How Long Is an Essay and How to Achieve the Needed Length?

How long is an essay? It’s such a simple question, and yet very few students know an answer to it. For some reason, many professors choose to focus on clarifying requirements, grammar rules, writing style, credible sources, and they forget about essay length. Sure, they’ll likely tell if they want 3 or 5 pages, but there will also be instances where you’re left guessing. 

The only way to resolve this issue once and for all is by learning whether there is a specific academic standard regarding an average length of papers. We’ve prepared detailed explanations that will address every possible question one might have.

How Many Paragraphs Are in an Essay in General?

There is an easy way to remember how long general essays should be: just think about paragraphs. In average-sized papers that take at least several pages, one paragraph usually ranges from 30 to 200 words. So, students should not write less or more than that. If you’re wondering about the specifics, keep this following fact in mind: a sentence should be at least 10 words long. 

So, at a minimum, paragraph must have 3 sentences (an opening statement, the heart of a paragraph, concluding remark). 200 words are the maximum in a five paragraph essay as going above that length will make an essay very wordy. People don’t like struggling through the paper where no breaks are in sight — even if you describe the most interesting topic, majority will find it hard to keep reading. Let’s see statistics of how long paragraphs should be depending on essay size.

  • Short essays: between 100 – 500 words.

These papers have to have at least 3 paragraphs. Yes, it could be complex for students to write a 200 word essay and still divide it into several paragraphs, but the thing is, an essay is a special type of writing. It’s not a discussion post where you could express everything in one short passage: essays must have an introduction, body, and conclusion, with a minimum of 3 sentences present in each.

  • Average essays: between 600 – 1000 words.

Here, you should compose at least 4-5 paragraphs. Once again, there will be an intro along with conclusion, and the rest should go to a body.

  • Longer essays: between 1100 – 1500 words.

Add at least 6-8 paragraphs for papers of this length. There can be more in a 1000 word essay and above, but definitely not less.

  • Long essays: between 1600 – 2000 words.

In such a long text, there should be between 8 and 14 paragraphs. Take some time to describe every point; don’t viola set limit — break your text into readable and coherent parts.

For even longer papers, calculate the number of paragraphs by using statistics or data we presented. Remember the main rule: passage of text should be 30 – 200 words long. It cannot have less than 3 sentences.

Guidelines for Average College Essay Length

Now that we’ve covered paragraphs, let’s talk about three major components of an essay. Intro and conclusion should be of specified length. Normally, they cannot be shorter than 5% of the overall content, but they also shouldn’t be longer than 10%. This way, body length is virtually unlimited — allow instructions from your teacher to guide you there. The reasoning here is simple: you should introduce your topic in sufficient details, but it is important not to overdo it. No need for presenting all details at once, better to leave it for the body. 

Same applies to conclusion: you have to re-state all major findings, but this must be done in a concise manner. Avoid copying stuff from previous paragraphs and simply finalize your point. A typical essay example in terms of length would be a 500 word essay. In this case, size of intro and body would have to be 50 words tops. Stick to these rules and you won’t have any issues!

Determining Essay Size Based on Its Type

You likely know that essays could be of many different kinds. For example, a letter-to-a-friend assignment isn’t long: it usually takes about 700 words max. Personal commentary tasks are of the same size or shorter. Narrative, argumentative, or analytical works comprise 1200 words (4 pages) — this is standard word count for essays of this type. A term paper is more serious and longer task where you need to write at least 1500 words. Research and dissertation are even more complex: their format presupposes length of at least 3000 words. But it is better to regard the size depending on study level.

High School Essay

One of the most common types of assignments in high school is a 5 paragraph essay. It ranges between typical 300 – 1000 words (1 – 3+ pages respectively).

College Essay

College is tougher than school, so students should be prepared to work harder. Essays could start with 1500 and go up to 4000 words. The latter isn’t all that common, but it happens when you’re studying a complex subject where a lot of research is involved. You could be asked to write reports on companies or other businesses, and they usually are far from being short.

Admission Essay

How long are essays that are submitted as admission attempts? They should be relatively concise, but at the same time, they must present your personal story in a captivating and sufficiently detailed way. So, based on general standards, people should write 400 words as a minimum & 1200 words as an absolute maximum.

Graduate Essay

Students have lots of writing to do when they become graduates. For proving they are capable of maintaining this education level, they are expected to compose papers ranging between 2000 and 6000 words, sometimes more. Dissertations tend to be even longer, but they could fall within this word limit, too.

Is It Possible to Go Under Suggested Length?

This question concerns a big number of students. It’s understandable: you could be a great expert in your major or at any school subject, but being a good writer isn’t an automatic skill that could be acquired with no practice. In these cases, it’s a chore to write 750 word essay, working on combining hundreds upon hundreds of words, and desire to stop sooner than required could be overwhelming. Well, you can always violate that limit we suggested above — after all, it’s merely a standard, not a solid requirement.

Never go under the word count indicated by professor. This is the strict rule: if you write fewer words than that, there’s a risk of receiving failing grade or getting it reduced by a big, upsetting extent. Professors hate what they perceive as students’ laziness — many will simply refuse to read an essay that lacks even one word. Listen to them as they inform you of how long should an essay be and follow their instructions.

What About Going Over the Suggested Length?

While some people hate necessity of being writers as they’re studying, others absolutely love it. In fact, they love it so much that they can’t stop writing, so before they know it, they exceed the normal size limit. It is preferable to failing to reach set limit, but the reactions of teachers could differ. Imagine that you asked, “How long is a short essay we have to write?” The reply was, “500 words.” But you got so inspired when working on it that resulted in 700. 

Some professors praise for going above the length — they’ll be impressed. Others will reject your essay because they have no interest in dealing with disobedient students, even if writing more is technically a commendable thing. There is the third group, too: they’ll stop reading your essay after the limit, and give marks depending on what they’ve already read. It is really better to clarify or follow length guidelines you’ve been given.

Follow Instructions and Avoid Unnecessary Worries

No matter how hard it is, always try sticking to instructions. If you’re told to write a 250 word essay, do it. In case you went above the imposed length, try shortening content by cutting off redundant sentences (though if you clarified this with professor in advance, it’s perfect and you shouldn’t worry). Everything is more difficult in case a student fails to think of more paragraphs to write. They could look for help or give themselves some time for cooling off. Either way, put your best efforts into it, and you’re bound to succeed!  

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Elizabeth Baldridge
Elizabeth Baldridge

Elizabeth provides educational materials, conducts research, explores and solves student challenges. Her posts are always helpful, innovative, and contain interesting insights.

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