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
The word count for a page will vary depending on font size and type, margin size, and spacing elements (single/double space, blank lines, subheadings, graphics).
For a page with 1 inch margins, 12 point Times New Roman font, and minimal spacing elements, a good rule of thumb is 500 words for a single spaced page and 250 words for a double spaced page. Using this as an example, a 3-4 page double spaced paper is 750-1000 words, and a 7 page double spaced paper would be 1750 words.
Assignments often specify a research paper or essay length in terms of words, rather than pages - a paper of 750-1000 words or a paper of 1500-1750 words. This way a student's paper will still meet their instructor's length expectations, regardless of varying font size, margin size, or use spacing elements.
When viewing an electronic version of a student paper in MicroSoft Word, the exact word count can be easily determined. Some research assignments require students to include the word count of their paper.
Also, clarify with your instructor whether the words on the title page, abstract (if used), and reference list count toward the expected word/page count.