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How Long is an Essay? Guidelines for Different Types of Essay

Published on January 28, 2019 by Shona McCombes . Revised on December 6, 2021.

The length of an academic essay varies depending on your level and subject of study, departmental guidelines, and specific course requirements. In general, an essay is a shorter piece of writing than a research paper  or thesis .

In most cases, your assignment will include clear guidelines on the number of words or pages you are expected to write. Often this will be a range rather than an exact number (for example, 2500–3000 words, or 10–12 pages). If you’re not sure, always check with your instructor.

In this article you’ll find some general guidelines for the length of different types of essay. But keep in mind that quality is more important than quantity – focus on making a strong argument or analysis, not on hitting a specific word count.

Table of contents

Essay length guidelines, how long is each part of an essay, using length as a guide to topic and complexity, can i go under the suggested length, can i go over the suggested length.

In an academic essay, the main body should always take up the most space. This is where you make your arguments, give your evidence, and develop your ideas.

The introduction should be proportional to the essay’s length. In an essay under 3000 words, the introduction is usually just one paragraph. In longer and more complex essays, you might need to lay out the background and introduce your argument over two or three paragraphs.

The conclusion of an essay is often a single paragraph, even in longer essays. It doesn’t have to summarize every step of your essay, but should tie together your main points in a concise, convincing way.

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word count for uni essays

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The suggested word count doesn’t only tell you how long your essay should be – it also helps you work out how much information and complexity you can fit into the given space. This should guide the development of your thesis statement , which identifies the main topic of your essay and sets the boundaries of your overall argument.

A short essay will need a focused, specific topic and a clear, straightforward line of argument. A longer essay should still be focused, but it might call for a broader approach to the topic or a more complex, ambitious argument.

As you make an outline of your essay , make sure you have a clear idea of how much evidence, detail and argumentation will be needed to support your thesis. If you find that you don’t have enough ideas to fill out the word count, or that you need more space to make a convincing case, then consider revising your thesis to be more general or more specific.

The length of the essay also influences how much time you will need to spend on editing and proofreading .

You should always aim to meet the minimum length given in your assignment. If you are struggling to reach the word count:

In some cases, you are allowed to exceed the upper word limit by 10% – so for an assignment of 2500–3000 words, you could write an absolute maximum of 3300 words. However, the rules depend on your course and institution, so always check with your instructor if you’re unsure.

Only exceed the word count if it’s really necessary to complete your argument. Longer essays take longer to grade, so avoid annoying your marker with extra work! If you are struggling to edit down:

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McCombes, S. (2021, December 06). How Long is an Essay? Guidelines for Different Types of Essay. Scribbr. Retrieved March 3, 2023, from https://www.scribbr.com/academic-essay/length/

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The design team at EduBirdie has created a word counter tool that you can use to improve the quality of a paper. Our team created this tool because we know how important it is for you to stay within the page limits established by a professor. Read this quick description to find out how our character count calculator helps.

A Brief Overview of How Word Counter For Essays Works

Our online word count calculator counts the written words in an essay so that you can avoid going over a professor’s character and word count limit and avoid using redundant text and language. Here is a small guide on how to use it: 

Why Our Word Count Tool is the Best

First of all, it’s free, as well as other essay writing tools by EduBirdie.com: free paraphrasing tool , plagiarism checker, case converter tool and many others. When submitting an essay to be checked, you do not pay a dime. Use it as many times as you want without worrying about how much it costs, it is free. Moreover, our character count and word count for essay check tool always works; you will never be left in the lurch. Never worry again about glitches or bugs preventing you from getting your work done. In case  any help is needed, 24/7 Customer Support will immediately give an answer. That's mean that If there are any questions about how to use our online device, contact our customer service specialists. They are always available to assist you!

How Character Count Can Help

Don`t worry about the limits of text, we keep you within a page limit through all the process. Most, if not all, professors give their students a page limit. Going over a professor’s page or word limit will result in a lower grade than you would normally get. Thankfully, our word counter tool tells how many words, pages, and characters are in an essay so that you can avoid upsetting your professor.

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301 Academic Skills Centre

Academic writing.

Strategies and advice on how to communicate your ideas using an appropriate academic register

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Introduction to academic writing

Producing written work as part of a university exam, essay, dissertation or another form of assignment requires an approach to organisation, structure, voice and use of language that differs from other forms of writing and communication.

Academic writing is a language that no one is born speaking. Understanding more about the conventions of your discipline and the specific features and conventions of academic writing can help you develop confidence and make improvements to your written work.

Academic writing is part of a complex process of finding, analysing and evaluating information, planning, structuring, editing and proofreading your work, and reflecting on feedback that underpins written assessment at university.

Here we focus on the key principles of academic writing as a way to communicate your ideas using appropriate language, structure and organisation. 

301 Recommends: Academic Writing Digital Workshop

Try out our interactive digital workshop  to explore the key principles of good academic writing.

Academic language

Academic writing is defined by conventions rather than rules. This means that they are flexible and adaptable at least some of the time.

The point is not for you and your peers to produce identical pieces of work, but to provide a shared framework of communication that allows specialists within a field to access information, ideas and concepts quickly and easily.

It goes without saying that academic writing uses a more formal register than everyday communication. The following are four important conventions to follow that will help you to hit the right level of formality in your writing:

Use formal language

Academic writing tends to adopt formal language derived from Latinate, rather than Anglo-Saxon roots. This distinction is particularly evident in the use of verbs in academic language.

In general, phrasal verbs are used when speaking (eg in presentations), whilst Latinate verbs are used in academic writing (eg essays). Phrasal language is more informal, whilst Latinate verbs sound 'posher' and more formal.

Phrasal verbs tend to come in two parts: they use a  verb  together with an  adverb  or preposition.

There is often a one-word equivalent, which usually comes from Latin root, reflecting the origins of formal English among educated Romans and the Church.

Examples include: 

Carry out = perform

Talk about = discuss

Look up to = respect

Why is this useful? Latinate verbs use fewer words, so can help you develop a more concise writing style.

Latinate verbs can also be more specific than their phrasal equivalents, for example, the phrasal verb 'set up' has several Latinate equivalents: 

Set up a room: I’m going to  arrange  the room for the meeting.

Set up an experiment: The experiment was  prepared.

Set up an organisation: The NSPCC was  established  in 1884.

You may wish to use a mixture of phrasal and Latinate verbs in your writing, and to tailor it to your assignment. For example, if writing a more informal blog post, you may want to use more phrasal language.

Some common examples of academic verb use include:

Carry out: Perform "The experiment was carried out/performed..."

Find out:   Investigate "The aim of this project is to find out/investigate…"

Leave out: Omit "Therefore this was left out of/omitted from the analysis..."

Awareness of how and when to use different registers of language can help to improve the level of formality of your writing. 

Avoid contractions and abbreviations

Academic writing tends to avoid the types of contractions and abbreviated language that you might use in other forms of communication.

In some cases, this is obvious, but in other cases, where abbreviations have become commonly used forms of words, it can be more difficult to spot.

For example:

Are not/is not: Aren't/isn't

Quotation: Quote

UK: United Kingdom

However, some commonly used abbreviations or acronyms relating to the discipline will often need to be used to enhance the clarity of your writing and reduce the word count.

In these cases, it is important to use the full form of the abbreviated name or phrase in the first instance, including the abbreviation in parentheses.

A key role has always been played by the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO)...

World Health Organisation (WHO) recommendations state...

The use of an Electrocardiogram (ECG) is recommended...

Certain extremely commonly used acronyms have become part of common usage and do not require further explanation within a text. For example, AIDS, laser, radar, scuba. 

Write objectively

Academic writing tends to strive for an appearance of objectivity.

Although you will no doubt have an informed opinion or theory that you are trying to get across in your writing, it is important to build a compelling objective case for your ideas using evidence and data.

Secondary sources should be used to build a foundation of background thinking, ideas and theories to support your approach.

All secondary sources (books, journals, webpages, conference presentations, films, audio recordings, etc.) should be referenced using the standard system recommended by your department.

A bibliography of all referenced works should be included at the end of your assignment, ordered alphabetically and formatted using the recommended standard system. 

Visit the  library referencing pages  for more information, examples and tutorials.

Primary sources include any information or data that you have found, collected or generated to illustrate your arguments or explore your hypotheses. Primary sources may include texts that you are analysing, survey responses, experimental data, artefacts and much more.

When writing about primary and secondary sources, it is usually better to avoid using the first person ('I' or 'we' forms), as your focus should be on an objective interpretation of that evidence. 

The first person is most commonly used to indicate where you are going beyond an objective analysis to put forward your own informed opinions, for example as part of a discussion section or conclusion. 

Some principles of using the first person include:

Avoid overusing the first person (I) and use passive forms where possible: "the experiment was conducted..."; "evidence suggests..."; "a sample was taken..."

Watch out for adjectives that imply a value judgement: fantastic, brilliant, rubbish, interesting, good, etc.

Avoid using cliched phrases: "a hot topic..."; "the other side of the coin..."; "at the end of the day..."; "the fact of the matter..."; "in the current climate..."

Avoid overstatement. Make cautious use or avoid the following altogether: extremely, very, really, always, never, a lot, the most, the least

Note: always check department guidelines   on the use of first-person forms in your writing.

301 Recommends: Manchester University Academic Phrasebank

The Academic Phrasebank is a repository of the most commonly-used phrases in published academic work, organised according to purpose and function. Explore the Phrasebank for ideas on how to express yourself using established academic language.

Paragraphs and flow

Paragraphs are the building blocks of your written work, and a good essay or assignment will organise the content clearly at a paragraph level.

However, in a piece of academic writing paragraphs can be tricky to structure due to the complexity of ideas that you are likely to be working with.

The following structure is not the only way to write a paragraph, but it is a common model that is used in academic writing to build sources and evidence into your writing in a critical and analytical way. 

Writing good paragraphs: structure

Most paragraphs of academic writing tend to follow a similar organisational structure:

The topic sentence:  States the main idea or area to be covered by the paragraph.

Explanation or definitions (optional):  Can be used to clarify any difficult or uncertain terminology introduced in the topic sentence.

Evidence and examples:  One or more sentences introducing key ideas, sources, quotes, case studies, evidence or data.

Comment:  Explores what the evidence means, how it can be summarised or whether it needs to be challenged.

Concluding sentence:  Relates the paragraph to your overall argument and links forward to the next paragraph.

The final sentence is often the most important part of a paragraph as it clarifies your interpretation of the topic area and identifies how it contributes to your overall argument.

Watch this short  study skills hacks video  for more information. 

Writing good paragraphs: unity

A paragraph will usually discuss only one idea as outlined in the first sentence, the  topic sentence . If you find a paragraph drifting away from this controlling idea, it is time to split it into more than one paragraph:

The opening sentence of paragraph should outline the main idea (topic sentence).

Every supporting sentence should directly explain, refer back to, or build on the main idea using specific evidence and examples where possible.

Use the final sentence(s) to refer back to the topic sentence and lead into the following paragraph.

Writing good paragraphs: flow 

The skill of structuring your writing and building effective connections between paragraphs is one that will allow you to develop and sustain a compelling argument in your written work.

By setting out your ideas and evidence with a natural flow, you will make your work much more readable.

This important technique will help you work towards higher levels of attainment in assignments and help to improve the quality of your everyday writing.

Paraphrasing and quoting

When you are producing a piece of writing at university, you will often want to talk about what someone else has written about the topic.

There are four distinct ways of doing this.

Quoting:  directly including in your work the published words or other data you have found in a source

Paraphrasing:  expressing in your own words the ideas, arguments, words or other material you have found published elsewhere

Para-quoting:  paraphrasing an idea or area but retaining one or more important words and phrases from the original in quotation marks

Summarising:  providing a top-level overview of a single larger area of work or multiple sources

There are many reasons for quoting or paraphrasing in your own work, but essentially these techniques allow you to show your understanding of current knowledge about the topic you are studying and respond to that knowledge in your work.

Remember that you will need to cite and reference all of the sources that have informed your work.

It is a complex linguistic skill to incorporate others’ work smoothly and efficiently into your own by quoting or paraphrasing.

Skilful use of sources and selective quoting and paraphrasing are important elements of the critical writing process, which is in greater detail on the critical thinking pages – see  Legitimation Code Theory  for more ideas.

It is also a key skill of academic writing that will help to ensure that your work does not include elements of plagiarism.

For more information on plagiarism, including suggestions on how to avoid it, see the following  resource from the Department of Physics and Astronomy .

As with other aspects of working with sources, it is important to  follow your department's specific guidelines about these skills.

When to quote and when to paraphrase

You should direct quote

if you are referring to a formal definition in which the specific language is important

if you are quoting an opinion (with which you do not necessarily agree)

if you are reporting direct speech, eg the reactions or experience of someone actually involved

if you wish to highlight specific features of the author's writing style

 You should paraphrase

to elaborate on or explain a concept or definition to your reader

to engage critically with an opinion or source and demonstrate that you understand it fully

to summarise the reactions or experience of one or more individual

if the general concept is more important than the specific language used

word count for uni essays

Writing to a word count

If you find you often go over the word count on an assignment, there are several possible causes and solutions.

In this online resource, we will think about the purpose of the word count, the reasons why we might go over it, and strategies to tackle it.

Why is there a word count?

Word counts are part of the challenge of academic writing for several reasons:

To suggest a level of detail: with one topic, you could write a 100-word summary, 1,000-word essay, 10,000-word dissertation, or a 100,000 word PhD thesis. The word count gives an indication of the level of depth you are expected to go into

To ensure fairness: each student has the same number of words to show the marker what they know. 

To test your communication skills: being able to keep within a word count requires a concise writing style and excellent communication skills – it helps you get straight to the point.

To demonstrate your critical thinking skills: to stay within word counts, you need to focus on what is most important and select the best examples and case studies. It puts critical thinking into practice

As a matter of practicality: markers only have a finite amount of time to mark work.

Why do we go over the word count?

First of all, it is important to remember that being over the word count is better than having a blank page. The ideas are down on the page but might need refining. There are several reasons why you might have exceeded the word count: 

Still developing an effective structure: Do you have a clear plan and have you stuck to it? If not, can you map out an overall structure for your essay and identify areas where you have departed from it?

Fear of missing out on something important: try to be selective with examples and arguments. What is your mission statement or key argument, and how does each section help you make it?

Waffling (using 200 words when 100 will do): work on developing a concise academic writing style. Even if you’re not over the word count, this leaves you more words for your critical analysis and discussion

Writing to a word count involves careful planning and organisation to make sure that you get your main points across. The following points might help you to stay within the parameters that you are aiming for:

Remember: Having a more concise academic writing style gives you more words to use on things that are important, eg critical analysis and discussion. It’s not just about cutting the odd word here and there to get you under the word count.

The following are some simple tips to make sure you stay within your word count:

Find out what counts towards your word count (for references, footnotes, abstract, captions, tables, text boxes…)

Consider combining related sections or cutting irrelevant sections.

Focus on condensing your key arguments.

Use a concise academic writing style, eg avoid excessive hedging, remove redundant adjectives.

Lie about your word count.

Cut sections just to meet the word count.

Focus on removing individual words – this will be extremely time consuming and will make little impact on your overall count.

Use contractions to meet the word count (eg isn't, doesn't, shouldn't) – this is not academic.

Useful resources

Internal resources.

Disability and Dyslexia Support Service (DDSS) –  Paraphrasing  

University of Sheffield Library –  Information and digital literacy skills tutorials

Department of Physics and Astronomy –  Paraphrasing resource

English Language Teaching Centre (ELTC) –  Seminar recording: Punctuation in academic writing

ELTC –  Seminar recording: Academic vocabulary

ELTC –  Seminar: Nominalisation

External Resources

Manchester University –  Academic phrasebank

UCL Institute of English –  Word count

Gunning Fog Index Calculator –  Online tool

Purdue Online Writing Lab –  Quoting, paraphrasing and summarising

Wisconsin Writing Centre –  Paraphrasing vs. quoting

Using English for academic purposes –  Writing paragraphs

Related information

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Dissertation planning

Scientific writing and lab reports

Essay Structure and Planning

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  1. How Long Should a College Essay Be?

    Most college application portals specify a word count range for your essay, and you should stay within 10% of the upper limit. If no word count is specified, we advise keeping your essay between 400 and 600 words. You should aim to stay under the specified limit to show you can follow directions and write concisely.

  2. WordCounter

    To check word count, simply place your cursor into the text box above and start typing. You'll see the number of characters and words increase or decrease as you type, delete, and edit them. You can also copy and paste text from another program over into the online editor above.

  3. Word Counter

    A Brief Overview of How Word Counter For Essays Works. Our online word count calculator counts the written words in an essay so that you can avoid going over a professor’s character and word count limit and avoid using redundant text and language. Here is a small guide on how to use it: Copy and paste a text into the field provided on the web ...

  4. Academic writing

    Word counts are part of the challenge of academic writing for several reasons: To suggest a level of detail: with one topic, you could write a 100-word summary, 1,000-word essay, 10,000-word dissertation, or a 100,000 word PhD thesis. The word count gives an indication of the level of depth you are expected to go into