might incorporate into your conclusion:
- Summary of main points through synthesis
- Restatement of the essay’s purpose
- Suggestions or recommendations
- Predictions about the future
- Your opinion
- Deductions based on evidence presented in the essay
How you end your essay is largely shaped on the length of your overall essay. A shorter essay does not allow much room for speculation or addressing the significance in too much detail. Instead, try ending with a broader statement on the bigger picture of a topic as it pertains to your essay. However you decide to end your essay, the final point made in the conclusion should make it clear that the essay is complete. A good conclusion answers the question of “so what?” by looking at the broader implications.
Above all else, your intro and concluding paragraphs play important roles. The introduction should make readers want to continue reading, to entice them into wanting to find out how your thesis is answered. Your conclusion takes the information from the body of your essay and revisits the introduction and thesis while addressing broader implications or the essay’s findings.