What length 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 be as short as a few paragraphs or as long and complex as a book. The scope of your expectations will vary depending on where you are, what class you are taking, what department expectations you have, and most importantly, who you are submitting the assignment to.

If you are new to academic essay writing or worried about how long it should be, remember that most professors and admissions committees will answer your howlongisanessay.com questions. Some professors will be very clear about what the word count should be when they assign an assignment.
Most assignments will have guidelines that are based on page count, such as 1,000 words to 1,200 words or 3 to 5 pages double-spaced. There might be guidelines about the format of citations, the number of sources to use, and the publication dates. While some professors are very specific about what they expect from each assignment of academic essays, others may be more flexible and less structured. These guidelines will differ depending on the academic essay type and its purpose.
Guidelines for essay length
Middle school

The average academic essay assignment is 300-800 words long and begins in middle school. These grades will teach you the basics of 5-paragraph essays. This structure includes an introduction, thesis statement, body and conclusion. The typical 5-paragraph essay structure should have the introduction as the first paragraph, followed by the body and conclusion in the second through fourth paragraphs. Rarely will your conclusion or introduction take up more than one paragraph in these types of essays.
High school

You will still need to write a 5-paragraph essay in high school. However, some teachers, especially English and Language Arts, may require you to write longer essays (up to 5 pages). This is so you can prepare for the rigorous academic writing you will be learning in college. These essays will retain the same format as the introduction, body, and conclusion. However, you’ll be expanding the body to explore or explain a topic more fully. Your conclusion for a 3 to 5 page essay will most likely be contained within one paragraph. However, it may vary depending on the topic.
University (Undergraduate Level)

The length of your academic essays will depend on which classes you are taking and what departments they are in. There will be classes that require you to write academic essays of different lengths as the semester progresses. For a higher percentage of your class grade, you’ll need to submit a longer essay as the final assignment. These longer assignments in academic writing will usually be formatted so that different parts of the essay must be submitted at different times. All sections are then combined into a final paper.

In an advanced English class, for example, your professor may assign several shorter essays of between 5 and 7 pages (1,500 to 2,100 words) followed by one essay that examines a topic more in depth (8 to 10 pages or 2,400 to 3,000 words). A core curriculum survey course might require less essays or more prompt-type journal writing assignments.
University (Graduate Level)

Similar to undergraduate college writing, graduate-level assignments in academic writing will differ based on many factors such as the professor, course, department and program of study. A university program may require extensive writing, while another might require more hands-on or lab-based experience.

You’ll also likely encounter “thesis” or “dissertation” writing assignments at graduate level. These can be up to 100,000 words. These assignments require extensive research and planning. However, you will likely be assigned a paper with very specific word counts and citation requirements.

Writing for graduate level is more complex than the five-paragraph essay format. It includes sections such as a review of literature and background information. Each section may have its own requirements and word limit, and some sections will require more writing time than others. You might be required to submit academic writing assignments in sections or stages, just like with undergraduate assignments.
Beyond page and word count

You could get a poor grade even if you keep to a specific word count or page count for academic writing assignments. It is possible to write a paper of 3 to 5 paragraphs that is disorganized or illogical in the same way that an 8-page essay.

These are the most important guidelines for writing academic essays, regardless of how many words you have.

Before you start writing, make sure to outline your ideas. A outline will allow you to cover all the necessary parts and ensure you have included every part of your essay (introduction, thesis, etc.).
Your academic essay style should not be rambling, off topic, or filled with “filler” words. Your professor may not be familiar with the topic, but they will likely be able to spot if you are writing to fill in gaps.
Avoid hedging. Hedging is when you make vague statements about a topic but don’t actually take a position on it. You should make a clear assumption or thesis statement in academic writing and back it up with solid research.

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