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How Long is an Essay in Academic Writing

Published by at August 17th, 2021 , Revised On August 22, 2023

Essays are the most popular academic assignments you will ever come across, but many students are not familiar with the differences between different types of essays. As a matter of fact, you might not even know how long an essay is supposed to be.

This can happen especially when you do not have any prior academic writing experience. These academic essays can range from concise essays to relatively lengthy essays, e.g. a thesis project that is so detailed and lengthy it is just like a book.

Consult your department or tutor if you are unsure about how long your essay is supposed to be. The expectation regarding the length varies widely, depending on the nature of the subject you are exploring, your academic institute, and the expectations of the tutor who assigned the task.

In most cases, you will be assigned an essay with clear requirements regarding the number of pages to be included or the number of words to be produced (15-20 pages or 2,500-3,000 words).

It makes sense to consult your tutor if you are in doubt. Some tutors do not allow an inch of space, whereas others are more lenient and flexible in their approach.

This article provides detailed guidelines for the lengths of different types of essays. Here it is important to recognise that your essay’s quality is far more important than its length.

An essay that is long enough but lacking depth in content and analysis will not fetch the required results.

Rather than focusing on hitting a certain word count, you must look to write a high-quality essay that addresses the research problem and provides arguments for and against your thesis.

Different Essay Lengths for Different Academic Levels

Expectations about university-level essays are almost always higher than middle and high-school essays.

You need to see the academic level requirements you are writing the essay for and ask yourself how long an essay has to be before starting to write the essay.

Below, we will discuss essay writing patterns that can be applied at different academic levels.

How Long is a Middle School Essay?

The concept of the essay in a student’s academic career generally starts in middle school. Students are required to write essays normally consisting of 300-1,000 words at this level.

The essay comprises the five-paragraph model, sometimes called the hamburger model, which includes five paragraphs, starting from the introduction.

The next three paragraphs will comprise the main body, discussing the essay’s main theme and justifying the thesis statement. The final paragraph provides a conclusion.

It is improbable that the introduction and conclusion chapters would go over one paragraph at this academic level.

How Long is a High School Essay?

If you are a high school student and wondering how long an essay is, then there are a few things that you must keep in mind.

Your essay’s format and structure remain the same at high school, although your teachers would like you to expand your essay’s length and make it approximately 3-5 pages long.

The introduction section and the main body can be expanded to increase the word count, whereas the conclusion section’s length should still fall within one paragraph.

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How Long is a University (Undergraduate Level) Essay?

The essay’s length will increase dramatically at this stage, depending much on the course you have taken and the topic you are exploring. Undergraduate students have to cope with writing longer essays (normally of 5-10 pages).

Special classes are designed for undergraduate students in most universities, where they are taught essential essay writing skills. To make sure that all students undergo this writing practice, essays are assigned in assignments.

As the semester progresses, students are required to submit final essay assignments contributing a larger percentage to their overall grades.

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How Long is a University (Graduate Level) Essay?

Graduate-level essay writing is not very different from undergraduate level. It mainly depends on the requirements of the university, topic, course, and specifically the tutor.

Some university courses include several essay writing assignments because the course structure is designed as such.

Other universities do not involve regular essay writing as they focus more on presentations, laboratory sessions, and other practical learning experiences. The word count for essays at this level ranges from 2,000 to 6,000 words approximately.

Let’s understand this through an example; Chris is a student of English Literature and has many essays to write throughout the degree programme. On the other hand, Susan belongs to a Chemical Engineering programme that requires her to write just one or two essays throughout the year. Her programme deals more with practical knowledge, experiments, and calculations. The below table will help you to understand how long an essay should be.

Essay Type Average Word Count Content to be Included
Essay for Graduate School 3,000-6,500 words Essays at graduate level include in-depth research and analysis and a demonstration of critical thinking.
Essay for Admission at Graduate School 500-100 words Applicants for graduate school are usually required to write a detailed personal statement to state what motivated them to apply.
Essay for Undergraduate College 1,000-6,000 words The college, institution, department, and the tutor will eventually determine the depth of analysis and writing required. However, the essay should address the problem in detail and demonstrate critical thinking.
Essay for Undergraduate College Admission 250–600 words At this level, the applicant must write a reflective essay and state the reasons he wants to get admission, all within a strict word count.
Essay for High School 300-1,500 words This essay consists of five paragraphs consisting of a basic model including an introduction, three headings of the main body, and a conclusion.

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How to Manage Your Essay Word Count

You could end up receiving a poor grade despite meeting the essay length requirements. This can happen, especially if you have written an essay to fill pages using verbose or wordy expressions that do not address the thesis.

It shows that you have not understood the purpose of the assignment and rather just focused on the length without setting boundaries for your arguments. This produced quantity, not quality. Want to get an A+ on your essay assignment?

Here are some essay writing tips for you to consider when writing academic essays:

  • It is recommended to prepare an outline of the essay before you start working on the essay. It allows you to include all the essential points that need to be covered, such as the introductionthesis statementmain body, and conclusion, before the actual write-up. This approach will help you to ensure that every critical element of the essay is in place.
  • Many students struggle with essay writing because they aim to meet the word count requirement even if they are completely unfamiliar with the topic. You must review the existing literature on the topic before starting to write.
  • Use examples and illustrations. This will enable your readers to grasp information that could be otherwise hard to understand.
  • Even if you are writing a short essay, make sure you are writing based on the essay outline. Short essays need to be straightforward, to the point, and concise, but should clearly present your argument.
  • Each section of the essay should be relevant to the topic. Review each line and paragraph. Make sure that each paragraph focuses on a single point and doesn’t meander. On the other hand, a longer essay allows for more space to adopt a broader approach and guide the audience through a complex reasoning line. However, longer essays still need to maintain a focus.
  • Please do not sacrifice your introduction or conclusion chapters as they enable you to grasp the readers’ attention. Note that the introduction chapter provides the basis of the essay, while the conclusion chapter summarises your overall research and analysis.
  • For longer essays, you will need to spend considerable time editing and proofreading, so you must plan this aspect of your essay assignment accordingly.
  • When developing your essay outline, review the existing literature to collect details, arguments, and evidence relevant to the subject topic. You might want to revise the thesis to be more specific or more general if it appears that you need more space to present a convincing argument or lack enough information to make up the word count.

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Can you Go Over or Under the Required Essay Word Count?

In this regard, the best practice would be to write within the specified word count because the word limit is set in keeping with your academic course requirements and academic level.

Your tutor would clearly state exactly how much detail should be provided in the essay. If you find your essay length below what was suggested, it means that you have not been able to explore the topic to its full.

Writing an essay that is shorter than the expected length can result in a low grade, as your tutor will perceive that you have not put enough effort into writing the essay.

If you are struggling to reach the expected word count, then the following tips will be of great help:

  • Strengthen and clarify your arguments by adding more examples and evidence to the content of your essay.
  • Analyse each example in detail. If you have not done so, then consider explaining your points more comprehensively.
  • Do more research to find a new aspect of your topic that you have not already included. Be aware that this could also require you to revise your introduction and conclusion paragraphs accordingly.
  • Avoid using filler. Your tutor will negatively mark your essay if it looks like you used unnecessarily complex words and duplicated the same information.
  • Try not to think about the word count as you write the essay. Let the depth and strength of your arguments be the driving force.

Going beyond the word count would not be a good approach either, but whether you will be marked negatively for writing more words than required depends on your tutor. Some tutors are flexible and lenient in their approach, while others are strict and may penalise you for exceeding the length.

If your essay is over the acceptable word count, it is recommended to consult your tutor and seek permission. However, remember that longer essays will take your marker longer to grade your work and potentially annoy them.

If your essay is well above the suggested benchmark, then you will need to edit it to bring it down to within the suggested limits:

  • Exclude information, paragraphs, or parts of paragraphs that appear to be irrelevant to your thesis and argument. If in doubt, leave it out.
  • Ensure that each paragraph in your essay is concise, focused, and does not deviate from your essay’s main topic.
  • Remove any filler verbiage and words that you have used just for the sake of increasing the word count of your essay.
  • Do not remove any information that is directly relevant to your essay’s topic and adds weight to your reasoning’s coherence.
  • Do not forget to revise the transitions after you have cut out the unnecessary information.
  • The introduction and conclusion chapters are of critical importance in essay writing, so avoid sacrificing these two sections. Make sure you give enough space to introduce your topic and summarise your main argument comprehensively.
  • After making any of these revisions, it is imperative that you read the affected sections carefully. Edits can have knock-on effects; it is good practice to read the entire essay through again.

The Length of Each Section of your Essay

Since we have already explored how long an essay should be, it is time to figure out how long each chapter of the essay should be. The main body should occupy most of the space, as this part engages the reader with different arguments, provides pieces of evidence, and shares ideas.

The introduction part should be in proportion to the total length of the essay. For essays with a suggested word count of 2,000 words or less, it is recommended to have an introduction chapter with just one or two paragraphs.

The length of the introduction can vary depending on the word limit provided. It is possible to add extra paragraphs in very long essays.

The conclusion section is short and concise, briefly summarising the key points without going into much detail. The length of the conclusion section will also depend on the overall word limit of your essay.

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Frequently Asked Questions

The length of an essay in academic writing varies based on the assignment and level. Typically, undergrad essays are 1,000-2,500 words, while postgrad ones can be 2,500-5,000 words. Follow guidelines for precise word count and structure.

About Alaxendra Bets

Avatar for Alaxendra BetsBets earned her degree in English Literature in 2014. Since then, she's been a dedicated editor and writer at ResearchProspect, passionate about assisting students in their learning journey.