How long should my Academic Essay be?

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 include a few paragraphs up to lengthy dissertations. Therefore, expectations vary depending upon the school where you are studying, the class you are taking, the department expectations and (most importantly) your professor.

If you are new or anxious about academic essay composition and have questions, the professor who assigned you the essay will likely be able to answer them. Professors may be very exact about the word count and expectations they have for an assignment.
For most assignments, guidelines will be given based upon word count (e.g. 1,000 to 1,200 words), or page count (e.g. 3 to 5 pages, double-spaced). Some guidelines might include how to cite your sources, how many you should have and what publication date ranges they should be used. Some professors may be strict in their expectations regarding academic essay assignments, while others may be more flexible or less structured. These guidelines will vary depending upon the type of academic essays and their purpose.
General guidelines to help you write a good essay
Middle school

American middle schools typically assign academic essay assignments. These essays range from 300 to 800-words in length. In these grades you will learn the basic 5-paragraph essay format. This includes an introduction and a thesis statement. The body of the essay consists of a conclusion, the body and the body. The introduction should be the first paragraph of a 5-paragraph essay. The body should be in the second through fourth sections. The conclusion should be in the fifth paragraph. For these types essays, only in very rare circumstances would your introduction and conclusion exceed one paragraph.
High school

Although you may still be required to write a 5-paragraph essay at high school (especially English or Language Arts), some teachers will now require longer essays (3 to five pages). This is to prepare yourself for the demands of academic writing in college. While these essays still follow the traditional format of introduction and body with a conclusion, you’ll expand on the body in order to explain or explore a topic. Although the conclusion of your essay is likely to be one paragraph long, it could also fit within a paragraph depending on what topic you are writing.
University (Undergraduate degree)

Once you have been accepted into an undergraduate program, your academic essay length will vary greatly depending on the classes and departments that you take. Some classes may require essays of varying lengths. If you are unable to complete the assignment by the end of the semester, you will need to make up a larger percentage of the class grade. Most academic writing assignments that are longer will require multiple essays to be turned in. However, all of them must be submitted together in a final paper.

An example: In advanced English class, your professor might assign several essays of 5 to 7, or 1,500-2,100 words, and one final essay with more detail (8-10 pages) (or 2,400-3,00 words). An alternative class, such a core curriculum survey, may require fewer essays or more journal prompt writing assignments.
University (Graduate degree level)

As with the undergraduate level, graduate writing assignments can be very different. These will depend on several factors including the professor and the course. Writing for one university program might be extensive, while another might require more practical or lab-based work.

Graduate level is also where most people will encounter “thesis” (or “dissertation”) academic writing assignments. These assignments can exceed 100,000 words. These types of assignments are time-consuming and require extensive planning. However, the assignment will be very brief and you will need to cite specific words.

Graduate level writing can be more complex than the 5-paragraph essay format. There are sections about literature reviews, background and theory, methods of research and your specific findings. These sections can have their own word limits and requirements. Some may take more time and require more writing. Similar to undergraduate assignments you may be asked for academic writing assignments. These could include a proposal or a list of sources.
Beyond word count and page count

Even if your academic writing assignment requires you to keep within a specified word or page count, it is possible to receive a poor score for not using that number wisely. In the same way as an eight-page essay, it is possible to write a paper with three to five paragraphs but be disorganized and illogical.

These guidelines will help you write an academic essay.

Before you start writing, it is important to carefully outline. The outline will help to make sure that everything is covered.
Avoid making your academic essay style seem unfocused, off-topic, or full with “filler’ words. Your professor might not know the topic that you are writing about, so they can easily tell if it is something you really want to write.
Hedging should be avoided at all costs. Hedging occurs when you simply dance around a topic using vague statements and don’t have a clear stance. Academic writing should have a clear thesis statement or assumption. Then back it up with solid data and research.

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