Meeting an essay’s required page or word count can sometimes be a struggle, especially if you’re juggling multiple papers or exams. In a pinch, students often rely on tricks like increasing margin size or making their font slightly bigger. Though these tricks do increase page length, there are easier (and smarter) ways to write a longer, high-quality essay. Making a paper meet minimum word or page counts doesn’t have to be an agonizing process—you can add length while also adding clarity and depth.
Here are 10 tips on how you can write a longer and a smarter essay, even if the deadline is fast approaching:
Tip #1: Look Back at Your Prompt/Rubric/etc.
If you’ve been provided a comprehensive prompt or rubric for an essay, read it, and read it again. Think about the following:
- Did you answer all of the questions in the prompt?
- Did you provide supporting evidence to back up whatever claims you made?
- Did you leave out any information that might increase the reader’s understanding of your argument?
- Did you meet all requirements (besides length) for the paper?
If the answer isn’t a decisive “yes” to every question on this list, go back and revise.
Tip #2: Go Back Through Your Introduction and Conclusion
Often times, ideas evolve while writing a paper. If the first thing you wrote was the introduction, go back and reread the first paragraph. You might decide that you left out key information that aids the reader in understanding your argument. When looking back on the conclusion, make sure you’ve both summarized the main points within the essay and provided your reader with a solution to consider. If you don’t feel you’ve done this, go back through and revise the paper.
Tip #3: Have Someone Proofread Your Essay
Even if you’re short on time ask a friend, sibling, or parent to read through your paper, specifically noting any points they find confusing. Then, go back and revise the parts that were unclear, adding in more information to provide readers with further clarity. You have a more comprehensive understanding of what you’re writing about than your reader, so having someone else look over your paper can be a helpful way to ensure that you haven’t missed any important details.
Tip #4: Use Quotations
Chances are, you have already used quotes in your paper. Quotations are a great way to enhance your argument while also driving up a paper’s word count, but don’t add quotes just for the sake of doing so. If you’re short on words, read through your source materials again to see if you’ve missed any valuable quotes. You can also do a little more research to see if there are any other sources you can add to provide the reader with more evidence toward your argument. Longer quotes aren’t necessarily better, but if you’re really in a bind, you might want to lengthen some of the quotes that are already included.
Tip #5: Review Your Outline
Did you make an outline to plan the essay when you first started? Go back through that initial outline and make sure you’ve hit all of your intended points. It’s possible that you’ve left out an important piece of your argument that would both increase page count and make for a better essay.
Tip #6: Include More Transitional Phrases
Graders often look for traditional words linking sentences to each other, like “therefore,” “even though”, and “on the other hand.” Read through your essay and make sure the sentences flow smoothly into each other. If they don’t, go back and add in transitional phrases like the ones listed above. Your writing will be easier to read, and you’ll get closer to the minimum page requirement in the process.
Tip #7: Read Your Paper Out Loud
This might sound like a silly tip, but when you read your paper out loud, you become increasingly aware of any grammatical or syntactical issues. When you rephrase sentences to fix these, you might end up increasing the paper length a bit. In the process of reading out loud, you also might realize that you didn’t include sufficient details within a particular paragraph. If that’s the case, go back in and add more to increase length.
Tip #8: Take a Break From Your Essay
You’ve probably been staring at your computer screen for hours, hoping words will magically pop into your head. Take a break. Eat a snack, go for a walk, or talk to a friend on the phone. You’ll come back to the essay with a fresh perspective after some time away, and you might have new ideas after you’ve had time away from your paper.
Tip #9: Ask Your Instructor for Help
Most teachers, teaching assistants, and professors are willing to look over papers for students before the final submission date. If there is still time, ask if you can make an appointment to go over your paper or head over to office hours. Your instructor might offer tips on how to better answer the prompt, and this in turn may also increase the word count of the paper.
Tip #10: Use multiple examples to back up your argument
If you’ve only used one source or anecdote to explain a given point, find a second source to provide additional evidence for the reader. This method will help drive up a paper’s word count while also providing further support for your argument.
Although hitting a minimum page count can sometimes be challenging, you can do it the smart way by increasing the information you provide to the reader—there’s no reason to resort to tricks like increasing line spacing or font size. If you’re really in a bind at the last minute, you might want to break up some of your paragraphs. This increases length while also making text more manageable for a reader. But after going through the tips on this list, your paper should be adequate in length without you having to even consider spacing.
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How to Make an Essay Look Longer
It’s somewhat difficult to make demands on essays for students – demanding that they have 500 words, for example, leads to really, really, very, extremely superfluous lists of adjectives and describing words like this sentence to up the word count. Other teachers use the page count as a metric of completion. But what happens when you have 4 and a half pages done of your five page essay? There are plenty of writing techniques to flesh ideas out and make it longer, but I’m assuming that your essay is perfect as it is and you want a more technological answer. Here are a few techniques that have served me well. I use them all the time.
Note: This tutorial is for Microsoft Word as a part of Office 2007, although many of the same techniques can be used in previous or subsequent versions of Word.
Font Choice and Font Size
First, font or font size is a fairly easy way to make an essay longer. Some teachers demand that Times New Roman size 12 be used. However, when they forget to add that to the rules, you can change it to whatever you want (assuming there’s no blanket statement about it on the syllabus). You want to choose a font that maximizes height. Obviously you don’t want to choose a font that’s too difficult to read, as it may annoy the person grading it. Below is a picture of the word “Hello” printed four times, each at size 12. The fonts, from left to right, are “Angsana New”, “Calibri”, “Times New Roman”, and “Algerian”.
Font size can also make a big impact on your paper. Going with a size 72 font will undoubtedly make your paper surpass the required page count, but isn’t the best idea. Just changing the font size from 12 to 13 can add a few lines to your paper. Below is a picture of identical text in two columns, both in Times New Roman, but size 12 on the left and size 13 on the right.
Even if your teacher demands size 12 Times New Roman, you might be tempted to change it anyway. Slight changes are fairly hard to measure in a printout, however, it is possible. For instance, if a teacher were to print out the word “the” in Times New Roman size 12 on a piece of transparency paper, they could then hold it over a word “the” in your essay and confirm whether or not it’s identical. Probably not going to happen, but it actually has happened to me before.
Space Between lines
The spacing between lines is very difficult to measure because although in most fonts the top and bottom edges vary significantly. In some fonts, there is a common edge except for letters that hang above or below the line, but in fonts that are meant to look more like handwriting, there is not. In any case, even with common edges, it’s not likely that your teacher will whip out a ruler and measure. Too large a gap may arouse suspicion, but changing an essay from double spaced to 2.1 spacing may actually make a large difference. The thing to remember is that the longer the base essay, the more they amplify the length. So for instance, if your essay is 10 lines with double spacing, and you change the spacing to 2.1, you get an extra 0.1 of a line for every line you’ve written, and 0.1×10 = 1. So, for every ten lines you actually write, you get the effect of having written eleven instead. For an essay that’s 4.5 pages, this tiny change can easily bring you over the 5 page mark and is virtually undetectable. Below is two paragraphs, the left with single spacing and the right is 1.1 spacing. This really demonstrates the potential of the small change.
To change the spacing between lines, you’ll need to access the “Paragraph” menu (I believe that in older versions of Word this could be done by going to Format -> Paragraph). In Word 2007, it can be accessed by going to the “Page Layout” tab of the ribbon and clicking on the pop-out button of the Paragraph rectangle.
From there, under Line Spacing, choose “Multiple”, and under At, choose a number close to something normal, like 1.1 or 2.1. You can increase this difference at the risk of the teacher noticing.
Changing the margins of a page is another great way to change the length of your paper. By decreasing the amount of space the words can take up per page, you increase the number of pages required to fit your existing content. Changing the left margin is a bit risky since most papers are left-justified, meaning that the left edge will be relatively the same for all papers. The right margin, however, can be changed to your heart’s content, since the length of words, number of letters, and number of spaces greatly affect each line’s right edge. You can also increase the amount of space taken up by the header and footer of a document.
Lengthen Header Content
One final way you can make a paper appear longer is by adding more lines to the header of your document. If you make it too long, be sure to have it on only the first page and not every page, as this would be incredibly obvious.
If your teacher demands that an essay be 5 pages long and no longer, but your paper is slightly longer, you can use these same techniques in reverse to make your paper look shorter. For instance, you can change double spacing to 1.9 spacing, or increase the margins.