How Many Words Should An Essay Be: Complete Essay Writing Guide

When writing an essay, dissertation, thesis, college paper, or any other thing, the question of how many words is enough or required always comes to mind.

Thankfully, most instructors give students guidelines that include the length of their essays. But what if you’re left to figure out the basics yourself?

The length of an academic essay depends on factors like your level, major, course requirements, and department guidelines. This could range from 200 to 650 words, 300 to 1000 words, and so on.

In this article, I discuss the basic length for different types of essays which can serve as a guideline for your next assignment.

Essay length guidelines

Here’s a table that highlights the basic word count for different types of essays. These are appropriate and acceptable requirements anywhere, even if you’re not given a guideline to follow.

Type of essayEssay length
High school essay  High school essays are relatively short with a minimum of five paragraphs that comprises an introduction, the body, and a conclusion. That said, the basic length for a high school essay is between 300 to 1000 words.  
College admission essay  College application essays have a strict word limit. It is basically a short essay to express your passion or interest and motivation. It is shorter than any other type of essay with a minimum of 200 words and a maximum of 650 words.  
Undergraduate college essay    College essays vary by institution, department, course requirements, and level. It could be anything from 500 words to as much as 6000 depending on the purpose of the assignment
Graduate school admission essay  Graduate school applications require a longer statement of purpose compared to college applications. Apparently, your academic achievements would be more, plus you should be able to state your motivations more coherently.   The required word count here is 500 to 1000 words.
Graduate school essayGraduate program essays also vary by institution and discipline. But they could likely be research papers with a length of 2500 to 6000 words.  

How long should an essay be?

As mentioned earlier, academic essays vary by length. But generally, an essay shouldn’t be less than five paragraphs. This allows you to introduce your idea, add at least 3 paragraphs in the body, and a conclusion.

Usually, introductions take not more than a paragraph, but a complex assignment of more than 3000 words may require two to three paragraphs for an introduction to provide proper background and context.

The body is the part of the essay with the most word count. Here you make your arguments with evidence and develop your ideas. Assuming your essay is 200 words per paragraph, a 2000-word essay would be 8 paragraphs.

The final section is the conclusion, usually one paragraph, but longer essays may require more than one paragraph.

Your conclusion doesn’t have to be a summary of the entire essay but it should succinctly tie together the main points.

How long should a paragraph be?

A paragraph is a unit of thoughts with a fully developed idea. Although there are no strict rules for the length of a paragraph, a rule of thumb is to keep it between two to six sentences at most.

This means that a single sentence isn’t enough to form a paragraph in academic writing. Another popular suggestion is to make each paragraph 100 to 200 words long. However, the paragraphs don’t have to be the same length.

While some believe that a short document should have short paragraphs and long paragraphs for long documents, others believe that it doesn’t matter.

If your assignment does not have guidelines, it may be best to ask your professor for their guidelines.

However, the most important thing is to communicate an idea coherently in each paragraph. Plus, your introduction should do good work of setting the context of your work.

Additionally, the body should flow accordingly with a structured transition from one thought to another and the conclusion should meaningfully wrap up the ideas of the entire text.

Can you go under the suggested length?

Writing less than the required word count is allowed as long as you’re close to the suggested length. For instance, if you’re able to meet 900 words for a 1000-word assignment, you’re good to go.

However, you should always strive to hit your word count but if you’re sure you’ve done a good job, it’s fine.

Peradventure, you’re nowhere near the suggested length, you should consider doing these:

  • Include more examples and evidence to consolidate your argument
  • Be sure to explain your points in detail
  • Check for aspects of your topic that haven’t been covered and include them in your work
  • Don’t be tempted to use fillers rather concentrate on having a convincing and comprehensive argument per paragraph

Can you go above the suggested length?

Yes. Typically, students are allowed to exceed the word limit by 10%. However, that would depend on the course instructor and the academic institution.

Be careful not to exceed the word count except it is absolutely necessary to complete your argument. If your article is longer than suggested, here are things you should check:

  • Proofread each paragraph and cut down any fluff or irrelevant information
  • Ensure that each paragraph focuses on a point and is coherent
  • Look out for better and shorter ways to state your point
  • Be sure you’re not repeating a point twice in another word
  • Remove any paragraphs that don’t contain an argument that is strong enough

How many words should a 5-paragraph essay be?

A 5-paragraph essay basically has a maximum of 1000 words. It is common for high school essays to be around this length.

Tutors use this guideline to allow students the freedom to expand their ideas and arguments more comprehensively.

The introduction and conclusion here are basically one paragraph each and the body takes three paragraphs where the major argument and development of the idea happens.

Certain topics that cover causes and effects or compare and contrast fall into this category of essay. All in all, 1000 words is a good essay length for students in high school.

How long does it take to write an essay?

The time it takes to write an essay depends on many factors. The complexity of the topic and the amount of information available on that topic come into play when determining completion time. 

Not to mention, individual differences also play a role. While some individuals are quick to understand and come up with arguments, others may need a lot of time to think through something to write.

Generally speaking, a 1000 words document would take an average writer about 30 minutes to type on a keyboard and an hour for handwriting. But essays that require in-depth research, citations, links, and references may take between 3 to 4 hours to complete.

How to write an essay

The suggested word count of an essay doesn’t only tell how long your work should be, it also tells you how much complexity and information can go into it.

Short essays need arguments that are focused, specific, clear, and straightforward and longer ones require a broader approach and more complex and comprehensive arguments.

It’s also important to balance quality with quantity. The goal should be to make a solid and succinct argument while meeting the word count. This way you can impress your instructor and earn high grades.


Is a dissertation an essay?


Dissertations are much longer than essays. Plus, dissertations address specific research questions while essays are based on a topic.

Are 200 words enough for an essay?

Yes. However, the only essay with as low as 200 suggested words is a college admission essay. 

Is a thesis an essay?

No. While essays are requirements for courses, a thesis is a requirement for degrees (bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees)


The length of your essay should follow the guidelines as suggested by your instructor. However, if you need to figure it out, the article has provided enough information for you to work with.

Writing an essay can be a lot of work. Short essays have to be detailed yet concise and long essays require comprehensiveness yet coherence.

If you have written beyond the word count for a short essay, you should consider asking someone more experienced to check through your work to identify irrelevancies.

Additionally, if you find out that you don’t have enough ideas to fill out the word count, or that you need more space to make a convincing case, do more research to get more arguments and evidence to back up your work.

To wrap things up, it is important to avoid plagiarism in your work. Check out this article on Turnitin percentage to understand how plagiarism works.

I hope this article helped. Thanks for reading.