Many of us have found ourselves in this situation: It’s the eleventh hour before your essay is due, and you’re short on your word count. If you don’t meet this essay word count, depending on the paper’s parameters, you could drop a letter grade, or not get a grade at all. Maybe you didn’t do so well on your last test, so this essay really matters. You start grasping at straws, looking for ways to make your essay longer.
Struggling with procrastination when writing essays? Don’t miss these 7 Writer’s Block and Procrastination Tricks: Unstick Yourself.
When I was in college, I was surprised to learn from my friends and classmates that there were many gimmicks to make your essay appear longer without actually writing more (increasing the font sizes of your periods? Really?!), but I never used them, because I didn’t need to use them!
Hint: Your professors have seen it all, even these gimmicks, and you can bet that they’re keeping an eye out for them. If they catch you trying to cheat your way to a longer essay, it’s likely that they’ll deduct points, if not give you a failing grade.
There are many legitimate ways to make your essay longer without cheating. I’ve used many (sometimes all) of the following strategies in my essays, and other writing projects, too. Not only do they make your essay word count longer—they make your paper more robust and well-rounded, which will go a long way toward boosting your grade. It’s a win-win!
Quick tip: If you only need a few sentences to help you reach your word count, start by adding to one specific part of your essay. If you have a longer way to go to meet that minimum word count, use the tips below to help make your entire essay longer.
1. Beef up your introduction
Your introduction will of course include your thesis statement (which will give a nod to the supporting points you will explore in your essay), but that’s just the bare bones of what an introduction can—and should—contain. Make your introduction more robust by giving a short description of the general topic and why it’s important. Why should the reader care about the person, place, or event you’re taking the time to write a paper about?
For example, if you’re writing about George Washington’s wooden teeth, it would be relevant to include a few lines about the general dental practices at that time (i.e., not very good). Don’t just assume that the reader knows everything about your subject. Giving context helps bolster your argument, sets the stage for your paper, and (bonus!) makes your essay longer.
2. Strategically include subheadings
Include subheadings throughout your essay for better flow and readability, even in shorter essays (they can still work well in essays as short as two pages!). Just like in the world of blogging, essay readers (and graders) can get bored with long blocks of text. It’s easy to lose track of your place, and the argument that’s being made. Use subheadings in bold that jump out at the reader and grab their attention. Make sure they are relevant to the topic you’re exploring in that section of the paper.
Not sure where to include subheadings? Think of it this way: If someone was quickly flipping through your paper, they should be able to spot the subheadings and get the highlights of the essay right away.
Subheadings will likely correspond with the supporting points of the thesis that you are exploring in the essay. If you have a longer essay (say, 10 to 20 pages), you might even have places to include sub-subheadings in each individual section of your paper. Just make sure to style these slightly differently (perhaps using italics) so that the reader doesn’t get confused.
3. Break up your paragraphs (in the right places!)
Be very careful and strategic about using paragraph breaks. You shouldn’t be starting a new paragraph after each sentence. Nor should you have entire pages that are blocks of text (see the above tip on using subheadings).
Break up paragraphs where it feels natural, at the end of one thought and the beginning of another. You might be surprised where you can add some extra breaks, especially if an idea you are explaining is complicated or has multiple pieces of evidence for you to explore.
4. Use transitions
Transitions help guide readers from one thought to another, from one paragraph to the next, and from one section of your essay to another. Don’t be afraid to be explicit and spell things out for the reader. Use transition words and phrases like “therefore,” “whereas,” and “for instance.” These phrases also make your essay and your argument sound more polished and thoughtful. Purdue has a great list of transition words and phrases.
5. Include more direct quotes
These are the pieces of text that you quote exactly word for word and put in quotation marks (with proper citation, of course). They can be direct quotes that people have said, or they can be exact text from a passage in a book, journal article, etc. The more you have of these, not only the longer your paper will be—your argument will be stronger, too. In fact, some professors require that you have a minimum number of citations per paper for this very reason.
Tip: Not sure how to write citations? Check on your class syllabus or with your professor to make sure you’re using the correct style, then check out Purdue’s citation guide.
Make sure you only use direct quotes/evidence that fully supports your argument. Don’t include random quotes from people or text that is just filler or fluff.
When you have a particularly powerful direct quote, you can set it off in it’s own paragraph. Save these for the really exceptional quotes you want to shine a spotlight on. Also, make sure the paragraph before the quote properly introduces it, and that the paragraph after the quote explains why it is important.
6. Include more evidence/support
This follows the same line of thinking as above. Beef up your argument! Look at it from all angles.
Is there someone else who has an interesting opinion on the subject that supports your argument? Is there another primary source you can reference?
Approach your essay as if you were an alien from outer space who has no idea what you are talking about or the context. If you were explaining the concept to them, what additional information would you include?
7. Don’t forget a “recap” for each section
At the end of any critical part of your argument, make sure it ties back to your original thesis. Don’t be afraid to reiterate this idea and really drive the point home. You might feel like you’re being repetitive, but it should look something like this:
Evidence A supports (thesis) because…
Similarly, Evidence B illustrates how (thesis) because…
Think of each section of your paper as its own “mini paper” with an introduction, argument/supporting evidence, and conclusion. You can work these recaps into the end of paragraphs and the end of larger sections of your essay.
8. Strengthen your conclusion
Your conclusion should not be identical to your introduction. In the introduction, you are setting the stage for your larger argument, while the body of your essay gives in-depth supporting evidence for that argument, and your conclusion ties everything together.
Yes, you should refer to your thesis and top supporting points, but don’t stop there. If there are any potential holes in your argument or a prominent counterargument out there in the world (or one that’s been brought up in your class!), address it. For example:
While some might think that X, I firmly believe (your thesis) because…
If you are writing about an historical event, is there a lesson from it that can be applied to life today? If you’re writing about a more modern event, what implications do you think it will have for the future? You can add an entire extra paragraph to your paper just by exploring these ideas! It makes your argument and essay as a whole feel much more relevant to your audience.
9. Enlist a critic
If you have time, ask a friend to read your essay and point out any parts that are unclear or that they feel are missing something, and address those specific areas. Especially if you are really close to your word count, this can save you a lot of time. Address these places with laser-like focus rather than worrying about adding to your entire essay.
Have you tried any of these ideas to make your essays longer without cheating? Have you tried other successful methods? Add them to the comments!