What is the ideal length for an essay?

Last Updated: 23 April 2021

How long is an essay

A standard page for an essay has double-spaced 275 words, font size 12, and 1-inch margins. Even though this is the standard, many students are puzzled by how long a typical essay should be.

Even when students are given instructions, it can sometimes be confusing how long they need to write their essay. Instructors assign students to papers or essays based mainly on the number of pages and sometimes the word count. The latter is not very popular, though.

Essays being the most popular type of academic assignment, students struggle to achieve the right quality within the given length. Without knowing the length of a given type of essay or determining what number of words to write an essay, students can either overwrite or underwrite.

Now, professors being rigorous and unforgiving, will mark the essays until the prescribed length and discard the rest. If the essay has fewer words than required, they might as well dismiss it and award a zero grade. Based on this, we put to rest the question through our comprehensive guide that has the word, paragraph, and page count tables. Whether single or double-spaced, learn how long to write an essay on a given topic if the word count is not given, but you have the page number.

What is the ideal length of an essay?

No rule of the thumb dictates the set number of words, pages, or paragraphs. Nevertheless, an essay must contain a minimum of three paragraphs.

Although the standard five-paragraph essay is preferred, its limiting nature leaves you free to write any number of paragraphs unless you are strictly instructed to write a five-paragraph essay.

As long as your essay has three main parts: introduction, body, and conclusion, it meets the basic requirements of an ideal essay. Unlike the common belief that the body paragraph must have three paragraphs, there is no rule against writing more or fewer paragraphs as long as you address the requirements of the essay.

The same applies to paragraphs. In academic writing, the ideal length of a paragraph is 150 words. However, anything between 100-200 words is also considered acceptable.

The bottom line is to make your paragraph long enough to cover everything for each idea but concise enough to be interesting!

What factors determine the length of an essay?

Numerous factors determine the length of a typical essay. The word count of your paper depends on

1. Academic level

High school and primary essays are not similar to university and college level essays in terms of presentation and length. It is important to read the academic essay requirements for every level before writing an essay.

We summarize the guidelines of the lengths of essays given the contents and the academic level in the table below.

Academic Level

Word count range

Number of pages range

Expected Content

High school

300-1000

1-4 pages

Short essays with an introduction, three body paragraphs, and a conclusion.

College admission/entry

200-750

1- 3 pages

Moderately short and long essays that answer a specific essay prompt mainly address motivations to apply to a dream college.

Undergraduate essays

1000-5000

4 – 20 pages

Long essays that explore different concepts depending on the course, degree, syllabus, and department.

Graduate school admission

500-1000

2 – 4 pages

Graduate school application essays are longer compared to college or university-level application essays. These statement of purpose or personal statement essays are in-depth enough to incorporate the academic achievements, motivations, goals, and future outlook.

Graduate school essays

2500-6000

10- 20 pages

It depends on the institution and the discipline that the student is pursuing. They are often more extended essays.

2. Subject

Different essay length requirements depend on the subject. Humanities, social sciences, and legal papers typically have both short and long essays. The short essays range between 500 words to 875 words, while the long essays can be from 6-pages double spaced to 20 pages in length.

Subjects such as English Literature, composition, linguistics, leadership, management, and business also have varying lengths of essays depending on the instructor.

Depending on the subject you are taking, you will notice unique length requirements when writing essays.

3. Department

University and college departments have different length requirements for essays. You should be aware of the length requirements of the department as it can help you decide on the number of words to use when writing your essay.

4. Essay prompt or Tutor’s Instructions

Another key determinant of the pages or word count that you need to write an essay on is the essay prompt instructions. Apart from containing the essay topics, the essay prompt also defines the number of words, length, or pages you need to write an essay.

5. Spacing of the Sentences

The typical structure of a standard academic essay is such that the pages are double-spaced. However, there are instances when the essay instructions specify that you use single spaces in your essay.

A double-spaced page is approximately 275 words long, whereas a single-spaced page is approximately 550 words. Going by this analogy, a single-spaced page is twice the word count of a single double-spaced paper. A single-spaced page of an essay has the same number of words as a 2-page double-spaced essay.

In some other instances, students are required to write essays that have 1.5 spaced lines. In this case, the word count per page should guide the length of your essay.

Therefore, even as you read the assignment prompts, be sure to note the type of page spacing required by your instructor or professor. It helps stay within the preferred word count, which is always plus or minus 10%.

6. Fonts used in the essay paper

In standard academic writing, papers are written using font 12. It is the nominated size that most academic institutions have adopted for essays.

Deciding to use a bigger font increases the page count but the word count. With so many fonts available, always write your essay using the font size and type recommended by the instructor in the essay prompt.

7. Paragraph lengths and formats

A typical paragraph has approximately 150 words. The number of paragraphs you have will depend on the number of pages that you are writing. For instance, as we shall see later, a 6-page essay that is double spaced will have 1650-1800 words in total.

The introduction paragraph and the conclusion paragraphs contain 10% of the word count each, meaning that they will each have 165 - 180 words each. The rest of the body paragraphs will share the remaining word count, which leaves you with the discretion of balancing the paragraphs.

Word to paragraph conversion Table

Number of words

Paragraphs

300 words

3 paragraphs

400 words

3 paragraphs

500 words

3-4 paragraphs

600 words

4 paragraphs

700 words

4-5 paragraphs

750 words

5 paragraphs

800 -1000 words

5 paragraphs

1000 words plus

Well balanced body paragraphs that account for 80% of the total word count

The length of each part of an essay

For every academic essay, the main body takes the largest percentage of the entire word count or pages. Ideally, the body paragraphs make your case by presenting your arguments, examples, evidence, and developing your ideas.

As a rule of thumb, the introduction should be 10% of your essay’s length. This means that it can either be a paragraph or two. In essays under 3000 words or 12 pages, the introduction can be a paragraph long. However, for long and complex essays, the introduction can be 2-3 paragraphs covering the background, purpose, layout, thesis, and facts.

The body of your essay is 80% of the total word count, which means that an essay that is 3000 words long will have a 2400-word body. You can then use 100–200-word paragraphs for the body.

Lastly, th conclusion of an essay, mostly a single paragraph both for shorter and longer essays, comprises 10% of the total word count. Even though it does not have to summarize each step of your essay, it must cover the main points and relate them to your thesis statement.

If you are wondering how long each section of your essay should be, here is some illustration. Remember, as the essay gets longer, each part gets longer to maintain a balance. Regardless, the starting and ending paragraphs of your essay are always shorter but similar in length. The body section comprises the largest part of your essay.

Pages of Essay

Introduction

Body Section

Conclusion

1-page essay

A paragraph (25 words)

225 words

A paragraph (25 words)

5-page essay

138 words

1100 words

138 words

10 – page essay

275 words

2200 words

275 words

12-page essay

330 words

2640 words

330 words

15-page essay

413

3300 words

413

Length of Essay Vs. Essay Complexity

Does the length of an essay define its complexity? No, the word count or the number of pages of your essay does not signal its complexity. Instead, the word count or length of the essay is a guide for how to present information within your essay.

By extension, the professor or instructor is testing your comprehension, paraphrasing, and organization skills in any given essay. The length is a guide on the development of your thesis statement, introduction, main body, and conclusion.

When developing your thesis, ensure that your main claim or topic of the essay is well known. The page count or essay length also helps you in setting the scope of your arguments.

For instance, a short essay will have specific, focused, and clear paragraphs that do not waste words. This is not to mean that extended essays are avenues for wasting words; no! Longer essays allow you to take a broader approach to a topic when writing a comprehensive essay.

Another purpose of the word count or length of an essay is to guide you on how long you need to edit and proofread your essay. The longer the essay, the longer it takes to plan, write, and edit/proofread.

If you feel that the word count or length is unmet after writing your essay, you need to extend your arguments, provide more evidence, critically present facts, and provide detailed insights to support the thesis. If there is no space and the thesis is not supported, it is time to revisit your thesis and make it more focused.

What to do when your essay is over or above the suggested length

Imagine this; you were to write a 3000 words essay. However, because of the flowing nature of ideas, a robust thesis statement, and lack of proper planning, you go over the word count. The main question is, will going over the suggested essay length affect your grades.

Absolutely! Going beyond the word count draws punitive measures like under grading, deduction of marks, or a zero grade. However, there are instances when going over the word count can be accommodated.

Mainly, exceeding the upper word limit by 10% for assignments between 10-12 pages or 2750-3300 words is allowed. Check with your professor whether short essays too can be exempted from violating the upper word count.

If you have to exceed the upper word count limit, you need to have very cogent reasons. Agreeably, it takes longer to mark and grade longer essays. To relieve the marker stress of going beyond the word count, sticking to the upper limit can make them mark your paper with the best attitude.

Nevertheless, if you are already past the upper limit and want to edit down, here are some strategies:

When writing college essays, the admission officers always stop reading when the word count is covered. This is specifically detrimental if the rest of the essay is far much convincing than what is within the word range.

What to do if the essay is under the suggested length

Although you have the freedom of writing 10% less the entire word count for longer essays, you should consider sticking to the upper word limit. For instance, for a 6-page double-spaced essay, ensure you write 1650 to 1800 words. For a 10 double-spaced page paper, ensure your word count is between 2750 and 3000 words.

If your word count is below the suggested length, you should:

If you are writing a college essay, remember that it has a tight word limit. If you write less than the suggested word count, your chances of admission reduce. It is preferable if you stick to the word range given by the college admissions committee.

How to know the best length of an essay if none is specified

It is possible to have an essay prompt that fails to clarify the word count, word limit, or essay length. It is always stressful trying to figure out the ideal length of the essay. We have a few tips and tricks to use. If there is no word limit, here is what to do:

1. Read the samples provided in class

Some professors or instructors are generous enough to give you examples of well-written essays. Do not marvel and get lost on their generosity as it is a hint and a trap.
Suppose you notice that there is a sample and no word limit given but the topic, write an essay whose length is the same as the sample. The same applies to college entry essays with no word limit. You can check the samples on websites or the college writing centers to help you estimate the word limit.

2. Consult with the professor/admissions office

If you are writing an essay and notice that the word limit is lacking, consult with your instructors, professors, or the admissions committee in the case of college essays. They are always willing to suggest the appropriate word count, and who knows, you can save the entire class from the conclusion. In most instances, several calls or emails to the professor elicit comprehensive responses and directions over the matter to the entire class.

3. Be keen during the lectures before assignments

Sometimes the professors or the instructors deliberately leave out the word limit on the essay prompts to test your attention and listening skills. If there is an upcoming essay assignment, always pay attention to the words of the professor in the last class before the assignment.

4. Pay attention to the wordings of the prompt/description

There are some instances when an instructor, admissions committee, and the professors can give you instructions in terms of sentences or paragraphs. For instance, you can be told to write a well-balanced five-paragraph essay on a given topic. With your knowledge of the number of words per sentence or paragraph, you can estimate the word limit or the length of the essay. 

FAQs on Length of Essay

How long is a 500 words essay?

Five hundred words essay is 2 pages well-developed in 3-4 paragraphs.

How many pages are 750-800 words?

750 words essay is 3 pages long well developed into 3-4 paragraphs.

How long is a 1000-word essay?

A 1000-word essay is 4 pages long. It has 5 paragraphs and can have a varying number of sentences.

How many pages are 1500 words?

1500-word essays border between 5 pages to 6 pages. It can be 5-6 paragraphs long, depending on how you structure your essay.

How long is an essay in college?

An ideal college entry essay is 500 words long for short essays and 1000 words essays for moderately long essays. However, the requirements on the word limits differ and depend on the institution.

How many sentences should an ideal essay have?

The number of sentences depends on the type of essay you are writing. For instance, you are telling a story for the narrative essays, which means that your sentences will be longer. The introductions and conclusions can always be 4-5 sentences—the sentences in the paragraphs depending on the type of presentation format you require.  For clarity, having sentences that are shorter than 25 words. If this is something to consider, your 500-word essay should have between 20 and 25 sentences.

How many sentences make a paragraph?

If you are writing the introduction and conclusion paragraphs, ensure you have 4-5 sentences. The number can either go high or low depending on how you present your ideas. For shorter essays, having 3-5 sentences for the first and last paragraphs and 5-7 sentences in the main body paragraphs is sufficient. However, nothing is cast in stone. There is never a rule on the number of sentences per paragraph as long as you balance the length of your paragraphs.