Word count for university essays

Many assignments need to be written in the form of an essay. The structure of essay-style assignments is very open but generally includes an introduction, a main body and a conclusion.

Write the full question (title) at the top of your assignment. It will contain keywords (known as content and process words). See the ‘Understanding the question’ webpage for these.

A paragraph or two to define key terms and themes and indicate how you intend to address the question.

A series of paragraphs written in full sentences that include specific arguments relating to your answer. It’s vital to include evidence and references to support your arguments.

A short section to summarise main points and findings. Try to focus on the question but avoid repeating what you wrote in the introduction.

A list of sources (including module materials) that are mentioned in the essay.

Introductions

An introduction provides your reader with an overview of what your essay will cover and what you want to say. Essays introductions should

  • set out the aims of the assignment and signpost how your argument will unfold
  • introduce the issue and give any essential background information including a brief description of the major debates that lie behind the question
  • define the key words and terms
  • be between 5% and 10% of the total word count.

Some students prefer to write the introduction at an early stage, others save it for when they have almost completed the assignment. If you write it early, don’t allow it to constrain what you want to write. It’s a good idea to check and revise the introduction after the first draft.

The body of your essay

The main body of your essay should present your case. Each main point should have its own paragraph. You should use evidence to support the arguments you make in this section, referencing your sources appropriately.

You should use evidence to support and challenge the issues you cover in this section, referencing your sources appropriately.

You can deal with the issues in a way that seems appropriate to you. You can choose to

  • deal with all of the supporting and all of the challenging evidence separately
  • take each issue in turn, describing and evaluating it before moving on to the next issue
  • describe all the issues first before moving on to your evaluation of them.

How to order your arguments

Although you will need to clearly describe the issues related to the essay title (e. g. concepts and theoretical positions), you are expected to go further than mere description. An essay question might expect you to take one of the following approaches.

  • Make an argument by examining competing positions. This type of essay requires you to make a balanced and well-argued case for the strength of one position over another.
  • Present an unbiased discussion. You might do this by comparing and contrasting things (such as arguments put forward by individual scholars).
  • Explain something in a discursive way. To explore all the elements involved in a particular concept or theory in an even-handed way.

In all cases, you will be expected to

  • clearly describe what your essay is trying to do and define any essential terms
  • present an argument that is balanced
  • base any conclusions you draw on evidence
  • present evidence using references to the original published work.

Conclusion

Your conclusion should sum up how your essay has answered the title. It should reinforce your introduction and include a reference to the wording of the title.

If your essay has presented evidence or data, ensure that the conclusions you draw are valid in the light of that evidence and data. Draw your conclusions cautiously: use phrases such as ‘the evidence suggests that . ‘, or ‘one interpretation is that . ‘ rather than ‘this proves that . ‘.

Your conclusion should

  • summarise the key elements of your argument clearly and concisely
  • demonstrate how you’ve answered the question
  • perhaps suggest what needs to be considered in the future.
  • include any new arguments ideas or examples
  • be too long. For an assignment of fewer than 1,500 words a conclusion of 50-100 words is probably enough
  • repeat examples, phrases or sentences from the main body of your essay.
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6.11 Calculating Your Word Count

You are responsible for including an accurate word-count on the cover sheet for each piece of work you submit. Failure to be honest in this respect will itself be penalized under the University’s cheating and plagiarism regulations.

The word count specified for assessments will include footnotes, quotations and in-line references, but exclude the bibliography and appendices. The exception to this are modules taught within History; please see the History Subject Handbook for their guidelines.

Some assessment tasks ask for diagrams, tables, maps, and/or visual images which are either placed together in an appendix or placed at appropriate points in the essay. These are normally labelled, for instance as Fig. 1, Fig. 2, etc. Such visual material should be clearly captioned; the captions do not count towards the overall word count. Unless module handbooks or departmental guidance explicitly allow otherwise, appendices should not normally contain writing other than captions or writing that is integral to diagrams, etc.: in other words, an appendix is not the place to argue a point.

Academic staff will check the declared word count on the cover sheet against the word limit specified for that assessment; where the word count exceeds the specified word limit, the appropriate penalty will be applied.

Where academic staff suspect that you have not declared the word count honestly, and that the piece of work is over the specified limit, staff will ask the Humanities Education Team to check the word count in order to determine the appropriate penalty to be administered.

How to Increase Your Essay Word Count

When you have an essay assignment with a minimum word count, one of the worst feelings is when you believe you have finished only to find that you’re still well below the minimum you have to reach (as opposed to having too many words). Many students try to solve this problem by rewriting the essay’s sentences to make them wordier or splitting contractions. While these do increase word count, they usually make the essay weaker in the process. It doesn’t have to be that way. If you ever find yourself in a position where you need to increase the number of words for an essay, below are some simple techniques which can help you add to your writing while improving it instead of writing unneeded filler.

Add Examples

Skim through your essay looking for any place you have used an example to make a point. In most cases, you should be able to provide additional examples which will make your essay stronger by showing your understanding of the topic while also increasing the word count. You can also go through the essay and look for statements made where inserting an example would be appropriate to help support the statement.

Address Different Viewpoints

An effective way of increasing word count and improving your essay at the same time is to address different viewpoints to your own. You have the opportunity to discuss how these alternative viewpoints differ from the conclusions you have made, and it gives you an opportunity to explain why you believe your conclusions are superior. This shows you have considered a range of different opinions while coming to your conclusions, and in doing so make your essay stronger while adding more words.

Clarify Statements

When you find the statements in your writing, if inserting an example doesn’t make sense, then clarifying the statement may be appropriate. This can be achieved by inserting one or more specific statements to clarify the original one. A common way to do this is to follow the statement with, “In other words…” It’s important not to over-clarify statements or use this for every statement you write as it will begin to look like filler, but using it sporadically throughout your essay can increase the word count and show you perfectly understand the points you’re trying to make.

Find Additional Sources

Another way to improve your essay and increase word count is to find additional sources you haven’t previously mentioned which support the statements and conclusions you have made. The more sources you have, the stronger the essay will be in most cases. Spending some time searching for additional sources to add to the essay can be a great way to add quality content to it.

Use Quotations

Chances are you already have appropriate quotations in your essay, and if that’s the case, skip over this suggestion. Adding more will likely not add to your essay. If you haven’t used any, however, finding appropriate quotations from experts in the field that support your statements can be an excellent way to add words to your essay while improving it at the same time.

Rework Introduction and Conclusion

If all of the above haven’t enabled you to reach your word count minimum and you need some filler, look to put it in your introduction and conclusion rather than the body of the essay. Most teachers give more leeway with the introduction and conclusion to be wordy than the guts of the essay. This is something you should try to avoid if at all possible (it’s never good to be wordier than you have to be), but if you tried everything else, it’s better to do it in these two places than in the heart of the essay.

Page Count

If you’re writing an essay which has a minimum page count instead of a minimum word count, the above suggestions will work, but you have a bit more wiggle room as well. You can make slight adjustments to the font and font size you use through a Words per Page Counter. As long as you don’t go overboard, this can be a relatively easy way to increase page count while not taking away from the essay.