11 Ways to Increase Your Essay Word Count the Right Way

September 15, 2022
Updated: Sep 15, 2022
11 Ways to Increase Your Essay Word Count the Right Way

Of all the challenges that student essays present, the worst one is having to write long-form essays of 2,000 words and upwards. Someone brought this up at a recent student webinar, and I couldn’t help but recall my freshman year. Way back when I was faced with the uphill task of writing a long essay on a subject that was interesting but entirely unfamiliar to me. 

Several years and hundreds of articles, essays and reports later, I’ve developed my personal list of ‘smart hacks’ to help increase word length on any kind of written piece - essays, reports, term papers. 

There’s a reason I call them smart hacks - these are 21st century hacks that not only help you improve your own writing skills, but also use every smart tech tool available to make our work easier, faster, and better.

Typical mistakes to increase word count (know them to avoid them) 

Adding fluff words

Adding a bunch of meaningless words that don't actually convey anything or add value to the argument only serve to confuse the core arguments and distract the evaluator. Whatever little merit your actual content had gets hidden behind a mountain of meaningless lines.

For example, my essay had a sentence that read, “Violent acts by adults are often linked to exposure to violence in childhood.”  

If I’d forcefully added fluff words to expand the text, even though they didn’t really add value, my sentence would end up sounding somewhat stretched. Let’s say, “Violent acts - acts that can be seen as savage, harsh, rough, physically abusive or otherwise extreme and unacceptable by society - by grown-up adults are often linked to the same adults having been exposed to similar harsh or extreme violence over long period all through their childhoods or during their younger years”. See what I mean? Entirely pointless.

Voice and tone

While I found that using passive voice makes a sentence much longer, I also had to admit that my writing is much better and sharper when I use active voice. And do not confuse the need to use a formal or academic tone with needing to use passive voice. They are not the same thing.

Quoting without context

This one is like digging yourself into a hole. I quoted so many out-of-context references that I found my essay was running in all sorts of tangents. I wasted hours trying to connect the dots between the tangents and still couldn’t justify the distracting content, ending up having to rewrite the whole thing. 

Mindless paraphrasing

We have all been there. Mindlessly repeating content by paraphrasing the same point in different sections of the essay - as if my teacher wouldn't notice! 

Even more mistakes

At the end, the essay was a flop and the whole exercise, despite the hours it took, just wasn’t a great use of my (very limited) time.

But it turns out that wasn’t rock bottom. Some classmates, I found, had resorted to even worse hacks that eventually got them in trouble. For example,

  • Diverging from the specified format and making fonts, margins and spacing larger to fill more pages. This never works because (a) your supervisor will of course notice and you lose credibility, and (b) you are deviating from the specified writing style, which will cost you points.

  • ‘Quoting’ large chunks from others’ essays or research papers: this was not just seen as lazy, but put them all at risk of being marked for plagiarism. The fastest way from a not-so-great grade to a fail grade.

  • Other sneaky tricks like whiting out gibberish text and increasing the font size of periods. Here’s the thing - teachers have seen it all - they know every essay lengthening trick in the book.

Ultimately what saved me was trying to understand why on earth essays (or any written student assignment) has a word count at all. Turns out there are some pretty good reasons for them, and knowing that somehow made it worth the effort to increase my word count in a way that each word actually, well, counts.

So, what say you just save yourself the trouble of going down the rabbit hole of sneaky tricks and instead, study these 11 smart hacks to do a better job from the get go?

The right way to increase your word count

Now I’ve understood why word counts exist, I’ve shifted my focus to make each word actually count. 

But it’s the 21st century. And while I’ve gotten better at writing essays, I also have an added secret weapon to make my work easier, faster and smarter. 

Smart writing tools. 

With the right - preferably free - tools, you spend less time on the heavy lifting, more time on the actual writing, and at the end of the day, you have a much more comprehensive essay that is a delight to read. 

So without further ado, here’s my list of top tactics - and smart writing tools - to increase student essay word count the right way.

Start short to go long: get your outline in place

This may sound counter intuitive, but trust me, it works. And saves you a ton of time later. Let’s say you need to turn a 200 word article into a 1500 word essay. Instead of trying to jump straight into this seemingly impossible task, first shorten the article into an outline. This gives you the big picture of how your entire thesis works, and how you can logically build an argument to support it.

For example, let’s say we are writing an essay about why phone games are bad for kids. 

You start with a short paragraph that captures the essence of what you want to say. For example,

“Kids have susceptible brains, and games can change the whole chemistry of their brains in a bad way, causing them to go off on tantrums and screaming fits. Moreover, these games form addictive habits that will persist when the kids become older. By continuing to play phone games, the kids fail to develop emotionally, and may become unsocial introverted people. Moreover, there are signs that games make kids more violent and emotionally unstable. Since phones are always at reach, kids can continuously play throughout the day, not stopping even when eating lunch or when attending a school class.”

Before jumping into expanding it, first write an outline for a visual overview of the structure and flow. This way you will easily figure how many words are needed to flesh out each section, which ones merit expanded text and which ones can be brief.  For me, this clarity not only helps reduce anxiety, but gives me a clear plan of action to get this essay written!

For example, for the paragraph on video games, my outline would look something like this:

Introduction (include statistics and research to argue that video games are harmful for kids) and state the thesis (250 words)
Negative effects of video games on children: first build larger categories and then substantiate with smaller points, evidence and data within each point:
- Effects on emotional development (200 words)
- Effects on physical development (200 words)
- Effects on social development (200 words)
- Effects on intellectual development (200 words)
Give counter-views
Cite research that talks about potential positive effects of video games, if used the proper way and under supervision (250 words)
Give solutions
State why parents find it so hard to keep kids away from video games, especially mobile video games, and offer concrete solutions to set better boundaries with kids for video game usage (250 words)
Conclusion
Offer a strong conclusion that brings all of the essay together in a summary (250 words)

There are many tools to help you brainstorm, build outlines and come up with possible angles and positions. So, you will note I’ve planned to write a few hundred more words than the prescribed word limit, so I have scope to edit and tighten later on. 

Start strong, finish strong with attention-grabbing Introductions and Conclusions

First impressions are important. Start strong with a story that could be anecdotal, a personal experience or something that you have read about in the news or in your research. And why this story motivates you to explore this topic more deeply and why it’s helped shape your argument and form your thesis. 

Helping the reader connect to a technical or academic topic with an emotional or personal hook is always a great way to reel your reader in. 

Similarly, use your last section - the conclusion - to tie-it all in. Remind readers why this entire argument matters at the human level. Develop the conclusion by reiterating the topic, the core of your argument, and why your thesis has been justified. 

The intro and conclusion are great ways to add words that help build content, but what’s cool is that they don’t necessarily need any new technical content.

Use examples to illustrate your point

Ah! Who doesn’t love great examples to illustrate a complex academic or technical point? Examples not only help you add more color and descriptiveness in your own words, they also bring your arguments to life in ways that academic writing would not. Of course, it’s probably a nice respite for your evaluator, who has to read through several essays about the same topic. 

Add examples to help readers visualize your narrative. They can be real or imagined situations, but they need to feel real, relatable, and most important, relevant to your topic and argument. Good examples show the teacher that you have really understood your topic and are able to connect it to real life.

For example, in this article, I started with my personal experiences in freshman year. I went through the same struggles as any student, and sharing that journey will help you, a student currently going through the same struggles, learn from my mistakes. 

Work that tone and format 

Breaking your essay into several smaller sections and paragraphs makes your essay flow well and more easily readable. It also gives you the chance to add mini intros to each section, which adds a lot of crucial words to the count. 

As you format, also avoid all abbreviations, spell out each acronym, and ensure you do not shorten your ‘don’ts’ and ‘can’ts’ unless necessary. Academic essays almost always prefer formal tone, but creative essays can work with any personal style you prefer.

Luckily, the job is made easy with one of the many smart tools to manage tone and glam up the format. 

For example, in my essay about the negative effects of video games on children, I played with the tone and manner of my text, and settled on the formal-toned alternatives the tool suggested.  

Be smart about your research 

Okay, we’re near the middle now. The meat of your piece is in the arguments you will make. And those arguments have to be based on a large body of essays and articles that already exist on your chosen topic.

In a word, research.

In my opinion, the best way to increase a paper’s word count is to do more research. 

The deeper and stronger the research, the more ideas, perspectives and information you have to base your arguments on. All that helps you write authoritatively about your topic. 

Unfortunately, research takes time and effort, which you may or may not have. 

Here’s where I pull out my smart tools.

With Wordtune Read, you can paste text, upload a PDF or share a link - and within seconds, it  will give you all the key highlights of that paper, no matter how long.

Here’s a composite screen grab of how Wordtune Read summarized a particularly long and complex research article about the effect of video games on children. On the right are the key highlights, that condenses hours of reading into minutes, and helps you distill the core messages of the research.

With this tool, you can challenge yourself to go back to your outline and add at least 2 supporting items of evidence or arguments for each point you have in your outline. And just like that, you have several hundred very relevant words, added almost effortlessly to your essay.

By the way, another feature I love on Wordtune Read, is the My Library feature- which it just created by default. It meant there was a ready-made list of all the articles I had researched and summarized, for an article I was working on at the time. Super convenient!

Strengthen your arguments with why questions

At this point, you already have some solid perspectives from the research. However, nothing like some original angles to add to the body of work already out there. A really strong technique to do this is to ask more ‘why’ questions. Not only will it strengthen your arguments, it is a great way to add relevant and original text to your essay.

Let’s go back to the example of the negative effects of video games on children. Let’s say one of the arguments you have is “phone games cause emotional issues”. Use a series of ‘why’ questions to expand on the text by digging deeper. 

Ask yourself, “why is that true”? “Why is it important”? etc. For each response, ask another why question and get to some original thinking or angles based on the insights that could emerge. 

Use Wordtune’s text expand feature 

A better and smarter way to expand text is to skip the manual paraphrasing and use a smart writing tool. For example, I added almost 50 words to 125 word paragraph with Wordtune’s text expand feature.

While it beats manual paraphrasing in terms of speed, I felt it also improved the overall quality of the writing.

Address the counter-view

This is a foolproof way to score some brownie points with tutors and also add some real value - and word count - to your essay. 

A counterview or counterpoint is the diametrically opposite position to your own core argument.

For example, in the essay about video games, my core argument is that video games have a negative impact on children. I can create a pretty solid section addressing the literature available (and there is always some literature available) on the counter vide: why and under what circumstances video games can actually have a positive impact on children. 

I can then also bridge the two points of view with some way to balance the pros and cons of both arguments.

And voila - about 200 words added to your essay just like that!

Use quotes and references from your bibliography list

While the bibliography section doesn’t usually count towards the total essay word count, there is a pretty safe trick to make the most of the references. Once you are done with the essay, run through your list of citations and find interesting quotations you may have missed, that you can now include in the essay.

Get good feedback 

If you are like me, working on the same essay for a long time with complete immersion means you develop a sort of blind spot to obvious misses and flaws. Enlist a trusted friend to run a fresh pair of eyes over your essay. You can share the essay on Gdoc and ask friends what is missing, sticks out like a sore thumb, or otherwise seem out of place.

Also, ask them to question your assumptions in the essay - this may lead to some new angles and perspectives to explore in the text, and thus help expand word count with more original material.

Reread, review and edit 

Reviewing your own essay once you are done with writing is a great move. But getting a smart tool to review it is even better! In a moment, it can make suggestions so your sentences are more fluent, replace superfluous words with stronger vocabulary, suggest alternate ways to word sentences with repetitive words, and improve clarity by splitting up long and convoluted sentences. 

Care about making your essay a great read

Well-written essays that meet the prescribed criteria, including word count, tell your teachers  that you have not just the required subject-matter knowledge but also the writing, grammar, logic, research, and communication skills you will need as you progress through life.

Instead of stressing too much about the word count, challenge yourself to do the work and dig out the interesting angles even in the most mundane sounding topics. With the 11 smart hacks - including use of the smart writing tools - you’ll be surprised how much easier essay writing and meeting the specified word count becomes! 

When you learn how to expand a text in an interesting way - and not just by adding fluff like I did that first time - you are, in fact, able to write better no matter what the format - essays, reports, statements of purpose - perhaps even books! 

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