Word limits and assignment length
Assignment length requirements are usually given in terms of numbers of words.
Unless the lecturer tells you that these limits are strict, it is normally acceptable to be 10% above or below this word limit (so, for example, a 2000 word assignment should be between 1800 and 2200 words). If the assignment uses the words “up to” (as in “up to 2500 words”) that usually means that you cannot go above the limit.
Use the tool below to calculate the acceptable range for an assignment (based on +/- 10%).
Unless the lecturer tells you otherwise, the word limit does not include ‘administrative’ sections of the assignment: the cover or title page, table of contents, table of figures, reference list, list of works cited, bibliography, or any appendices.
The word limit that you are given reflects the level of detail required. This means that if your assignment is too long, you're either taking too many words to explain your point or giving too many / too detailed examples. If your assignment is too short, either there is more to the answer than you have written or the assignment has not gone into enough detail about the answer.
- Don't try to remove single words from your assignment. It is unlikely to reduce the assignment's length significantly, but it may confuse your argument. Instead, aim to remove or condense whole sections of your assignment.
- You should not include something just because it is a fact, or just because it is included in your course materials. Include something only if it is relevant to your argument.
- Be direct. State your point rather than writing many paragraphs to ‘lead up’ to it.
- Go back to the question. Which sections relate to the point and which are secondary?
- Go back to the plan. Which paragraphs fit in the overall structure? Which paragraphs overlap and can be combined?
- Remove sections where you
- Over-explain your point
- Over-specify your point
- Repeat yourself
- Write off-topic or ramble
- Remove multiple examples where one or two are sufficient.
- Remove ‘hedging” language that adds little to the argument, e.g. “I think that” “it would seem that” “it is possible that”
If you are often over the word count you should look at your writing style. See writing concisely for more.
Explain your argument fully
- Make sure every argument in your head and in your plan is on the page.
- Would a general (i.e. non-specialist) reader understand your point? Have someone else read over your assignment and ask you questions about it. What do they think is missing?
- Are there gaps in your argument?
- Does each point logically follow the last one, or do you jump over important points?
Look for the ‘hidden’ answer
- What theories do you think the marker expects?
- How does this relate to the materials from lectures and study guides? Use the course information in your answer to the assignment question.
- Are there complications or contradictions in the argument or in your research? Explain them and explore them.
Flesh it out
- Define any special terminology you've used that a general reader would not be familiar with.
- Illustrate with more examples and/or quotations.
- Contextualise and explain the quotations you use. How do they relate to your argument?
Page authorised by Director, CTL
Last updated on 25 October, 2012
So given you need to transform your 1,000 words into something easy on the eyes, you know you have to split it into paragraphs. How do you do that?
A Sentence Is an Idea, a Paragraph Is Closely Related Ideas
Whatever you’re discussing, you’ll discover a number of concepts which you presumably planned before you started writing. To make it all hang together nicely, you add a bit of space when you transition from one area of discussion to another. As with any rule, there are exceptions, but broadly speaking, essay writing and academic writing calls for paragraphs in the 100-200 word range.
Bear in mind that academic and essay writing usually means you’re writing for a fairly dedicated reader, but what about the huge chunk of the population who are frightened off by big chunks of text, even if they are only six or seven lines long (depending on font)?
Journalists and Commercial Writers Keep Their Paragraphs Short
“White space” is a wonderful illusion that tells your reader what you have to say is pretty easy to take in. I’ve seen some news articles in which each paragraph is only one sentence long. I feel that’s taking it to extremes, and it can have the opposite effect of making your writing look disjointed. I like to see at least three or four lines to a paragraph, and as an indication, my longest paragraph so far is just 74 words long.
You can assume commercial writing and news reports will have paragraphs approximately half as long as the ones you’d see in academic or essay writing. In this case, we’re looking at ten to twenty paragraphs per 1,000 words instead of five to ten.
Dialogues Have a New Paragraph for Every New Speaker
One context in which a paragraph can be as short as five characters is direct speech involving two or more speakers.
Count ’em: two characters for the word, and three for the punctuation marks. To begin with, you’d introduce or refer to your speakers, but once the conversation is flowing nicely, you can start skipping them at times.
“No!” exclaimed Mary.
“Yes!” John couldn’t help being amused at Mary’s surprise.
“You don’t really mean it, do you?”
“Of course I mean it, silly!”
It’s a lot less cumbersome to skip a mention of the speaker than to add “said Mary” and “John said” after every direct quote. So theoretically, you can have a paragraph consisting of one word plus punctuation marks. 1,000 words in direct speech would therefore mean you’d write way more than the five or ten paragraphs our initial guideline suggested.
How Many Paragraphs in 1,000 Words?
Here’s a basic summary.
- Probably not less than 5 paragraphs.
- For easy reading, probably no less than 10.
- For direct speech, one for every time you change speaker (however many times that is).
Does It Matter?
Not necessarily, but bear in mind that even teachers who are paid to read students’ writing get tired eyes. The easier it is to read and understand what you have written, the more likely your teacher is to notice those clever details you included. There’s also a distinct possibility they won’t start hating you while they read your work. Yes, they’re supposed to be unbiased, but everyone is human!
When writing in other contexts: an article, a blog, or a book, keeping paragraphs short helps to hold your reader’s attention. Yes, there are famous writers who just wrote without much attention to paragraphs, or even punctuation, but their work isn’t an easy read, and no matter how educated we may be, “easy” is invariably the preferred option.
To take easy reading to the next level, try using sub-headers every paragraph to three paragraphs. This is applicable to blogs and web pages, and to a certain extent, in academic writing. When you hit a web page for info, what do you do? I look at the header, and then I scan the sub-heads to get an idea of the writer’s approach to the subject. If it looks like fluff, I kill the page and move on. But if the sub-headers are interesting, and seem to tell me there’s something worth learning, I’ll read the whole piece.
Whatever You Do, Use Paragraphs
Using paragraphs well (with or without sub-heads) makes your work more accessible to your reader, and, to a certain extent, it shows you’ve ordered your thoughts and are discussing one point at a time. If you can’t organize your work into paragraphs consisting of related thoughts, you may be jumping around too much. Check it out and try again.
How Many Paragraphs is…
The following list is an approximation for those who are writing essays with the standard 100 – 200 words per paragraph and 50 to 100 words for blog or article easy reading. The actual number of paragraphs will depend on numerous factors and this is nothing more than a general rough estimate. Below are estimated words to paragraphs conversions:
- 250 words is 1 to 3 paragraphs for essays, 3 to 5 paragraphs for easy writing
- 500 words is 3 to 5 paragraphs for essays, 5 to 10 paragraphs for easy writing
- 750 words is 4 to 8 paragraphs for essays, 8 to 15 paragraphs for easy writing
- 1000 words is 5 to 10 paragraphs for essays, 10 to 20 paragraphs for easy writing
- 1500 words is 8 to 15 paragraphs for essays, 15 to 30 paragraphs for easy writing
- 2000 words is 10 to 20 paragraphs for essays, 20 to 40 paragraphs for easy writing
- 2500 words is 13 to 25 paragraphs for essays, 25 to 50 paragraphs for easy writing
- 3000 words is 15 to 30 paragraphs for essays, 30 to 60 paragraphs for easy writing
- 4000 words is 20 to 40 paragraphs for essays, 40 to 80 paragraphs for easy writing
- 5000 words is 25 to 50 paragraphs for essays, 50 to 100 paragraphs for easy writing
Below are estimated paragraphs to words conversions:
- 1 paragraph is 100 – 200 words for essays, 50 – 100 words for easy writing
- 2 paragraphs is 200 – 400 words for essays, 100 – 200 words for easy writing
- 3 paragraphs is 300 – 600 words for essays, 150 – 300 words for easy writing
- 4 paragraphs is 400 – 800 words for essays, 200 – 400 words for easy writing
- 5 paragraphs is 500 – 1,000 words for essays, 250 – 500 words for easy writing
- 6 paragraphs is 600 – 1,200 words for essays, 300 – 600 words for easy writing
- 7 paragraphs is 700 – 1,400 words for essays, 350 – 700 words for easy writing
- 8 paragraphs is 800 – 1,600 words for essays, 400 – 800 words for easy writing
- 9 paragraphs is 900 – 1,800 words for essays, 450 – 900 words for easy writing
- 10 paragraphs is 1,000 – 2,000 words for essays, 500 – 1,000 words for easy writing
- 15 paragraphs is 1,500 – 3,000 words for essays, 750 – 1,500 words for easy writing
- 20 paragraphs is 2,000 – 4,000 words for essays, 1,000 – 2,000 words for easy writing
- 25 paragraphs is 2,500 – 5,000 words for essays, 1,250 – 2,500 words for easy writing
- 50 paragraphs is 5,000 – 10,000 words for essays, 2,500 – 5,000 words for easy writing
- 100 paragraphs is 10,000 – 20,000 words for essays, 5,000 – 10,000 words for easy writing