How Long Is an Essay? The Ultimate Essay Length Guide

It’s safe to say that most students struggle with the word limit within an essay. Sometimes, it’s hard to find ideas for a text and meet the word requirement for every part of the paper. With so many factors influencing essay length, it’s easy to get confused.

The picture enumerates the factors influencing essay length.

Luckily, our custom-writing team has your back. In this article, our custom-writing experts will answer all your questions regarding essay length. We will also help you write papers with an ideal number of words!

📜 Is Essay Length Important?

📏 essay parts: recommended length.

  • 🤔 How to Make Essays Shorter or Longer
  • 📑 Essay Length & Formatting
  • ❓ Different Academic Levels FAQ
  • 📚 Essay Length: Different Types
  • ⭐ Other Aspects
  • 📝 Essay Examples

🔍 References

Often, the phrase “word limit” causes panic among students. After all, if an essay is too long or too short, your grade will be lowered. However, in reality, there’s nothing to worry about. When it comes to words, limitations are beneficial for both the students and the professors.

Let’s see what exactly it means.

Many people believe that the longer an essay is, the better. However, according to Frontiers, research shows that it’s a bias that couldn’t be further from the truth. A perfect-length paper is one that allows students to express their ideas and showcase their knowledge fully while keeping it clean and simple.

What Influences Essay Length

Various factors determine the length of an essay. Here are the most important ones:

Let’s start with the essentials. Usually, assignment length is given as a number of words rather than pages. Unless your supervisor or instructor mentions any specific limitations, it’s acceptable to be 10% below or above the word limit.

It’s also worth knowing the 80/20 rule . According to it, the body should constitute 80% of the text, while the intro and the conclusion take up the remaining 20%.

Keep reading to learn more about the recommended length of each essay part. The main numbers are shown in the table below:

How Long Should an Introduction Be?

An introduction is the first section and the face of your essay. For that reason, it needs to be compelling and well-thought-out. Usually, it consists of 3 to 5 sentences or 50 to 80 words .

An introduction must have a hook, some background information, and a thesis statement. While the attention grabber and the thesis are usually brief, you may need 2 to 3 sentences for the background. To avoid going overboard, try to stay on topic and don’t add any filler.

How Long Is a Body Paragraph in an Essay?

The length of a body paragraph may vary. Sometimes, it can be limited to a single sentence. In other cases, it may take up a whole page. Usually, it’s recommended to have between 80 and 200 words (5-8 sentences) per body paragraph.

Since the paper’s body contains the most information, it’s necessary to explain and support your ideas properly. That’s why it’s no big deal if your body paragraphs go slightly over the word limit.

How Many Body Paragraphs Should Be in an Essay?

Like the word count, the number of paragraphs is determined by the type of paper and its topic. The minimum is 1. Generally, however, the body consists of 3-5 paragraphs , 1 for each argument.

To improve your paper’s structure, ensure that there are as many paragraphs as there are points in your thesis statement. Each one should have a purpose and support your arguments. If there’s any fluff, it’s better to get rid of it.

How Long Should a Conclusion Be?

Like the introduction, the conclusion consists of 50-80 words . It’s essential to keep it simple and only mention the central ideas. A weak concluding sentence may affect the reader’s understanding of the topic and spoil the overall impression of your paper.

🤔 How to Make Essays Shorter or Longer: Best Tips

Undoubtedly the essay’s content is more important than the number of words you use. But there are times when students go more than 10-15% below or over the limit. Is there a solution to this problem?

Yes, there is! In this section, we will share the most useful tips to help you stay on point with your paper’s word count.

How to Make Essays Longer

Since having enough words is essential for a good grade, we’ve collected the best tips that can help you lengthen your essay without teachers noticing:

  • Use relevant quotations.  You don’t need to litter your essay with citations, but using them whenever appropriate is a great idea. For instance, if you’re working on a book analysis, referencing a couple of direct quotes from the source text will make your essay more credible and increase the word count.
  • Give examples.  Go through the claims in your paper and provide additional evidence where possible. It will make your essay longer and more informative.
  • Use transitional expressions.  Adding transition words and phrases is a natural way of increasing the number of words. It will also improve your essay’s readability. 
  • Add more references.  Providing references is always a good idea when writing a formal essay. That way, you will increase the number of words and make your paper more credible.
  • Work on your descriptions.  If you struggle to develop new ideas, go over what you’ve already written and consider adding some descriptive words. It’s a great idea for creative essays to include more imagery. 

How to Shorten an Essay

Another struggle of academic writing is cutting down the number of words in your essay to meet a set limit. We are here to tell you that it’s not that hard. Writing straightforwardly and keeping your sentences short is a key to concise content. Here are several strategies you may use to tighten a lengthy essay:

  • Choose the active voice.  It takes up less space than passive voice. Using it also makes your writing more professional and compelling.
  • Remove needless transitions.  Transitions can indeed maintain the flow of the paper. But some transitional phrases can be easily removed.
  • Get rid of unnecessary adverbs and adjectives.  Some students tend to overuse adjectives and adverbs. It adds wordiness to their writing.
  • Avoid running starts.  Some students like to start their sentences with long phrases like: “there are,” “it is believed,” or “the fact that.” Getting rid of them makes texts much more concise.
  • Delete “that.”  In most cases, the word “that” can often be easily removed from texts.

Another cool trick is to use our summarizing tool as essay shortener. Try it out!

📑 How Long Is an Essay Depending on Formatting?

As we mentioned earlier, the essay’s length is usually limited by the number of words. But sometimes, a teacher may ask you to write a specific number of pages. This is trickier because the amount of text you can place on the page depends on the formatting. By using the font size and spacing properly, it’s possible to make the paper visually longer or shorter. Let’s discuss it in more detail.

The picture describes how formatting affects essay length.

Essay Spacing: How Does It Affect the Length?

  • Adjusting the spacing between lines.  Try to make the changes as slight as possible. For instance, if you were asked to double-space the paper, use 2.1 or 2.2 spacing instead. Another option is to slightly extend spaces between paragraphs.
  • Extending the margin size.  You can increase the right and bottom margins by a quarter to make very subtle changes in length. For example, if the margins are 1 inch , you can set them at 1.25 inches instead. 
  • Increasing the spacing between characters.  It is less noticeable than the line spacing. Still, try not to overdo it and keep the numbers between 1.2 and 1.5 . 
  • Adjusting the footer.  Add a footer with page numbers to stretch the bottom margin even further.
  • Lengthening the header.  You can extend your header by adding your name, e-mail address, or other relevant information. Another option is double-spacing it.

Length of an Essay: Font and Size

  • Using the right type of font.  If your instructor didn’t specify which font you should use, go for the bigger ones. We suggest Arial, Bangla Sangam MN, Cambria, or Quicksand. They will make your text look longer without being too on the nose.  
  • Using a bigger font size.  This is another technique that can come in handy. However, be careful and don’t increase your font by more than 0.1-0.5 pt.  
  • Increasing the size of periods and commas.   This is one of the less noticeable tricks you can use. For instance, if your paper’s font is 12 pt. , increase it to 14 pt. only for punctuation marks. Italicizing periods and commas will also add several lines of length to your essay. 

What to Do if There Are No Length Guidelines

Sometimes a teacher sets no word limit for a written work. What to do in that case? Well, first, you can ask your professor to confirm if they have simply forgotten to mention it. But if that’s not the case, here are a couple of helpful solutions:

  • Think of the paragraph number.  Sometimes, you may be given the number of paragraphs instead of words. In that case, you can decide on the number of words depending on how many paragraphs you have. 
  • Think about the topic’s complexity.  The length of your paper is also directly dependent on the theme. If the topic is simple, 4-5 paragraphs will be enough. A more complex issue may require an in-depth explanation, so your essay can be 6-8 paragraphs long.

❓ Essay Length for Different Academic Levels FAQ

The length of the elementary school essay is usually short. Usually, a paper needs to have around 3-5 paragraphs, with 4-5 sentences per paragraph. Primary school essays can be 1-2 paragraphs long.

The word limit for a middle school essay is usually between 300 to 1000 words. The most common essay length is 500 words, which is about 5 paragraphs. However, it may differ from school to school.

The length of the high school essay may differ depending on the school and the complexity of the task itself. Usually, however, a paper can be between 300 to 1000 words long.

The length of the undergraduate college essay often falls within the range of 1500 to 2100 words. It translates into roughly 5-7 pages. 5 pages is the most common essay length at this level.

When it comes to the graduate school admission essay, the word limit is usually between 500 and 1000 words. It’s possible to go slightly over or below the set limit; however, it’s best to stick to the requirements as close as possible.

📚 How Long Should an Essay Be: Different Types

Now, let’s talk about different types of essays. How long should they be? Keep reading to learn about the length of college essays, short and extended ones, scholarship essays, and research papers.

How Long Is a College Essay?

When it comes to a college essay, it’s more important to stick to the word limit than with any other paper. Some teachers may refuse to read it unless it meets all the requirements.

The shortest limit for a college essay is about 250 words which is the shortest length of a Common App personal statement. It’s also rare to see a good college essay with over 650 words . So, an average piece usually has between 150 and 650 words ; you can go over or below the limit by 50.

How Long Is a Paragraph in College Essays?

A college essay usually consists of 4-5 paragraphs . One paragraph takes about 1/3 of the page, which is roughly 5 sentences . Each sentence corresponds with one of the following components:

  • Topic sentence.
  • Explanation.
  • Transitions.

College Essay Length Requirements: Top 5 Schools

To understand the requirements for a college application essay even better, take a look at the table below. It showcases the top 5 schools and their length criteria for personal statements. Keep it in mind when writing your college essay:

How Long Is a Short Essay?

A short essay is usually 500 words long. Using 12pt Times New Roman font with standard margins and double spacing should result in about 2 pages of text.

Extended Essay Length

An extended essay is different from a short or a standard one. It requires extensive research and thorough explanation. That’s why the upper limit for this kind of essay is 4000 words . In this case, a typical essay length is 3500 words or 18 paragraphs .

Scholarship Essay Length

Generally, scholarship papers have a limit of 500 words , which is 1 page in length. Most scholarship programs provide additional requirements that indicate the minimum number of words or pages. If there are no set limitations, you can stick to the limit.

How Long Is a Research Paper?

Typically, a research paper is between 4000 and 6000 words long. Sometimes, there are shorter papers, which have around 2000 words, or in-depth ones with over 10000 words.

⭐ Other Aspects of Essay Length

When it comes to essay length, many different aspects come into play. Here, we’ve gathered all the essential information regarding an essay’s number of pages, paragraphs, words, and references.

How Many Paragraphs Are in an Essay?

Sometimes, it is more convenient to count paragraphs rather than words. Let’s now figure out how many paragraphs are in essays of different lengths. You may also check out the examples to see what such an essay looks like:

How to Count Paragraphs in an Essay Based on Word Count

You can also count the number of body paragraphs for your essay using the formula below:

Number of body paragraphs (average) = (TWC – TWC*0.16)/100

  • TWC – total word count
  • 0.16 – an average percentage of total word count for introduction and conclusion
  • 100 – an average number of words per paragraph

How Many Pages Are in an Essay?

The number of pages in your essay may vary from subject to subject. But it’s still possible to determine the number of pages based on word count. Check out the numbers below to see the conversions with bonus examples:

You can also use a specialized calculator such as Word Counter to determine a number of pages in your essay.

What Does an Essay Look Like when Typed?

You might be wondering: what do essays of different lengths look like when typed? Well, here’s the table where you can find out the metrics for single- and double-spaced papers.

How Many Pages Are in a Handwritten Essay?

In case you need to turn in a handwritten paper, you should check out the table below.

Counting Words in a Handwritten Essay

If you don’t have enough time to count the words in your handwritten essay one by one, here’s what you can do:

  • Count how many words there are in one line. Take the first and last lines and a line in the middle of a page. Let’s say there are 15, 14, and 15 words in them. Then, the average number of words per line is 15.
  • Next, count how many lines there are on one page. Let’s say there are 17 lines on a page.
  • Take the number of words per line and multiply it by the number of lines per page. In our case, we multiply 15 by 17. So, there are 255 words per page on average.
  • Finally, multiply the number of words per page by the number of pages. If your essay has 3 pages, it is approximately 765 words long.

How Long Does it Take to Write an Essay?

It is crucial to know how long writing will take you, especially if you are working on an exam essay or just short on time. Note that you need to consider the time for typing and researching necessary to complete a piece. Research time may vary. Usually, it’s 1-2 hours for 200-250 words .

The picture shows the fact about the average speed of writing.

Below, we’ve gathered the average writing time for average and slower writing speed:

And here are the results in pages:

How Many References Does an Essay Need?

Another essential part of any composition is the reference list. Different academic levels require different references. You’ll find out how many of them should be in your paper in the table below!

📝 Essay Examples: Different Length

Finally, we’ve gathered some excellent sample essays of different lengths. Make sure to check them out!

We also recommend you check out our free essay samples sorted by pages:

  • 1-Page Essay Examples
  • 2-Page Essay Examples
  • 3-Page Essay Examples
  • 4-Page Essay Examples
  • 5-Page Essay Examples
  • 10-Page Essay Examples
  • 20-Page Essay Examples
  • 30-Page Essay Examples
  • 40-Page Essay Examples
  • 50-Page Essay Examples

Now you know all about essay length, word limits, and ways to lengthen or shorten your text. If you know other interesting tricks, make sure to share them in a comment! Good luck with your writing assignments!

You may also like:

  • How to Write a Process Analysis Essay: Examples & Outline
  • How to Write a Precis: Definition, Guide, & Examples 
  • How to Write a Critical Analysis Essay: Examples & Guide
  • How to Write a Narrative Essay Outline: Template & Examples
  • How to Write a Formal Essay: Format, Rules, & Example
  • Word Limits and Assignment Length: Massey University
  • The Paragraph in the College Essay: California State University, Long Beach
  • Introductions & Conclusions: The University of Arizona Global Campus
  • How Long Should a Paragraph Be?: Daily Writing Tips
  • Paragraphing (Length Consistency): Purdue University
  • Hitting the Target Word Count in Your College Admission Essay: Dummies.com
  • How Long Should Your College Essay Be? What is the Ideal Length?: College Vine
  • Writing Personal Statements Online: Issues of Length and Form: Penn State University
  • Pen Admissions: Essays: University of Pennsylvania
  • Essay Questions: University of Michigan
  • Essay Structure: Harvard University
  • Components of a Good Essay: University of Evansville
  • Write Your Essay: UNSW Sydney
  • College Writing: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • 21 Helpful and Easy Tips to Make an Essay Longer: Seventeen
  • How to Make a College Paper Longer: ThoughtCo
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How Long is an Essay?

10 August, 2021

12 minutes read

Author:  Donna Moores

Making sure that you stick to the recommended amount of words is important for your academic performance. Even the slightest deviation from requirements might reduce your grade. But why let such a nuisance spoil your mark when you can just know what word count for each specific essay type is? So, how long is an essay? This question seems to be the talk of the town among students. As all students know from experience, the higher the academic level and the more specific the study area is, the stricter the course requirements are and the longer the essay should be. In the following guide, we will discuss how essay length varies depending on the academic level and what to do to find out what a proper essay length should be.

How Long is an Essay?

Essay Length Tips

Try to stick to the 80/20 rule.

The 80/20 rule indicates that an essay should have the following structure: 80% of the text should be covered in the main body, and only 20% – in the introduction and conclusion. If you want to make sure that your text is easy to comprehend – make use of this rule. Structuring the paper in such a way makes sure that the reader does not lose the key idea of your essay.

Cover a single topic sentence in one body paragraph

Another valuable tip covers the composition of body paragraphs. Namely, keep in mind that each paragraph should reveal only one topic sentence, one point, and one argument. It is inappropriate to discuss two points in the same body paragraph since the whole essay loses its coherence this way. If you feel like you have some extra points to add, it is always better to create a new paragraph for this purpose.

Take spacing into account

Spacing plays an important role in assuring you follow the word count. For instance, a single-spaced page contains 550 words, while a double-spaced page contains 275 words respectively. So, according to the spacing you choose, you can always keep track of your word count. But to make sure you are as accurate as possible, you can always check the number of words right in Microsoft Word or Google Docs.

Five – this is the minimum required number of paragraphs

A basic paper structure requires five paragraphs, where three paragraphs belong to the main body part, and the other two cover introduction and conclusion. Keeping the outlined structure in mind always proves helpful, especially when it comes to sticking to a suggested word count.

Different Essay Length for Different Academic Levels

As a rule, a middle schooler is expected to write way less than a university student. Although the essay length often depends on the assignment type rather than academic level, the difference still exists. Below we will discuss what a recommended essay length for school and university essays is.

How Long is a Middle School Essay?

Middle school is where essay writing skills are being tested professionally. How long should a college essay be? Normally, essays length for middle school students varies between 500 and 1000 words. A typical middle school essay follows a well-known essay structure: introduction, body paragraphs, and summary (five paragraphs). Main body is usually the most informative part of a school essay and takes 80% of the word count. So if your teacher asks you to deliver a 1000-word essay, keep in mind that they expect you to write 800 words of main body text. But how long is a 500 word essay, for example? Well, this wordcount equals a page and a half. Based on this length, you can count the number of pages required for your essay.

How Long is a High School Essay?

There are several things that you, as a high schooler, might want to keep in mind. First of all, the essay structure remains exactly how it was in middle school. The only difference is that your tutor will expect a more profound analysis as well as a bigger essay length. Students need to show a more professional attitude to the topic and write approximately 2000 words for each essay.

How Long is a University (Undergraduate level) Essay

Apparently, the essay length will gradually extend as soon as you enter higher academic levels. At the university stage, students are challenged with complex subjects and are asked to reflect on the knowledge they gained during the course. Usually, Bachelor students write 5-10 page papers.

University essays imply demonstrating not only the knowledge and skills obtained during the course but also showing your writing skills. Students usually get long time frames to write such papers as they require research and extensive analysis.

If you are an undergraduate student, you may expect your professor to assign a couple of 1500 -word essays that explore a particular topic.

How Long is a University (Graduate level) Essay

A graduate level essay is similar to an undergraduate one. Although it often depends on the topic, university, and course, there are a lot of similarities between university essays for students of all academic levels. For a graduate-level student, the word count is somewhere between 3000 and 6000 words. However, courses that also imply other kinds of assignments, such as lab reports or practical exercises, might have looser essay length requirements.

Other requirements apply for those who are about to write their final dissertation or a master thesis. These are assignments that ask you to write 100,000 words or even more. For this type of assignment, you will be given a couple of months to research and write a paper.

How long is each part of an essay?

The length of each essay part usually depends on the general word count for the entire paper. How long is a 1000 word essay then? If the suggested essay length equals 1000 words, then you need to devote roughly 80% of the word count to the main body part, 10% for introduction, and 10% for a conclusion. However, if you are about to prepare a 10-page paper, this does not mean that final remarks and introduction should be proportionally big. Instead, it is always a plus when you keep your introduction short and up to the point. The same concerns the conclusion part. Always make sure you use only the most relevant information and avoid pouring water just to make the text look massive.

How to Manage Essay Word Count

Trying to achieve the suggested essay length might sometimes turn out to be quite a challenge. Here are some tips to make it easier for you:

Create an outline

Creating an outline before starting to write a final draft can do you good. First of all, having a clear plan indicates how many words you should write for each essay part. This approach will prevent you from extra editing work as well as give your text a transparent structure and message. You will get an idea of how to use the space that you have and avoid adding unnecessary information throughout the text.

Review the extant literature

To write better papers, it is always recommended to acknowledge the topic you’re working on. The reason why a lot of essays get poor grades is hidden in the insufficient topic understanding, so make sure you do solid research.

Make use of examples

Using examples in the text always proves to be a good idea. First, this approach enriches the text and gives it a lively tone. Additionally, referring to examples helps a lot when it comes to extending the word count. If you need to write 100 more words but have no idea of  what to add – add examples! Also, you may include some facts, data, or basically any evidence.

Revise your paper

Revising proves helpful when it comes to reducing the essay length. If you wrote 1500 words instead of 1000 – simply review the text and search for the information which sounds extra. Once you take a fresh look at your essay, you will certainly find entire sentences that do not fit in or just don’t make a lot of sense.

Can I go under the suggested length?

Going under a suggested length isn’t a crime as long as you’re close to the suggested word count. In other words, it is fine to write 900 words if the suggested length is 1000, but writing less than 900 words might affect your grade. Nonetheless, we suggest that you try to get as close to the required word count as possible – your tutor will appreciate it. If you are struggling to extend your text, here is what you can do:

  • Take a look at your essay points and try to provide more clarifications on their regard.
  • Use new paragraphs to shed light on the problem but from a different perspective.
  • Search for evidence and add it to body paragraphs.

Can I go over the suggested length?

As a rule, no one expects you to fit into exactly 500, 1000, or 2000 words. The standard acceptable deviation usually equals 10% of the text. This means that if the paper’s instructions ask you to write 2000 words, it will be fine if you go up to 2200 words.

However, this rule might not hold true in some cases, which is why we advise you to consult your professor on this matter.

We also recommend all students make the word count as close to the required one as possible. Exceeding the standard length always equals more time spent on evaluating the assignment, so try to compress your essay by using the following techniques:

  • Check whether your arguments are in line with the thesis statement and don’t. hesitate to get rid of extra information.
  • Make sure each body paragraph reveals one point only.
  • Reduce sentence length so that each sentence fits in a single line.

What if there are no length guidelines?

It might be the case that your paper does not provide any writing instructions at all. In this case, you can manage the situation in several ways:

Simply search for the requirements online

If no strategy seems to work – just google it. You will easily find social media posts and forum answers on how to write a specific kind of essay. Besides, you can visit your chair’s website and look for essay length requirements there. It sometimes happens that professors don’t indicate any word count because the information about it is available on the website.

Make conclusions based on the paper description

Take a look at your essay instructions. If they say that you should write a paper with three brief body paragraphs, it means that each paragraph should equal 150-200 words. If the paper asks you to develop your ideas in well-developed paragraphs, you will certainly need to write at least 400 words for each.

If you aren’t sure – contact the administration

If you couldn’t find the information regarding world limits but still feel like it is important to stick to rules, get in touch with the admissions office. They might not tell you exactly how long your paper should be; but they will tell you what an average, acceptable word count is.

How Can Handmadewriting Help You?

If you’re having a hard time coming up with an optimal word count or just don’t know how to fit all your ideas into a single essay, we are glad to help! At Handmadewriting essay writer service, we care about your grades as much as we care about the quality of our service. If you need to write a small 500-word essay or a 10-page report, we can help you achieve your academic goals. Place your first order and explore all the benefits of college essay writing!

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Our 2020-21 Writing Curriculum for Middle and High School

A flexible, seven-unit program based on the real-world writing found in newspapers, from editorials and reviews to personal narratives and informational essays.

how long is a middle school essay

Update, Aug. 3, 2023: Find our 2023-24 writing curriculum here.

Our 2019-20 Writing Curriculum is one of the most popular new features we’ve ever run on this site, so, of course, we’re back with a 2020-21 version — one we hope is useful whether you’re teaching in person , online , indoors , outdoors , in a pod , as a homeschool , or in some hybrid of a few of these.

The curriculum detailed below is both a road map for teachers and an invitation to students. For teachers, it includes our writing prompts, mentor texts, contests and lesson plans, and organizes them all into seven distinct units. Each focuses on a different genre of writing that you can find not just in The Times but also in all kinds of real-world sources both in print and online.

But for students, our main goal is to show young people they have something valuable to say, and to give those voices a global audience. That’s always been a pillar of our site, but this year it is even more critical. The events of 2020 will define this generation, and many are living through them isolated from their ordinary communities, rituals and supports. Though a writing curriculum can hardly make up for that, we hope that it can at least offer teenagers a creative outlet for making sense of their experiences, and an enthusiastic audience for the results. Through the opportunities for publication woven throughout each unit, we want to encourage students to go beyond simply being media consumers to become creators and contributors themselves.

So have a look, and see if you can find a way to include any of these opportunities in your curriculum this year, whether to help students document their lives, tell stories, express opinions, investigate ideas, or analyze culture. We can’t wait to hear what your students have to say!

Each unit includes:

Writing prompts to help students try out related skills in a “low stakes” way.

We publish two writing prompts every school day, and we also have thematic collections of more than 1,000 prompts published in the past. Your students might consider responding to these prompts on our site and using our public forums as a kind of “rehearsal space” for practicing voice and technique.

Daily opportunities to practice writing for an authentic audience.

If a student submits a comment on our site, it will be read by Times editors, who approve each one before it gets published. Submitting a comment also gives students an audience of fellow teenagers from around the world who might read and respond to their work. Each week, we call out our favorite comments and honor dozens of students by name in our Thursday “ Current Events Conversation ” feature.

Guided practice with mentor texts .

Each unit we publish features guided practice lessons, written directly to students, that help them observe, understand and practice the kinds of “craft moves” that make different genres of writing sing. From how to “show not tell” in narratives to how to express critical opinions , quote or paraphrase experts or craft scripts for podcasts , we have used the work of both Times journalists and the teenage winners of our contests to show students techniques they can emulate.

“Annotated by the Author” commentaries from Times writers — and teenagers.

As part of our Mentor Texts series , we’ve been asking Times journalists from desks across the newsroom to annotate their articles to let students in on their writing, research and editing processes, and we’ll be adding more for each unit this year. Whether it’s Science writer Nicholas St. Fleur on tiny tyrannosaurs , Opinion writer Aisha Harris on the cultural canon , or The Times’s comics-industry reporter, George Gene Gustines, on comic books that celebrate pride , the idea is to demystify journalism for teenagers. This year, we’ll be inviting student winners of our contests to annotate their work as well.

A contest that can act as a culminating project .

Over the years we’ve heard from many teachers that our contests serve as final projects in their classes, and this curriculum came about in large part because we want to help teachers “plan backwards” to support those projects.

All contest entries are considered by experts, whether Times journalists, outside educators from partner organizations, or professional practitioners in a related field. Winning means being published on our site, and, perhaps, in the print edition of The New York Times.

Webinars and our new professional learning community (P.L.C.).

For each of the seven units in this curriculum, we host a webinar featuring Learning Network editors as well as teachers who use The Times in their classrooms. Our webinars introduce participants to our many resources and provide practical how-to’s on how to use our prompts, mentor texts and contests in the classroom.

New for this school year, we also invite teachers to join our P.L.C. on teaching writing with The Times , where educators can share resources, strategies and inspiration about teaching with these units.

Below are the seven units we will offer in the 2020-21 school year.

September-October

Unit 1: Documenting Teenage Lives in Extraordinary Times

This special unit acknowledges both the tumultuous events of 2020 and their outsized impact on young people — and invites teenagers to respond creatively. How can they add their voices to our understanding of what this historic year will mean for their generation?

Culminating in our Coming of Age in 2020 contest, the unit helps teenagers document and respond to what it’s been like to live through what one Times article describes as “a year of tragedy, of catastrophe, of upheaval, a year that has inflicted one blow after another, a year that has filled the morgues, emptied the schools, shuttered the workplaces, swelled the unemployment lines and polarized the electorate.”

A series of writing prompts, mentor texts and a step-by-step guide will help them think deeply and analytically about who they are, how this year has impacted them, what they’d like to express as a result, and how they’d like to express it. How might they tell their unique stories in ways that feel meaningful and authentic, whether those stories are serious or funny, big or small, raw or polished?

Though the contest accepts work across genres — via words and images, video and audio — all students will also craft written artist’s statements for each piece they submit. In addition, no matter what genre of work students send in, the unit will use writing as a tool throughout to help students brainstorm, compose and edit. And, of course, this work, whether students send it to us or not, is valuable far beyond the classroom: Historians, archivists and museums recommend that we all document our experiences this year, if only for ourselves.

October-November

Unit 2: The Personal Narrative

While The Times is known for its award-winning journalism, the paper also has a robust tradition of publishing personal essays on topics like love , family , life on campus and navigating anxiety . And on our site, our daily writing prompts have long invited students to tell us their stories, too. Our 2019 collection of 550 Prompts for Narrative and Personal Writing is a good place to start, though we add more every week during the school year.

In this unit we draw on many of these resources, plus some of the 1,000-plus personal essays from the Magazine’s long-running Lives column , to help students find their own “short, memorable stories ” and tell them well. Our related mentor-text lessons can help them practice skills like writing with voice , using details to show rather than tell , structuring a narrative arc , dropping the reader into a scene and more. This year, we’ll also be including mentor text guided lessons that use the work of the 2019 student winners.

As a final project, we invite students to send finished stories to our Second Annual Personal Narrative Writing Contest .

DECEMBER-January

Unit 3: The Review

Book reports and literary essays have long been staples of language arts classrooms, but this unit encourages students to learn how to critique art in other genres as well. As we point out, a cultural review is, of course, a form of argumentative essay. Your class might be writing about Lizzo or “ Looking for Alaska ,” but they still have to make claims and support them with evidence. And, just as they must in a literature essay, they have to read (or watch, or listen to) a work closely; analyze it and understand its context; and explain what is meaningful and interesting about it.

In our Mentor Texts series , we feature the work of Times movie , restaurant , book and music critics to help students understand the elements of a successful review. In each one of these guided lessons, we also spotlight the work of teenage contest winners from previous years.

As a culminating project, we invite students to send us their own reviews of a book, movie, restaurant, album, theatrical production, video game, dance performance, TV show, art exhibition or any other kind of work The Times critiques.

January-February

Unit 4: Informational Writing

Informational writing is the style of writing that dominates The New York Times as well as any other traditional newspaper you might read, and in this unit we hope to show students that it can be every bit as engaging and compelling to read and to write as other genres. Via thousands of articles a month — from front-page reporting on politics to news about athletes in Sports, deep data dives in The Upshot, recipes in Cooking, advice columns in Style and long-form investigative pieces in the magazine — Times journalists find ways to experiment with the genre to intrigue and inform their audiences.

This unit invites students to take any STEM-related discovery, process or idea that interests them and write about it in a way that makes it understandable and engaging for a general audience — but all the skills we teach along the way can work for any kind of informational writing. Via our Mentor Texts series, we show them how to hook the reader from the start , use quotes and research , explain why a topic matters and more. This year we’ll be using the work of the 2020 student winners for additional mentor text lessons.

At the end of the unit, we invite teenagers to submit their own writing to our Second Annual STEM writing contest to show us what they’ve learned.

March-April

Unit 5: Argumentative Writing

The demand for evidence-based argumentative writing is now woven into school assignments across the curriculum and grade levels, and you couldn’t ask for better real-world examples than what you can find in The Times Opinion section .

This unit will, like our others, be supported with writing prompts, mentor-text lesson plans, webinars and more. We’ll also focus on the winning teenage writing we’ve received over the six years we’ve run our related contest.

At a time when media literacy is more important than ever, we also hope that our annual Student Editorial Contest can serve as a final project that encourages students to broaden their information diets with a range of reliable sources, and learn from a variety of perspectives on their chosen issue.

To help students working from home, we also have an Argumentative Unit for Students Doing Remote Learning .

Unit 6: Writing for Podcasts

Most of our writing units so far have all asked for essays of one kind or another, but this spring contest invites students to do what journalists at The Times do every day: make multimedia to tell a story, investigate an issue or communicate a concept.

Our annual podcast contest gives students the freedom to talk about anything they want in any form they like. In the past we’ve had winners who’ve done personal narratives, local travelogues, opinion pieces, interviews with community members, local investigative journalism and descriptions of scientific discoveries.

As with all our other units, we have supported this contest with great examples from The Times and around the web, as well as with mentor texts by teenagers that offer guided practice in understanding elements and techniques.

June-August

Unit 7: Independent Reading and Writing

At a time when teachers are looking for ways to offer students more “voice and choice,” this unit, based on our annual summer contest, offers both.

Every year since 2010 we have invited teenagers around the world to add The New York Times to their summer reading lists and, so far, 70,000 have. Every week for 10 weeks, we ask participants to choose something in The Times that has sparked their interest, then tell us why. At the end of the week, judges from the Times newsroom pick favorite responses, and we publish them on our site.

And we’ve used our Mentor Text feature to spotlight the work of past winners , explain why newsroom judges admired their thinking, and provide four steps to helping any student write better reader-responses.

Because this is our most open-ended contest — students can choose whatever they like, and react however they like — it has proved over the years to be a useful place for young writers to hone their voices, practice skills and take risks . Join us!

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How Long Should an Essay Be? Essay Length Guide & Tips

How long is an essay

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Use our free Readability checker

Have you ever wondered how long is an essay? The simplest answer is that it should be as long as specified in the requirements. However, when it comes to practice, everything isn't so easy. The length of an essay can vary greatly depending on its purpose, level of education, and specific assignment instructions.

How many pages or words do you have to write to achieve the perfect essay length? How to keep your writing clear, structured, and logical staying within the specified word limit? What is the length of different types of essays and how to achieve a perfect match of the paper content and length? Find the answer to these essential questions and discover real-life examples in this ultimate guide. If you need to write your essay and there are no instructions, StudyCrumb essay writers will guide you.

Importance of Essay Length

An essay length and word count are important because they help you achieve your goals. If you're writing a paper to impress an admissions committee, it should be long enough to give the committee the information they need. At the same time, it shouldn't be too long. Otherwise, it may seem boring or uninteresting. 

In addition to helping you achieve your goals, the length of an essay and word count can also help make sure your paper is easy to read and flows well. You also have to stay compliant with the specific writing requirements to get full credit for the paper. Staying within the word limit is one of them. You can use our free tool to count how many words your paper is to make sure you stay within limits.

What Impacts Essay Length?

So, how long your essay should be? The trick is that it depends. In general, academic papers are divided into three categories:

  • School essay
  • College essays
  • University papers.

Depending on the educational level, the length requirements will be different. In addition, there are 4 essential factors that determine the volume of an academic essay.

  • Essay type Different types of essays have different requirements regarding length and content, which are usually listed in your professor's syllabus or instructions.
  • Educational level For example, college students are generally expected to write longer papers compared to middle school essay.
  • Essay topic If your professor gives you a topic that requires research (like "How has technology impacted education?"), chances are your paper will go beyond the limits of a 1000 word essay . But if they want you to share your impressions on a movie, you can fit it into 275 words well.
  • Specific requirements your professor may have For instance, if they want a piece that's three pages, double-spaced, and includes footnotes, then those are the parameters you'll need to work within.

Essay Length Recommendations

It's important to know the length of your essay before you start writing so that you can decide on the word count for each paragraph and stay compliant with other recommendations of your professor. So, after we have discovered the main factors influencing the essay’s length, let’s find out how long should an essay be depending on the type of paper and educational level.

Average Essay Word Count and Page Count Directions

Feel free to use our converter to find out how many words fit on a page.

High School Essay

500-800 words are usually enough for a typical 5 paragraph essay in high school. This is the space you can use to fully express yourself and your ideas at a high-school level. The most important thing is that you have a clear thesis statement and a good introduction that draws the reader in. Make sure your conclusion is also solid and makes a strong point while tying everything together. If you're asked to submit a high school essay that is shorter than 500 words, it's likely that the teacher wants you to focus on a very specific part of the prompt.

>> Read more: How to Write an Essay?

College Admission Essay

The length of a college admission essay is often shorter than those written for high school. With this type of task, you have to stay within 650 words on average but it depends on the type of college you’re applying to, so make sure you check with the school directly before writing your essay (they will have recommendations on length). College admission papers can be either analytical or narrative—the length doesn’t change based on what type of essay it is.

Undergraduate College Essay

An undergraduate essay in college should be between 500-650 words, but it still depends on the paper type and topic to cover. The length of an undergraduate college essay varies depending on the type of paper being written as well as what type of school you're attending (public vs private). It also depends on whether you're writing an essay of any specific type – an argumentative piece or a narrative piece. In terms of writing style, this type of essay is more formal than what would typically be expected from a high school essay.

Graduate School Admission Essay

Graduate school admission papers should be between 500-1000 words, depending on what type of graduate program you're applying for. This essay is just the paper that matters most to the admission committee, so it's important to make sure that it's clear, concise, and well-written. The admissions committee will be looking for a strong introduction, a compelling thesis statement, and an effective conclusion. The introduction and conclusion paragraphs can be a little shorter than the body ones. To get an idea of graduate school admission essays length and logic, take a look at successful sample papers. 

>> Learn more: How to Write an Essay Fast?

Graduate School Essay

The general rule of thumb for all graduate school essays is that you should keep it under 1000 words. This is because the admissions committees are looking for a comprehensive review of your background and experiences that includes information about your academic, professional, and personal life. 500-1000 words for a graduate school essay is the academic average. Use up to four pages to fully explain your reasoning and express your ideas. Also, keep in mind that the length and content requirements are usually set by the school itself.

How Long Is Every Part of an Essay

As you know, every paper consists of an introduction, body, and conclusion. But how many words should you write for each section? Keep in mind a simple yet general rule of 80/20. It means that your essay’s body should contain 80% of all your content. This is also the room for explaining your “why” and “how”, citing relevant studies, and providing argumentation. 

Now, let’s find out how to write each of the parts while keeping an average essay length and the required word count in mind. 

To ease your essay writing process, we advise preparing a draft. If you have never done it before, take a rough draft example .

Average Length of Essay Parts

How Long Should an Introduction Be for an Essay?

The introduction is the first paragraph of an essay. It serves as the opening for your essay. The introduction should provide a brief summary of the topic, point out the significance of your topic, and give a preview of what you will discuss in your paper. If you are writing a normal essay with up to 550 required words count, your introduction should take approximately 100 words. Most general essays will have one or two paragraphs in their introduction section.

>> Read more: How to Start an Essay

How Long Should an Essay Body Paragraph Be?

An average length of a body paragraph is up to 150 words. It means that each you should take up four to six text lines (Times New Roman 12). Build up your body paragraphs in the next way to achieve the right lengths, keep your flow logical, and follow a word limit within an essay. Around 5-7 sentences are usually enough for a short essay paragraph, so:

  • Write a topic sentence to every paragraph.
  • Present a research-supported statement.
  • Offer your argumentation.
  • End with a transition phrase.

>> Learn more: How to Write a Good Body Paragraph

Deciding on the Number of Body Paragraphs in an Essay

So, how many paragraphs should you write to create a full-length essay that’s also compliant with your professor’s requirements? The answer is simple: You should write as many body paragraphs as it takes to get your point across. That means that if you have a lot of information to share, then you might want to add more paragraphs. If you don’t have much information, then you can keep the number low. Below is the average number of paragraphs (including into and outro) depending on the word count:

  • 275 words - 3 paragraphs
  • 550-words - 4-5 paragraphs
  • 1100 words - 6-8 paragraphs.

How Long Is an Essay Conclusion Supposed to Be?

As you know, a conclusion in an essay is its final part and it should never be longer than your paper’s body. Generally, it is necessary to write one paragraph for simpler and typical essays and two paragraphs for longer papers.

But the important thing is not to overdo it. If your conclusion is too long, the professor is likely to lower your grade — just because you failed to follow the academic writing standards (even if there are no complaints about your outro content). That’s why on average, a conclusion of an essay should be up to 100 words long.

Tips to Achieve the Required Length

So, at this point,  you know how long general essays should be and how many words in an essay are depending on its type. Now, let’s deal with the most challenging task and find out what you can do to make your essay longer or shorter, improving its quality along the way.

Making Your Essay Longer

Use the next 5 tips to transform a short essay into a longer one.

  • Add examples. You can use your own experiences. Use examples from other people or books that relate to the topic.
  • Add facts, statistics, and citations. Adding these kinds of details will help prove how well-informed you are on this topic and help back up some of your claims.
  • Use transitions but don't overdo them. They're useful for helping readers follow along with your paper. But too many transitions may sound just like an attempt to extend the paper’s volume.
  • Double-check your argumentation. Providing a clear argumentation is difficult. That's why you have to double-check your reasoning and make sure you hadn't combined two different arguments in a single paragraph. To fix such a mistake, add one more section to your paper’s body for each of the arguments you have. Such a simple tip will make your writing clearer too.
  • Read sample papers on the topic to grab more ideas. Chances are you've missed some important points. The papers of other students will help you fill the gaps and reasonably extend the word count.

Making Your Essay Shorter

Some students tend to write significantly more than an average essay word count. It may sound paradoxical but writing longer essays is easier than short ones. In the latter case, you should be as concise as possible. Here is how to make your essay shorter without losing the main ideas and disrupting the flow.

  • Remove irrelevant examples. You don't need to give several detailed examples for every point you make. Look at your thesis and ask yourself if every example supports that thesis. If not, cut it.
  • Make your paragraphs 4-sentences long. In this way, you will achieve a shorter essay volume and improve clarity at once.
  • Remove repetition. If something has already been said in the paragraph before, but it doesn't fit in the current context, get rid of it.
  • Make your introduction and conclusion shorter. An introduction is supposed to be interesting enough that readers want to keep reading. A conclusion is supposed to summarize everything you said. Don't reinvent the wheel in these sections.
  • Use a readability check tool. Transforming long and difficult-to-read sentences into shorter and clearer ones. It is one more way to make a long essay fit into the provided requirements.

Mistakes to Avoid When Adjusting the Length of an Essay

When adjusting the length of a paper, there are a few mistakes to avoid.

  • Adding unnecessary details. It's easy to think that you need to add more information when trying to make your piece longer. In reality, this is often not the case. Try balancing your explanations and keep them to the point in every sentence.
  • Cutting the necessary details. If you have too much information and need to cut it down, do so carefully. For example, if you have several suitable citations to include, use the most relevant or the most recent one instead of adding them all.
  • Writing “one more paragraph” for the sake of volume. This is a mistake because you can end up with a poorly-argued and too-watery piece.
  • Missing essential research. Missing essential research can be a big mistake because then you won't have enough information to write actually on the topic. In this case, your paper is likely to be too short.
  • Adding irrelevant citations. Irrelevant citations make your paper look like it was written by someone who doesn't know what they're talking about. They also make your essay look less credible than it truly is.

How Long Should an Essay Be Depending on Format?

So, how long are essays and how many pages should you write, depending on the formatting style you are required to follow? The trick is that different formatting styles may require you to use different fonts, sizes, and spacing. For example, if you write in MLA, you have to use Times New Roman 12, while APA usually requires you to use Arial 11. Both styles imply using double spacing. Now, let's discover how spacing and font size affect the paper’s length.

  • 275 words (Times New Roman 12, double-space) – 1 page
  • 550 words (Times New Roman 12, double-space) – 2 pages
  • 1100 words (Times New Roman 12, double-space) – 4 pages
  • 275 words (Arial 11,  double-space) – 1 page
  • 550 words (Arial 11, double-space) – 2 pages
  • 1100 words (Arial 11, double-space) – 4 pages

If your professor specifically required to use single spacing, it will take two times less space than when using double spacing.

Font and Size

Using the right font and size is important for getting the full grade for your paper and staying compliant with the professor's requirements. Agree, it will be disappointing to get a lower grade just because you've used another font that your professor asked you to use. Fortunately, the requirements for font and size aren't too diverse or complicated. So, here is a list of commonly used fonts and sizes for MLA, APA, and Chicago formatting styles.

APA style format :

  • Font: Times New Roman or Arial

MLA format essay :

  • Font: Times New Roman

Chicago format :

What to Do if There Are No Essay Length Requirements?

If you're writing an essay and there are no essay length requirements, don't panic! There are still some guidelines you can follow to make sure your essay has the right length.

  • Be guided by general academic writing rules. Generally speaking, it's a good idea to keep your papers between 500 and 1,000 words. If you're writing an essay for school or university, it should also be double-spaced, with one-inch margins on all sides of the page.
  • Consider paper type. Get back to the chart with essay types and recommended length we've provided above. Use this volume as a starting point.
  • Suggest the right volume depending on the topic. Some topics require several pages to be fully researched and explained. Others require stating your personal opinion that may fit well in two-three paragraphs.
  • Ask your professor. As for the simplest but still right solution, ask your professor for help determining what length would be best for your essay. If they give you some guidelines but don't specify exactly how long an essay paragraph or sentence should be, then follow those guidelines instead of worrying about word counts or page numbers.
  • Take a look at sample papers on similar topics. See how those students organized their thoughts into paragraphs and sections. You might even consider using their format as a starting point for your own piece.

Using Length to Determine an Essay Scope

It may seem that the length of your paper is just a formal requirement. In practice, it is a framework that helps you organize your essay sections. If you're writing a short essay, it's likely that you have a narrow focus and are only looking at part of the issue in question.

For example, if you are required to write a 550-words paper, you can immediately understand that you have to write an intro and conclusion (100 words each). Then, share the remained 450 words between three-four body paragraphs (100-150 words each). 

Next, everything becomes even easier. Outline the core ideas for each of the paragraphs. Support them with studies and citations and add your vision.

Bottom Line on How Long Is an Essay

So, now we have covered everything that matters for determining the right essay length and writing a full-credit paper following the requirements. In most cases, your professor will kindly provide you with a precise number of words you have to write. Otherwise, be guided by general academic writing rules for an essay type you are about to create. And keep the rule of thumb in mind. 

Regardless of your paper volume, it should be well-researched, clear, logical, structured, and reasoned.

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If you don't feel like sticking to instructions, we will always help you. Our professional college essay writers will write excellent work of any length. Just fill out an order on our website and get your essay done quickly.

FAQ About Essay Length

1. how long is an essay in middle school.

A middle-school essay is usually up to 550 words. An essay in middle school is typically short because the students are learning how to write, and they're not yet comfortable with long-form writing. These papers are typically short because they're meant to answer one question or dwell on a single subject being studied.

2. How long is an essay in sentences?

The length of an essay in sentences depends on the type of essay and the amount of information you have to cover. A 550-word typical essay usually consists of 15 sentences, given that the length of each sentence is approximately the same. However, if you are used to writing longer or shorter sentences, their total number may vary. So, the best tactic is to write sentences without clauses to keep them clear and understandable.

3. How long should a short essay be?

A short essay should be no longer than 550 words. The point of a short essay is to convey an idea in a precise and focused way, so it's important that you don't waste any words on unnecessary details. The best way to match the necessary word count is to write an outline before writing a final draft. In this way, you will know how much space each section will take up, at least approximately.

4. How many pages are in an essay?

The answer to this question depends on the topic, scope, and depth of your essay. In general, an essay of 2-3 pages is considered short; 4-6 pages is average; 7-10 pages is long. The amount of pages also depends on the spacing you are required to use. Using double-space between paragraph extends the page count twice.

5. How many words are in an essay?

There's no one answer to the question of how many words are in an essay. It depends on the type of essay you're writing and the formatting style you use, as well as your professor’s requirements. A standard word count for college essays is between 550-1100 words. However, some professors may request that you write more or less than this amount.

6. Can I go over the expected essay length?

The more compliant you are with the professor’s requirements, the more chances of getting full credit you have. So, don’t go over the expected length. Still, you can write up to 50-100 words more if the point you would like to add really matters for your reasoning.

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Daniel Howard is an Essay Writing guru. He helps students create essays that will strike a chord with the readers.

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Ultimate Middle School Guide to Essay Writing

A middle school is basically a place when you finally dip your toes into a real academic program. Compared to elementary school, it is no longer all about playing and having fun. Now begins the real education and it requires much more patience and effort to succeed.

Entering middle school, pupils face many subjects for the first time. And, they face many new types of assignments for the first time as well. One such assignment is an essay.

While you could’ve been assigned essays in elementary school, trust us – it is not the same. A middle school essay is way more complicated and demanding, so it is important to know how to handle it.

how long is a middle school essay

Middle School Essay: A Simple Step-by-Step Guide

If you were assigned to write a middle school essay but have not the slightest clue where to start, pluck up the courage and get ready to do some work. Whether you need assignment assistance from CopyCrafter or you’re ready to dive in yourself, we’ve got you covered. To help you get on the right track, we’ve prepared a detailed guide on how to tackle the task and get the best results.

Grasp the Basics

Before you dive right into the process, take a moment to understand the basic requirements. As a rule, a teacher will provide you with all the instructions.

Some of such basics may include:

  • Type of essay
  • Suggested structure
  • Format, etc.

As soon as you know and understand all these details, you can move on.

Learn to Use Available Tools to Your Benefit

Before you get straight to writing, think of the tools you have that make the process simple and enjoyable.

Some basic tools you will need are a laptop or a pen with a paper, and access to the Internet. However, there are many other handy tools. For example, if you know that you are getting distracted easily, you might want to get yourself some distraction blocking software.

Some other tools to use are text editors. They will make the process much simpler.

Finally, keep in mind that there are such resources as https://essaywriterservice.com/ that also can come in handy. Such services employ professional essay writers and help students handle their tasks with no effort.

Choose Your Topic

In many cases, you will have a specific topic assigned to you by a teacher. However, it is also not uncommon to be given a choice of a topic . If the latter is your case, you need to approach this choice with the utmost attention.

First of all, when picking the topic, you should keep in mind your purpose. Depending on the assigned type of paper, you may need to take your essay in a certain direction. So, it is an important factor.

Also, it is vital to consider your interests. The truth is that the best academic papers are written by students who are genuinely interested in what they are writing about. You can also check it at test-done.com . But, at the same time keep in mind that it should be engaging for the audience as well.

Finally, it is important to pick a topic that has the perfect scope. This means that it shouldn’t be too broad or, on the contrary, too narrow.

Next, you need to learn more about the selected topic and find trusted sources of information. Ideally, you should conduct your research in a library. Books are proven to be the most reliable sources.

However, if you still decide to do research online, here are the two key tips we have for you:

  • Always question the validity of obtained data and double-check facts across different sources.
  • Use the right tools for online research such as academic databases like Google Scholar.
  • If you follow these tips you will handle the research stage easily and effectively.

Organize Your Thoughts and Sources

The next step is brainstorming. During this stage, one must lay out all the ideas and information they have and think about how to organize them right in a paper.

The main tips for this stage are to always ensure a logical flow of information, avoid contradictions, and think of smooth transitions between different ideas. Another handy tip is to organize your points by their value. Consider placing the most convincing ideas or arguments close to the beginning of your essay and follow them with less significant ones.

Make an Outline

It can feel frightening to get started on your essay. And, it gets especially scary when you are not too experienced in handling such tasks. But, there is a way to reduce stress. You should create a detailed outline of your work!

Outlining gives plenty of benefits. It helps to follow the right structure. Also, it ensures that all your ideas and arguments will be just in the right places and that you won’t miss out on anything. Finally, writing is just much simpler when you have a plan. So do not neglect this step!

Create Your Thesis

First of all, when you get to writing, you need to develop a strong thesis statement . A thesis statement is your core argument. It is what you are going to prove throughout the paper. Thus, it should be very clear and specific, define your position on the topic, and also be concise.

Write the Paper

When the thesis is ready, move on to writing. At this stage, be sure to strictly follow the plan you already have. You can tackle your paragraphs one by one starting with the introduction to body paragraphs, and finishing with a conclusion.

However, it is often recommended to start with the body of the text. The thing is that both the introduction and conclusion are really tied up onto the body paragraphs. Thus, in order to make them logical, many experts advise to handle them last.

Lastly, the final stages of the work are proofreading and editing. Before getting started, be sure to let your essay rest for a few hours or even a day. Then, come back to it with a fresh outlook. Carefully check the work for grammar, punctuation, style, formatting, and other errors that might be present.

A good tip is to let someone else read your paper before the submission. Another person, for example, a friend or family member, can notice some mistakes you’ve missed.

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How Long is an Essay in Academic Writing

Published by Alaxendra Bets 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.

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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  introduction ,  thesis statement ,  main 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.

How Can ResearchProspect Help you?

If you are still unsure about how long an essay is or struggling with essay writing in general, then you might want to take a look at our custom essay writing service , which is designed to help you achieve the highest academic grade regardless of your academic standard and the complexity of the topic.

All our essay writers hold master’s or PhD degrees from reputed universities, so you can be confident of having your essay meets every bit of your programme’s requirements.

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Frequently Asked Questions

How long is an essay in academic writing.

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.

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Not sure about how to organize an essay? This article is designed to provide a brief yet compact view to master the skill of organization of essay.

Before diving into the how-to, grasping what critical discussion entails is essential. Essay writing help often emphasises the importance of this step. Critical discussion requires a deeper level of analysis where you explain a topic and evaluate and dissect its various facets.

What are topic sentences? In academic writing they briefly describe what a paragprah will explore. Here is all you need to know about topic sentences.

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How Long Should My Academic Essay Be?

Tonya Thompson

When you're given an academic essay assignment, it's easy to feel overwhelmed—especially if English is your second language or you have limited experience with academic writing. Academic essays can range from a few paragraphs to book-length dissertations, so the scope of expectations varies widely based on the school you're attending, the class you're taking, the departmental expectations, and (most especially) the professor giving you the assignment.

However, if you're new to academic essay writing and are stressing over the length it should be, keep in mind that in most situations, your questions will be answered by your professor or the admissions committee assigning you the essay in the first place. When an assignment is given, some professors are very specific on their expectations, including what they expect the word count to be.

When an assignment is given, some professors are very specific on their expectations, including what they expect the word or page count to be.

For most assignments, you'll likely be given guidelines based on word count (for example, 1,000 to 1,200 words) or page count (3 to 5 pages, double-spaced). You might also be given guidelines on the citation format to use, how many sources you should have, and even the publication date range of those sources. Some professors like to be extremely specific on their expectations for each academic essay assignment, while others might be more lenient and less structured in their guidelines. And of course, these guidelines will vary based on the type of academic essay and its purpose.

General guidelines for essay length

Middle school.

Academic essay assignments typically start in middle school in the American education system and fall within the range of 300 to 800 words. In these grades, you'll be learning the basic 5-paragraph essay structure, which includes an introduction, a thesis statement, the body, and a conclusion. In the typical 5-paragraph essay format, the first paragraph should be the introduction, the second through fourth paragraphs should be the body of the essay, and the fifth paragraph should be the conclusion. In very rare instances would your introduction or conclusion take up more than one paragraph for these types of essays.

High school

In high school, you'll still likely need to write a 5-paragraph essay, although some teachers (especially English and Language Arts) will start to require longer essays (3 to 5 pages). This is to prepare you for the rigor of academic writing that you'll be fine-tuning in college. In these essays, you will still have the basic format of introduction, body and conclusion; however, you'll expand the body to more thoroughly explore or explain a topic. The conclusion of your 3 to 5-page essay will likely still fall within one paragraph, although the introduction might be more than one, depending on the topic.

University (Undergraduate level)

Once you get admitted into an undergraduate program, the length of your academic essay assignments will vary significantly, depending on the classes you take and the departments you take them in. You'll also encounter classes that require academic essays of varying length as the semester progresses, with a longer essay due as the final assignment for a greater percentage of the class grade. In most cases, these longer academic writing assignments will be structured in such a way in that parts of the essay assignment must be turned in at different times, with all sections being put together as a final paper.

For example, in an advanced-level English class, your professor might assign multiple shorter essays of 5 to 7 pages (or 1,500 to 2,100 words) and one final essay that explores a topic in more depth at 8 to 10 pages (or 2,400 to 3,000 words). Another class, such as a core curriculum survey course, might require fewer essays or more journal prompt-type writing assignments.

University (Graduate level)

Much the same as the undergraduate level of college, graduate-level academic writing assignments will vary based on several factors, such as the professor, the course, the department, and the program of study. One university program might require extensive writing while another might be more lab-based or hands-on experience.

Graduate level is also where you're likely to first encounter "thesis" and "dissertation" academic writing assignments, which can go up to 100,000 words or more. These types of assignments obviously require extensive planning, research, and writing time, but you'll likely be given very specific word count and citation requirements when being assigned the paper to write.

Graduate level writing is significantly more involved than the 5-paragraph essay format and contains elements such as sections related to a review of literature, background of the topic/theoretical framework, methodology of research, and your specific findings. These separate sections might have their own word count limits and requirements, with some requiring significantly more time and writing than others. As with some undergraduate assignments, you might be asked to submit these academic writing assignments in stages or sections, including a proposal, a list of your sources, etc.

Beyond word and page count

Even if you stay within a certain word or page count that is required for an academic writing assignment, you could still receive a poor grade for not using that count wisely. For example, it's possible to write a 3 to 5-paragraph paper that is disorganized and illogical, in the same sense that an 8-page essay might have the same faults.

Here are some important guidelines to follow when writing an academic essay, regardless of the word count required:

  • Always carefully outline before you begin writing. An outline will help you cover everything that should be covered and ensure that you've included all of the required parts of the essay (introduction, thesis statement, etc.)
  • Never allow your academic essay writing style to appear rambling, off-topic, or full of "filler" words. While the topic you're writing about might be new to you, your professor will likely know it extensively and will be able to tell if you're writing just to fill space.
  • Do your best to avoid hedging. Hedging is when you essentially dance around a topic with vague statements but never have an actual stance on it. In most forms of academic writing, you're expected to make a clear assumption or thesis statement and then back up your claim with solid research and/or data.

It's important to avoid vague statements or ambiguity in your academic essay writing.

So, can I go over or under word count?

Ultimately, it will always be in your best interest to stay within word count requirements given to you on assignments. Word count or page count limits are given to you for a reason—your professor knows exactly how in-depth you can explore a topic or topics given that word count restriction. If you find that you are significantly under word count when you've completed your writing assignment, it's likely that you haven't explored the topic to the depth expected of you by your instructor. A poor or failing grade might be the result, as it will be clear to your professor that you either didn't understand the topic or didn't take the time needed to research it correctly.

Some professors will allow word count that is over suggested limits a lot more readily than word count that is under them. However, keep in mind that if you have gone significantly over word count in your academic essay assignment, it's always a good idea to ask your teacher if this is acceptable. He or she might have such a heavy student and research load that they are simply unable to read hundreds of essays that are over the suggested word count limit, and might be forced to stop reading once you've reached it. This means that important parts of your writing will not be read and could affect your teacher's grade choice for the assignments.

This is also true for college admissions essay assignments. Admissions committees might be reading the essays of thousands of applicants and need those writers to stay within word count restrictions for the sake of time and logistics. Allowing one applicant to write extensively more could also put that applicant at an unfair advantage, so word count restrictions should always be followed. For a more in-depth look at what you should and shouldn't do on your college admissions essay, check out this article on writing a college admissions essay that stands out from the crowd .

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  • The Impact of Digital Tools on Student Writing and How Writing is Taught in Schools
  • Part II: How Much, and What, do Today’s Middle and High School Students Write?

Table of Contents

  • Part I: Introduction
  • Part III: Teachers See Digital Tools Affecting Student Writing in Myriad Ways
  • Part IV: Teachers Assess Students on Specific Writing Skills
  • Part V: Teaching Writing in the Digital Age

AP and NWP teachers participating in the survey report giving students written assignments ranging from research papers to short responses, journaling, and creative writing.  The type and frequency of written assignments varies considerably by the subject being taught and grade level, but on the whole these AP and NWP teachers place tremendous value on formal written assignments.

These teachers also point out that “writing” can be defined more broadly than written work assigned in an academic setting.  In focus groups, many teachers noted that in addition to the “formal” writing students do for class, they are engaged in many forms of writing outside of the classroom, much of it using digital tools and platforms such as texting and online social networking.  How to define these new types of writing and determining what impact they have on the “formal writing” students do in class remains an open question for many of these teachers.  But most agree that among  students , “writing” continues to be defined as assignments they are  required  to do for school, as opposed to textual expression they engage in on their own time.

The writing assignments AP and NWP teachers give their students

The survey quantified what types of writing exercises AP and NWP teachers assign to their middle and high school students.  As the graphic below suggests, among this group of teachers, short essays and journaling are the most commonly assigned writing tasks.  More than half of the sample (58%) report having their students write short essays, short responses, or opinion pieces at least once a week.  Four in ten (41%) have students journal on a weekly basis.

Research papers, multimedia assignments, and creative writing in the form of plays or short stories, while not assigned by many teachers on a weekly basis, are assigned at some point during the academic year by most of these AP and NWP teachers. Just over three-quarters report having students complete a research paper (77%) or a multimedia project (77%) at some point during the current academic year.  Two-thirds (66%) have students engage in creative writing, such as poetry, a play, a short story or piece of fiction, at least once a year.

In contrast, more specialized types of writing assignments such as writing out mathematical problems or proofs, writing up labs, writing computer programs, designing computer games, and writing music or lyrics are assigned rarely, if ever, by most AP and NWP teachers surveyed.

Figure 3

The type and frequency of written work assigned is obviously highly dependent on the subject matter being taught.  Among Math teachers, for example, 81% report having students write out mathematical problems, proofs or concepts on at least a weekly basis.  And among science teachers, 51% have students write up labs at least once a week and 56% have students write out mathematical concepts or problems.  All of these percentages are much higher than those for teachers of other subjects.

In addition, while 94% of English teachers and 83% of history/social studies teachers had their students write a research paper in the 2011-2012 academic year, that figure is 68% among science teachers and 36% among math teachers.  A similar pattern emerges for multimedia or mixed media assignments, with English (84%) and history/social studies (82%) teachers most likely and math teachers least likely (51%) to have given their students this type of assignment in the prior academic year. Science teachers (70%) fall in the middle.

Figure 4

How do teachers—and students—define “writing” in the digital world?

A fundamental question posed to the AP and NWP teachers in the current study is how they and their students define “writing.”  Specifically, we asked teachers which forms of writing in the digital age—academic writing assignments, texting, social network site posts, blogs, tweets, etc.— are “writing” in their eyes, and which are not?  In a 2008 Pew Internet survey of teens on this topic, the consensus among 12-17 year-olds was that there is a fundamental distinction between their digital communications with friends and family and the more formal writing they do for school or for their own purposes.  Only the latter is considered “writing” in teens’ eyes. 9  Survey and focus group findings in the current study indicate this perception has not changed, either among students or their teachers, and that there remains a fairly strong conceptual divide between “formal” and “informal” writing.  For both groups, much day-to-day digital communication falls into the latter category.

Asked in focus groups to clarify what, specifically, they consider “writing,” the majority of teachers indicated that “formal writing” and “creative writing” fit their definition of “writing.”  Slightly fewer said they would classify “blogging” as writing, and very few said they would consider texting as a form of writing. Asked how they thought students would categorize these same writing forms, the results are comparable.  Most of these teachers do not think their students consider texting writing, but rather confine their definition of “writing” to those exercises they are required to do for school.  A handful of teachers went even further, saying that some students define “writing” only as something that requires them to use complete sentences.

On how students define “writing,” AP and NWP teachers say…

Our kids, over the course of their lives, will write infinitely more than we ever will. I’m 43 years old–half of my life was lived without email, texting, social networking, etc. The fact is, that is writing. Kids have more access points today and those access points are literally at our fingertips and beeping and buzzing blipping…nudging us to write. Incredibly though, students do not see this as “writing.”

Because students still write journals in some classes, I think they still distinguish this from blogging.  I think they see journaling as writing, but not blogging quite yet.  Although, I think that is starting to change as they start blogging for classes.  I think blogging will be viewed as more official writing in the future.

While most AP and NWP teachers in the focus groups said they do not consider texting, blogging, or micro-blogging (posting on social network sites) “writing” in the traditional sense, they believe these digital formats do spur thinking and encourage communication among their students, which may lead to deeper thinking and self-expression. Several teachers characterized these shorter online posts as “pre-writing” that may get a student engaged in a topic or discourse enough to want to write a longer piece about it or explore it further.  In some teachers’ eyes, these digital forms of expression are building blocks for lengthier, more formal writing.

On newer digital forms of writing, AP and NWP teachers say…

These digital technologies give students a reason to write. Social media and texting are very engaging for them; they write reflexively. It is not classic academic writing for sure. But, they do use the written language to communicate. This requires a certain amount of composition activity. Texters must decide the most efficient set of words to include in their message in order to convey meaning. These activities are “pre-academic writing”, but nevertheless for some kids they are formative processes that can lead to more sophisticated composition skills.

Students can write and voice ideas in many different registers. It is often not “academic” writing in the sense that many teachers would consider. However, I think the kinds of real world applicability of student work in classes makes these new digital tools much more relevant for students beyond their schooling years.

I read a fascinating article that talked about the impact of micro-blogging on writing. The piece started talking about how everyone just assumed that when things like Twitter and Facebook began to become more prevalent we would see a decline in our society’s willingness to take the time to write. What the article went on to explain however, was that many people who blurt something out on these sites are also actually taking the time to digest what others are saying on the matter, collaborate or chat with the others who are talking about the same thing, and then in turn they feel more compelled to go on and take the time to compose a longer piece of writing – such as a blog post. I see a lot of truth to this idea. In essence, the micro-blog has become to some their pre-writing.

Teachers in the study say today’s students are expressing themselves more, and more often

Though most AP and NWP teachers who participated in the study do not characterize activities such as texting, tweeting, blogging or micro-blogging on social network sites as “writing” in the strictest sense, there is almost universal agreement among them that the digital ecology in which today’s teens live provides many more avenues for personal expression.  In addition, most agree that many forms of personal expression are more accessible to the average student than has been the case for past generations.  Ultimately, most of these teachers see their students expressing themselves in text (and other formats) more so than was the case when they themselves were in middle and high school.  Asked in focus groups, if students today simply write more, in sheer quantity, most participating AP and NWP teachers agree this is the case.

On whether today’s students write more than prior generations, AP and NWP teachers say…

Digital technologies provide many opportunities to practice writing through participation. Mobile technologies allow one to write, capture, edit, & publish while on the go, anytime, anywhere. Be it at a museum, walk through the old neighborhood, or on a wilderness hike. Writing is no longer limited to a designated time or location.

They enjoy writing.  When you talk to these kids, they like to write.  They don’t like to write when you tell them, ‘I want you to write this.’  But in fact they love to write, and when you look at what they’re writing, they’re talking about themselves and expressing themselves.  Maybe not well but they are speaking their minds, so they are, I think, exploring who they are and what they’re about and they’re reading what other people are writing and looking at, and exploring other people’s feelings and ideas.

The informality of the written word and how students use the language is the downside of technology, but the upside is that students are communicating in the written form much more than I ever did at their age.

The ease of accessibility brought via technology has opened the availability of writing opportunities for students today. Some devices have tempted students to write everything as if it were a text, but teacher focus on this issue can channel the text craze into more academic writing. I think like all technologies, there are good and bad points, but at least the thought processes of writing are taking place.

I think they’re writing more, more than ever, and I think they have a much more positive outlook on writing, not just because of the school…you have Facebook, you have email, you have Twitter…they’re writing constantly.

[other teacher]

92% of AP and NWP teachers surveyed describe writing assignments as “essential” to the formal learning process, and “writing effectively” tops their list of skills students need to be successful in life

The survey gauged AP and NWP teachers’ sense of the overall importance of incorporating writing into formal learning today, and asked them to rank the value of effective writing vis a vis other skills students may need to be successful in life.  The vast majority (92%) say the incorporation of writing assignments in formal learning is “essential,” with another 7% saying it is “important, but not essential.”  Only 11 teachers out of more than 2,000 describe the incorporation of writing assignments into formal learning as “only somewhat important” or “not important.”

These results are not surprising, given the large number of writing teachers in the sample and the focus on formal writing in much of the U.S. educational system.  But the high value placed on writing extends across AP and NWP teachers of all subjects.  While 99% of English teachers in the sample say that writing assignments are essential to the formal learning process, the same is true for 93% of history/social studies teachers, 86% of science teachers, and 78% of math teachers.

Asked to place a value on various skills today’s students may need in the future, “writing effectively” tops the list of essential skills, along with “judging the quality of information.” 10  Each of these skills is described as “essential” by 91% of AP and NWP teachers surveyed.  Again, while large majorities of teachers of all subjects respond this way, English teachers are slightly more likely than others to say that “writing effectively” is an “essential” skill for students’ future success.

Figure 5

Other skills relevant to the current digital culture also rank high as life skills, with large majorities of these teachers saying that “behaving responsibly online” (85%) and “understanding privacy issues surrounding online and digital content” (78%) are “essential” to students’ success later in life. Skills that fewer of these AP and NWP teachers view as essential for students’ success in life include “presenting themselves effectively in online social networking sites” and “working with audio, video, or graphic content.” Fewer than one in three AP and NWP teachers in the sample describes either of these skills as “essential” to their students’ futures, though pluralities do describe each of these skills “important, but not essential.”

Figure 6

Do AP and NWP teachers see continued value in longer writing assignments?

The tremendous value most AP and NWP teachers place on writing of all forms, and particularly “formal” writing, was reflected throughout focus group discussions.  For some AP and NWP teachers, the extent to which today’s middle and high school students engage in what many see as “informal” writing means that “formal” writing assignments are more critical than ever.  Moreover, many see tremendous value in longer writing assignments that require students to organize their thoughts and fully develop complex ideas (particularly because they often have to present ideas on standardized tests in this format).  They see longer, formal writing assignments as an important juxtaposition to the more informal and often more truncated styles of expression in which their students regularly engage.  Throughout focus groups, AP and NWP teachers expressed the belief that students must master all styles of writing in order to be successful across social domains and to communicate with different audiences.

On the value of longer writing assignments in the digital world, AP and NWP teachers say…

There is great purpose and value in teaching students to write long and formal texts. Again, there are a whole lot of ideas that simply cannot be reduced simply without serious distortion or reduction. Consequently, developing complex ideas and thinking often requires longer texts. Writing is a demonstration of thinking, after all. So the deeper and more complex the thinking, the more that is reflected in the writing. As for formal texts, academia certainly requires a greater level of formality but so does a lot of work in the political, legal, and commercial world. Formal writing is almost always a factor that can be used for exclusion. Inability to write formal texts potentially robs students of voice and power. Arguably more important is the ability to recognize and adjust to the context that is appropriate for a given purpose. So knowing when and how to write with greater formality is an essential skill.

The organization and critical thinking skills that must be employed when students write a longer, more formal piece are skills that will students to become better, more engaged citizens. The processes of brainstorming, researching, evaluating, selecting, analyzing, synthesizing, revising are all skills that help students become more critical citizens, more discerning consumers, and better problem-solvers.

To carry an idea out to see if it is “true” to the thinker or not, I think this is so important. I want students to grapple with the complexity of a subject, to see it from all sides by way of a formal written response. Further, I think breaking down that response into its finer parts help me to teach the components that would go into an extended response. An example of this would be a section of their packet simply titled, DEFINITION. Before going into their response, I ask my students to define their terms and to set their parameters for the paper, not only as a service to their readers, but as a guidepost for themselves.

Writing is thinking—and, quite honestly, I don’t think any of us fully knows what our writing is (will be) about until we write it. Writing develops our thoughts and allows us to grapple with the “whats” and the “whys” of life. In this respect, writing informal and formal texts serves as role playing exercises as much as they do anything else. It is practice in being critical, analytical, reflective, informative and so on. We’re shipping young people out into the world where they are going to have to buy a car, a lawn mower, a stove…and they are going to want to read informative reviews before they spend their money. Writing it allows us to become familiar with it–we may never write an informative review once we leave school, but some…many…will want to read reviews before they spend their own money on something. Beyond buying something, I want to emphasize “writing is thinking is role play for life” as a cross-curricular ideal that too often becomes buried as just an English class objective.

Long texts give students the opportunity to deeply analyze an idea. Longer texts are essential to articulate complex concepts and beliefs. Although not everyone will be asked to write a long academic paper for their jobs, the reflection that goes behind this type of writing is critical for everyone. The process of making thinking transparent and clear to others is essential to knowing the why behind the what. The notion of form al texts supports the idea of knowing how to communicate with various audiences. The more registers a person has in his or her arsenal, the more effective that person will be when communicating with a diverse group.

I think that there is value of having long and well organized thoughts about a topic. I think that when we delve deeply into a topic and have to provide an argument or exploration then we must be able to write logically and coherently and be able to develop a point without getting off track. We must be able to write for an audience and provide evidence and delve deeply. I think there are also audience needs to be met when deciding on what level of formality we will write with so I see the value in teaching formal writing. People have to produce reports for colleagues and prospective business partners and college professors so this is obviously a skill that needs to be learned.

Writing is crucial across the curriculum. Good writing teachers teach students how to communicate a logical argument that is well-researched. At my school, I am impressed with the amount our English and history students write as well as the amount our science students write. The IB program does not have many multiple choice tests; therefore, students have to be good writers to perform well on IB exams… The IB program places such a heavy emphasis on communication that the students (and teachers) have adapted their definition to include anything that involves clearly stating ideas and explaining rationale.

While many focus group participants stressed the importance of learning to write in multiple styles—including more “formal” styles—and to write lengthier pieces on complex topics, other teachers questioned the “term paper mentality” and the tendency of some educators to equate length of assignment with complexity of thought.  Some AP and NWP teachers in the study debated the value of longer textual expression today, not just for students but for society as a whole. As many digital tools encourage shorter, more concise expression, these teachers questioned whether mastering more traditional writing styles will be critical for their students moving forward.  While these skills may be valued in standardized testing and in the college and university settings, there was some debate about how useful these skills are beyond those two arenas. Moreover, some teachers questioned whether lengthy writing assignments are the most effective format for teaching students specific writing skills.

Regardless of the length of a student’s writing, I think it is more important to teach students to develop their thoughts completely. If development of thought can come through length or formality then so be it. More important than length or formality would be for students to have a firm understanding about how to organize their ideas in such a way where they can effectively communicate their thoughts and ideas. I certainly don’t think that a teacher should only teach any one kind or length of writing, but the most often I hear the reason we should teach students to write lengthy formal essays is because that is the way they will have to write in high school, which in turn is how they will have to write in college. While I would say there can be value in getting a student dedicated to deeply investigating a certain topic through a longer writing assignment, I would never be willing to teach kids formal writing just because that is the way they do it in high school – there would have to be another purpose.

This almost starts to get at the “how many words should this be question.” I tend to find that when I say 500 words long, kids work to that end and stop. Sometimes they seem to like this better…it’s easy and sure. Usually, I say to make a plan and work to thoughtful response to the assignment and the feedback from their peers. This usually drives more from their thought process that my giving them a word count. Is this a formal text? Not really, but yes at the same time. I think many teachers panic when students deviate from the 5 paragraph essay that they know and understand. The belief seems to be that this serves their needs on the near future high stakes test that are demanded on students. I’m not sure that this serves them past this point.

I don’t think length is a point to pound home with any student. We need to look at the content of a students’ writing the most. If that means a paper has 8-10 pages to it, then so be it, but students need to learn how to sort out what is relevant and irrelevant details and information. Students need to produce well planned, thought out papers that get to the point.

  • “Writing, Technology and Teens,” available at  https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/Reports/2008/Writing-Technology-and-Teens.aspx . ↩
  • For more on the latter, see “How Teens Do Research in the Digital World,” available at  https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/Reports/2012/Student-Research.aspx ↩

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how long is a middle school essay

How Long is an Essay

how long is a middle school essay

How Long is an Essay?

High school essays typically range from 300-1000 words, focusing on a 5-paragraph structure. College admission essays are brief, 200-650 words, showcasing personal interests. Undergraduate essays vary, spanning 1500-5000 words, depending on course and institution specifics. Graduate admissions require more detailed essays of 500-1000 words, while graduate-level essays often extend from 2500-6000 words, reflecting deeper research and analysis.

The question of how long should an essay be– whether you are a pro or not–should come from something OTHER than your liking 💯. 

Sure, you can always follow your heart whenever you want to put your sentiments and purpose into words. It is, however, another truth that there is an external factor that always determines how effective you are as an essayist: the WORD COUNT.

Let us not all lie. No matter how good or bad we are at writing things, word count always matters. This factor may come into play when it becomes one of the criteria for judging one’s written output or a measure of someone’s writing prowess if it is made out of a career. Thus, one thing is for sure: even if it sucks, we always consider how long should an essay be.

But just like any other factor influencing good writing, managing an ideal word count for essays can be quite a breeze. All you have to do is pan out your purpose, know your audience, and be strategic in monitoring your word count. All of the know-how, and many others, will be discussed thoroughly in this blog, so stick around to see the magic!

How Long is an Essay Considering the Factors that I Have to Follow?

Factors everywhere. A good result cannot be determined well and objectively without these factors. Sure enough, good writing, while considering its word count, can be a walk in the park if one considers the following factors that regulate an ideal (or sometimes, required) word count.

Academic essay varies depending on multiple factors. Asking the “WHY” on something provides you with a clear way how you can finish it. In writing, this “why,” which represents your intention or purpose, gives you an outline of how you may navigate the entire process– and manage your word count as well.

Once you have set your writing goals before the writing process, you can prepare the right information that you will inject into the sections of your manuscript, as well as an approach (more than two is fine; do not be shy!) that will serve as your structure. Writers have different purposes– dictated or not, explicit or implicit, thus producing different preferences for word count.

One may have many demands in its purpose, making the word count a bit overboard. Some do not demand that much, translating to a permissible count. One thing is for sure, though: purpose drives your writing journey, so whether you measure your essay length or not, it must be clearly stated on the paper!

When we say that your feelings matter so much in your writing, that has to be minimized considerably because maintaining word count and determining how many words should an essay be sometimes depends on the people who read and use it.

A specific group of people always know what they want in a writing piece– either they like it long and extensive or short yet succinct. With this reality (arguing about it will not give you good marks) in mind, you have to be a sucker for their preferences.

The good thing about this, though, is you already have some ideas on how you will create your piece (versus thinking about it from scratch), and your horizons will widen since you will craft a piece that reflects other people’s liking. A little note when considering the audience as one of your considerations for word count is that they are already giving you a favor.

Nature of the Writing Task

Along with the wish to maintain an average essay word count, you must know WHAT you are writing about. Mostly common among academic institutions, the nature of a writing task may come off as explicit through the name itself (is it a traditional expository essay? A narrative report? A critical essay?) or implicit through the specifications of the task (Should there be an outline to adhere in the task? Should one use a specific structure or approach to the creation of a text?).

Determining how many words should there be in an essay will largely depend on what you are writing about, and the elements and features of these various tasks may shorten or lengthen the word count.

In Studyfy, however, you can see these factors come into play and create a concoction of a text like no other. With a tailor-fit custom essay writing service that offers a variety of academic, business, and personalized research papers that vary in word count depending on your purpose, you can yield personal success in your sheer convenience. 

How Long is an Essay in High School?

In high school, essays typically vary in length based on the assignment type, ranging from 500 to 1500 words for narratives, 800 to 1500 words for expository essays, 500 to 1000 words for reflective essays, and 600 to 1200 words for process essays. Always follow your teacher's guidelines.

High school is the period in education where students’ lower and higher-order thinking skills (LOTS/HOTS) are put into practice, and essays and other related written tasks are manifestations of their learning of these skills.

Although there is a tendency for students to ask someone “to write an essay for me ” because of being overwhelmed with too much information, writing an essay in high school is the best starting point for students to practice writing and presenting information by counting what is important and relevant.

The following is the list of common essay types and their ideal word count:

Narrative Essays

Its primary purpose is to narrate a specific event or describe a scenario using quotations, vivid descriptions, and imagery to convey the situation in writing accurately. Although adjectives, literary devices, and other strategies for vivid conveyance may mean a considerable amount of words to be injected into the piece, the essay length of a narrative text may range from 500-1500 words. 

Expository Essays

Typically following the traditional and rigid 5-paragraph format, these essays present information about a topic or clarify a particular concept, phenomenon, or entity. While some sources may put the count range from 300-1000 words, the extensiveness of this essay type may enlarge the range from 800-1500 words.

Reflective Essays

Also known as reflection entries, these essays are beneficial for developing students’ metacognitive skills, as they are expected to recall personal thoughts and experiences about a certain topic. A typical reflective essay falls within the range of 500-1000 words, depending on how downright or deep your reflection is. 

Process Essay

These kinds of essays are pretty common in Science courses, such as Biology, Chemistry, and Physics. Sometimes, coupled with a diagram or chart, a process essay explains how a certain practice, concept, or phenomenon happens step-by-step.

While some process essays may be words because some steps have to be elaborated for clarity, most are straightforward and do not need to be intricate since they are practical and mass-oriented. Because of this, process essays range from 600-1200 words.

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How Long is an Essay in College? Ideal Essay Length and Word Count

In college, essay lengths vary widely. Admission essays are typically 200-650 words, undergraduate essays range from 1500-5000 words, graduate admission essays are around 500-1000 words, and graduate-level essays can span 2500-6000 words. Always adhere to your assignment's specific word count guidelines.

To say that the essays in college get a lot more difficult than in high school, well– it is more complicated than that. Now that you are expected to have harnessed the necessary skills to process and interpret certain information, you now have to deal with types of writing tasks that are often extensive and time-consuming, to say the least.

Admission Essay

Impressing the admissions committee with a personalized essay is the number one goal, and guess what: You do not need a long string of words to do that. How long should essays be without using too many words in a college acceptance letter?

An admission college essay can be as short as a word count of 200-650 words, while graduate admission letters are more detailed with 500-1000 words. A quick tip: Show your personality and make an impact by clinching them with a few yet powerful or attention-catching quips. 

Critical Review Essay

Critiquing a text, film, book, or any other body of literature may require every bit of your research effort and HOTS. You have to dissect the subject into components and make sense of these components while making sure that you find gaps, associations, and relevance to a particular “lens” that helps a seemingly oblivious observation to become apparent.

It is thus safe to say that your word count may go bonkers, with an ideal range of 1500 to 3000 words, depending on the structure of your paper and the approach to criticism.

Persuasive Academic Essay

A persuasive college essay may land you a good harnessing of marketing and sales skills. This essay enables you to take a stand and advocate something for your audience to do the same thing by presenting credible and evidence-based claims and arguments.

A unique thing about persuasive college essays is that they use the technique called “Call to Action” to magically turn readers’ attention to your claim realistically and feasibly. Considering the elements that must be included in this essay, an 800-1500 word count is preferred.

Comparative Analysis Essay

Comparing and contrasting two ideas, phenomena, or concepts may take a while to provide total comprehensibility. Since the points of comparison may exceed the usual threshold, the word count may also swell up. Still dependent on the elements being compared in this analysis essay, the ideal word count is 1800-3000 words.

This writing task encapsulates the various documentation, research, and analysis of a specific case or scenario, most preferably something peculiar or novel. When creating a case study, it is somewhat impossible to be concise in describing the locale of the scenario.

You have to exhaust your vocabulary and presentation skills to convey the case into analysis effectively. With that being said, its ideal word count is 2000 to 3500 words, depending on the case’s complexity.

College Essays: Help is Near

College writeups can be difficult to do, and to pay for an essay may take a bit of shame and courage. However, the feeling of shame will change to relief if you know that a custom writing service that serves personal writing style and needs like Studyfy gets everything covered.

All of the specifications you need to be in the write-up, plus the necessary information that is pivotal to the success of your paper, will be yours if you sign up for a Studyfy service!

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FAQs: How Long Should An Essay Be?

How long is a typical essay if you will be using the ibc format.

IBC format, for starters, is the basic “Introduction-Body-Conclusion” format conventionally used for essays. Just like the IMRAD format in research papers, this format is standardized and widely accepted in academic institutions and other fields.

To determine the typical word count of an essay following this format, you must understand the weight of relevance each section holds. For instance, it is typical for an introduction to weigh less than the body, which should habituate the most significant information in the essay.

The same goes for conclusion. If the IBC format follows a 20-60-20 ratio and you aim for a 150-word minimum count per section, the entire count can be 750 words minimum.

How long are essays in college, considering that it will be a lot more difficult to write one?

Difficulty may translate to a longer word count, and we understand if it has been kept as a notion in your experience as a current or future college student. If you keenly noticed the type of essays presented at the collegiate level, the minimum word count is 250 (for admission essays) while the maximum is 3500 (mostly common among case studies).

Regularly, however, typical essay writing tasks range from 800-1000 words, especially if you are talking about concept, term, or research papers that are being done at the end of a unit of work or as a terminal course requirement.

Whether an undergraduate college essay, research paper, graduate school essays, or any type of academic writing, it's important to adhere to a specific word count and word limit. As college essays tend to be lengthy, an additional challenge is to incorporate all relevant information in a clear and succinct way.

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‍ How many words should an essay have if I wanted to fill an entire page?

Although this question is a bit practical and unhinged at the same time, we are also guilty about this, as we seldom check the word count of our paper when we finish a page. From our experience, you can fit 500-700 words in a page, but the count still depends on the font size, spacing, justification, and other formatting elements of your document. 

How long is an essay supposed to be in one paragraph?

The answer is invariable since we have to consider lots of factors about the purpose and nature of the writing task. From a general approximation, however, an essay paragraph can be within a hundred words. Exceeding it may render it lengthy and too tiring to read.

How many words should a high school essay be if no one provided an outline to adhere to?

When there is no explicit instruction about the word count of a high school essay task, you might find the 150-word minimum rule per section handy, in consonance with the 20-60-20 rule discussed briefly in the first question (although this is widely used if you are following the IBC format). You may adjust the minimum word limit depending on the difficulty or nature of the task.

how long is a middle school essay

  • Oct 25, 2022

Personal Narrative Writing in Middle School: Digging Deeper

Updated: Oct 25, 2022

how long is a middle school essay

For years, I didn't do personal narrative writing in middle school. In fact, I wrote an entire blog post about why I didn't do it . Main reason...it's been done before in many years prior to when those students came to you, especially if teachers prior use writing workshop.

However, I've grown to embrace it again. The biggest reason why is because I think it helps build a classroom community. I decided to go with personal narrative instead of my usual fiction writing in response to reading during the pandemic. I felt, since the kids were remote, this was a good way to get to know each other a little better.

I did peruse Lucy Calkins' Personal Narrative unit for the digital notebook, however, as I went through the unit, I changed a lot.

I like to have the students do a quick narrative based on a person in their lives . The idea of writing about a special moment with a person has been done a lot up until this point so I feel it's an easy way to get a sense of where they are. I have them start with listing moments with an important person. They pick one of those moments to write about.

how long is a middle school essay

I don't necessarily need an entire story; I just want them to show me what they can do.

Getting Started

If you don't know already, a personal narrative focuses on a small moment , not an entire day, trip, game, etc. In the earlier grades, teachers spend a lot of time on this (think less watermelon, more seed). At this point, I feel that students just need a refresher.

I like to do this through mentor texts . I provide students with actual written student narratives from my past students. (Here are two you can use. These are by actual students, so definitely not perfect examples. Student Narrative #1 and Student Narrative #2 ).

Students go in to highlight specifically the small moment components of the stories. We discuss how these stories are small moments (or not) and they also start analyzing what the stories did well (or not).

I think it is super valuable to see other students' stories to give students perspective of what's expected or what can be improved.

how long is a middle school essay

Brainstorming

Students begin to brainstorm by thinking of a place that is important to them. I tell them to be as specific as possible.

Their idea may be big, but then they make a map of the place. The map is more focused on the moments that happened in the place. They then pick one of those moments in the place and write long about it.

how long is a middle school essay

Next, I have students write about moments that mattered. For this, I like to do Show and Tell . I tell students a few days before to bring in an item that is important to them. This should symbolize something or someone that is important in their lives. This goes so well! It goes beyond just what the objects are, but also what they can represent.

They use that object to brainstorm ideas within the topics of "first times", "last times", and "moments I learned something" . For example, I showed a picture of my husband and me at my brother's wedding. This was important to me because it was the first time I had left my son with another babysitter. I was dealing with post-partum anxiety. This stemmed lots of ideas: first time I left my son with a babysitter, first time I had an anxiety attack, the LAST time I had an anxiety attack, the first time I changed a diaper, the moment I learned it's important to enjoy small things, etc.

how long is a middle school essay

I start with students focusing on story structure . I have them look at short stories to do this. I really like "Eleven" and "Fish Cheeks". They are short and sweet and are great models for personal narrative.

They fill out the chart for those stories. We discuss, then they plan their own stories on a story structure chart.

The next day we focus on internal and external . This is something we cover in our unit prior. I do a Deep Study of Character before this and we often get into internal and external characteristics of characters. For writing, they focus on what they could be thinking (internal) in each part of their chart and what they could be doing (external) in each part.

Like everything else, we look at short stories first to see how these mentor authors do the same.

how long is a middle school essay

Before getting into the actual writing, I spend a day on Show Don't Tell . There are so many things you can do with this, but here's how I do it .

I usually break down each part of the story structure chart by day. So, I will do exposition one day, rising action another, etc. I will start each day with them looking at mentor expositions, etc. Each year, I've done different things. I also share MY PERSONAL NARRATIVE. This is so important; you HAVE to write what the students are expected to write .

A few things I've done:

I would share a Doc with a page or two out of a shared read aloud. I'd give them specific questions that focus on that part of the story map; for example, "how did Jason Reynolds introduce the characters in this chapter?".

I'd have them go back into whatever books they are reading and answer similar questions ("how did the author introduce setting/problem/solution?" "how did the author show feelings/thoughts/actions?").

I always share with them MY exposition, rising action, etc. Sometimes I just read it to them, other times I have them work with partners to look for similar things mentioned in the bullets before this.

how long is a middle school essay

It's important to look at mentors. I don't just have them go and write the whole story in a day. It's so important to break it up.

There are so many different lessons you can do. I always have to remind myself that you don't have to teach them EVERY thing. I try to keep revision pretty straightforward.

Of course, there is editing; focusing on grammar, punctuation, spelling. I like to tie in anything I do with mentor sentences or vocabulary . It's a good idea to connect it to anything you do for grammar or word study.

Four major areas of revision as per the Lucy Calkins' unit:

Looking at mentor sentences and trying it out with their own writing.

Finding the heart of the story.

Stretching out scenes (finding a moment that can use more detail and stretching it).

Slowing down the problem scene.

how long is a middle school essay

I don't always commit to these exactly. I do like to spend time on dialogue and elaboration . I really get into how important it is to punctuate it properly and how to tag it so it shows more description.

I also revisit their showing and not telling slides and have them apply it to their writing.

One of the very last things I do in the revision stage is have them do critique groups . This is a bit different than just them swapping Docs with each other and commenting. It's more of a dialogue.

how long is a middle school essay

Lastly, they finalize their draft and put it on a Padlet . This is used for lots of things. Guardians are able to see their writing. They can see each other's writing. And I have a spot with ALL of their stories.

Bottom Line

While personal narrative has been done, there is always room to grow. I really feel it depends on the group you have. It's a nice way to start the year to get to know each other. I usually spend about a month on the entire unit.

Click below to get my digital notebook for the unit!

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College Essays

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Figuring out your college essay can be one of the most difficult parts of applying to college. Even once you've read the prompt and picked a topic, you might wonder: if you write too much or too little, will you blow your chance of admission? How long should a college essay be?

Whether you're a terse writer or a loquacious one, we can advise you on college essay length. In this guide, we'll cover what the standard college essay length is, how much word limits matter, and what to do if you aren't sure how long a specific essay should be.

How Long Is a College Essay? First, Check the Word Limit

You might be used to turning in your writing assignments on a page-limit basis (for example, a 10-page paper). While some colleges provide page limits for their college essays, most use a word limit instead. This makes sure there's a standard length for all the essays that a college receives, regardless of formatting or font.

In the simplest terms, your college essay should be pretty close to, but not exceeding, the word limit in length. Think within 50 words as the lower bound, with the word limit as the upper bound. So for a 500-word limit essay, try to get somewhere between 450-500 words. If they give you a range, stay within that range.

College essay prompts usually provide the word limit right in the prompt or in the instructions.

For example, the University of Illinois says :

"You'll answer two to three prompts as part of your application. The questions you'll answer will depend on whether you're applying to a major or to our undeclared program , and if you've selected a second choice . Each response should be approximately 150 words."

As exemplified by the University of Illinois, the shortest word limits for college essays are usually around 150 words (less than half a single-spaced page). Rarely will you see a word limit higher than around 650 words (over one single-spaced page). College essays are usually pretty short: between 150 and 650 words. Admissions officers have to read a lot of them, after all!

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Weigh your words carefully, because they are limited!

How Flexible Is the Word Limit?

But how flexible is the word limit? What if your poignant anecdote is just 10 words too long—or 100 too short?

Can I Go Over the Word Limit?

If you are attaching a document and you need one or two extra words, you can probably get away with exceeding the word limit by such a small amount. Some colleges will actually tell you that exceeding the word limit by 1-2 words is fine. However, I advise against exceeding the word limit unless it's explicitly allowed for a few reasons:

First, you might not be able to. If you have to copy-paste it into a text box, your essay might get cut off and you'll have to trim it down anyway.

If you exceed the word limit in a noticeable way, the admissions counselor may just stop reading your essay past that point. This is not good for you.

Following directions is actually a very important part of the college application process. You need to follow directions to get your letters of recommendation, upload your essays, send supplemental materials, get your test scores sent, and so on and so forth. So it's just a good general rule to follow whatever instructions you've been given by the institution. Better safe than sorry!

Can I Go Under the Word Limit?

If you can truly get your point across well beneath the word limit, it's probably fine. Brevity is not necessarily a bad thing in writing just so long as you are clear, cogent, and communicate what you want to.

However, most college essays have pretty tight word limits anyways. So if you're writing 300 words for an essay with a 500-word limit, ask yourself: is there anything more you could say to elaborate on or support your points? Consult with a parent, friend, or teacher on where you could elaborate with more detail or expand your points.

Also, if the college gives you a word range, you absolutely need to at least hit the bottom end of the range. So if you get a range from the institution, like 400-500 words, you need to write at least 400 words. If you write less, it will come across like you have nothing to say, which is not an impression you want to give.

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What If There Is No Word Limit?

Some colleges don't give you a word limit for one or more of your essay prompts. This can be a little stressful, but the prompts generally fall into a few categories:

Writing Sample

Some colleges don't provide a hard-and-fast word limit because they want a writing sample from one of your classes. In this case, a word limit would be very limiting to you in terms of which assignments you could select from.

For an example of this kind of prompt, check out essay Option B at Amherst :

"Submit a graded paper from your junior or senior year that best represents your writing skills and analytical abilities. We are particularly interested in your ability to construct a tightly reasoned, persuasive argument that calls upon literary, sociological or historical evidence. You should NOT submit a laboratory report, journal entry, creative writing sample or in-class essay."

While there is usually no word limit per se, colleges sometimes provide a general page guideline for writing samples. In the FAQ for Option B , Amherst clarifies, "There is no hard-and-fast rule for official page limit. Typically, we anticipate a paper of 4-5 pages will provide adequate length to demonstrate your analytical abilities. Somewhat longer papers can also be submitted, but in most cases should not exceed 8-10 pages."

So even though there's no word limit, they'd like somewhere in the 4-10 pages range. High school students are not usually writing papers that are longer than 10 pages anyways, so that isn't very limiting.

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Implicit Length Guideline

Sometimes, while there's no word (or even page) limit, there's still an implicit length guideline. What do I mean by this?

See, for example, this Western Washington University prompt :

“Describe one or more activities you have been involved in that have been particularly meaningful. What does your involvement say about the communities, identities or causes that are important to you?”

While there’s no page or word limit listed here, further down on page the ‘essay tips’ section explains that “ most essay responses are about 500 words, ” though “this is only a recommendation, not a firm limit.” This gives you an idea of what’s reasonable. A little longer or shorter than 500 words would be appropriate here. That’s what I mean by an “implicit” word limit—there is a reasonable length you could go to within the boundaries of the prompt.

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But what's the proper coffee-to-paragraph ratio?

Treasure Hunt

There is also the classic "treasure hunt" prompt. No, it's not a prompt about a treasure hunt. It's a prompt where there are no length guidelines given, but if you hunt around on the rest of the website you can find length guidelines.

For example, the University of Chicago provides seven "Extended Essay" prompts . You must write an essay in response to one prompt of your choosing, but nowhere on the page is there any guidance about word count or page limit.

However, many colleges provide additional details about their expectations for application materials, including essays, on FAQ pages, which is true of the University of Chicago. On the school’s admissions Frequently Asked Questions page , they provide the following length guidelines for the supplemental essays: 

“We suggest that you note any word limits for Coalition or Common Application essays; however, there are no strict word limits on the UChicago Supplement essays. For the extended essay (where you choose one of several prompts), we suggest that you aim for around 650 words. While we won't, as a rule, stop reading after 650 words, we're only human and cannot promise that an overly wordy essay will hold our attention indefinitely. For the “Why UChicago?” essay, we suggest about 250-500 words. The ideas in your writing matter more than the exact number of words you use!”

So there you go! You want to be (loosely) in the realm of 650 for the extended essay, and 250-500 words for the “Why UChicago?” essay.

Help! There Really Is No Guidance on Length

If you really can't find any length guidelines anywhere on the admissions website and you're at a loss, I advise calling the admissions office. They may not be able to give you an exact number (in fact, they probably won't), but they will probably at least be able to tell you how long most of the essays they see are. (And keep you from writing a panicked, 20-page dissertation about your relationship with your dog).

In general, 500 words or so is pretty safe for a college essay. It's a fairly standard word limit length, in fact. (And if you're wondering, that's about a page and a half double-spaced.) 500 words is long enough to develop a basic idea while still getting a point across quickly—important when admissions counselors have thousands of essays to read!

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"See? It says 500 words right there in tiny font!"

The Final Word: How Long Should a College Essay Be?

The best college essay length is usually pretty straightforward: you want to be right under or at the provided word limit. If you go substantially past the word limit, you risk having your essay cut off by an online application form or having the admissions officer just not finish it. And if you're too far under the word limit, you may not be elaborating enough.

What if there is no word limit? Then how long should a college essay be? In general, around 500 words is a pretty safe approximate word amount for a college essay—it's one of the most common word limits, after all!

Here's guidance for special cases and hunting down word limits:

If it's a writing sample of your graded academic work, the length either doesn't matter or there should be some loose page guidelines.

There also may be implicit length guidelines. For example, if a prompt says to write three paragraphs, you'll know that writing six sentences is definitely too short, and two single-spaced pages is definitely too long.

You might not be able to find length guidelines in the prompt, but you could still hunt them up elsewhere on the website. Try checking FAQs or googling your chosen school name with "admissions essay word limit."

If there really is no word limit, you can call the school to try to get some guidance.

With this advice, you can be sure you've got the right college essay length on lockdown!

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Hey, writing about yourself can even be fun!

What's Next?

Need to ask a teacher or friend for help with your essay? See our do's and dont's to getting college essay advice .

If you're lacking in essay inspiration, see our guide to brainstorming college essay ideas . And here's our guide to starting out your essay perfectly!

Looking for college essay examples? See 11 places to find college essay examples and 145 essay examples with analysis !

Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points?   We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download them for free now:

Ellen has extensive education mentorship experience and is deeply committed to helping students succeed in all areas of life. She received a BA from Harvard in Folklore and Mythology and is currently pursuing graduate studies at Columbia University.

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COMMENTS

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