One of the biggest challenges students face is writing long-form essays of 2,000 words or more. At a recent student webinar, someone brought this up, and I couldn't help but think back to my freshman year. Several years ago, I had to write a long essay on an interesting but unfamiliar subject.
After writing hundreds of articles, essays and reports, I've developed my own list of 'smart hacks' to help increase word count on any written piece.
How NOT to increase word count
Adding fluff words
Adding meaningless words only confuses the core arguments and distracts the evaluator. Whatever merit your actual content may have had will be obscured by a mountain of meaningless words.
The sentence in my essay read,
"Violent acts by adults are often caused by childhood exposure to violence.".
If I try to forcedly add fluff words to expand the text, my sentence would sound stretched:
“Violent acts are often associated with the fact that adults who commit violent acts - acts that are seen as savage, harsh, rough, physically abusive, or otherwise unacceptable in society - have been exposed to similar harsh or extreme violence during their childhoods or when they were young”.
Voice and tone
Although passive voice makes a sentence longer, I have found that my writing is much sharper when I use active voice. Also, do not confuse the need to use a formal or academic tone with passive voice.
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 running on all sorts of tangents. After spending hours trying to connect the dots between the tangents, I ended up having to rewrite the entire piece because I was unable to justify the distracting content.
You hear it from your professor, and spew it back at her. Mindlessly repeating content in different sections of an essay - as if your teacher wouldn't notice, won't really help you ace your courses.
Even more mistakes
After asking some of my classmates, I found out that some of them had resorted to even worse hacks that eventually got them in trouble:
- Using filler words - In order to fill more pages, some diverge from the specified format and increase fonts, margins, and spacing. You will lose credibility if you do this, and you will also lose points if you deviate from the writing style specified.
- Plagiarism - Plagiarizing large chunks from others' essays or research papers was not only seen as lazy, but it was a fast way from a not-so-great grade to a failed grade.
- Other sneaky tricks - These included whitening out gibberish text and increasing the size of periods. Teachers have seen it all and know every trick in the book.
The right way to increase word count
Eventually, my word count increased in a way that makes each word actually count (pardon the pun), and it turns out there are some pretty cool tricks to do that.
With the right tools and techniques, 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.
1. Use an AI writing tool
Skip the manual paraphrasing and use a smart AI writing tool. For example, I added almost 50 words to a 125-word paragraph using Wordtune’s text expand feature.
2. Take advantage of outlines
It may seem counter-intuitive, but completing your outline can help you meet your word count goal.
Say you need to turn a 200-word article into a 1,500-word essay. Make an outline of the article before trying to tackle this seemingly impossible task of writing the whole piece.This will give you a clearer picture of how your entire thesis works and how to logically support it.
As an example, suppose we're writing an essay on why kids shouldn't play phone games.
To begin, you need to summarize your message in a few sentences. 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 expanding it, write an outline to get a sense of its structure and flow. As a result, you can easily determine how much text is needed for each section, which ones require expanded text, and which ones can be kept brief. This clarity not only helps me reduce anxiety, but also gives me a clear plan of action to finish this essay!
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)
Cite research that talks about potential positive effects of video games, if used the proper way and under supervision (250 words)
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)
Offer a strong conclusion that brings all of the essay together in a summary (250 words)
Note that 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.
3. Expand your text with intros and conclusions
I use this method all the time to get unstuck and write longer articles without worrying about word counts.
Let's say you finish expanding your outline, and the article is still short a few hundred words.
Two places you should consider expanding are the introduction and conclusion.
How does this work?
- In the introduction and conclusion, you can add free-flowing stories, ideas and paragraphs, without having to validate each sentence with technical reference, sources and quotes.
- You can use anecdotes, personal experiences, news articles, and research findings to introduce your topic, or to close it.
- You can also go into detail about why you were motivated to explore the topic in more depth and why it has helped you to develop your argument. We wrote about essay hooks in more detail here, so be sure to check it out.
- Remind readers why this entire argument matters at the human level in the conclusion. This is done by repeating the topic, the core of your argument, and why you have justified your thesis.
Add these elements to your introduction and conclusion, and you will quickly reach your essay quota.
Here's an example from the Wordtune blog of an anecdote placed as part of the intro:
4. Use examples to illustrate your point
It is always helpful to provide examples to illustrate complex academic or technical points. As well as adding color and descriptiveness to your own words, examples help your arguments come to life in a way that academic writing cannot. Having read several essays about the same topic, your evaluator will probably find it enjoyable to read something more creative and genuine.
Examples also help readers visualize your narrative. The situations can be real or imagined, but they must be authentic, relatable, and most importantly, relevant to your topic. Providing examples from your real-life experience will demonstrate to the teacher that you understand your topic.
I started this article by describing my experience as a freshman. The challenges I faced as a student are similar to those you are currently facing, so sharing my journey will help you learn from my mistakes.
5. Invest in serious research
Research is the most effective way to increase a paper's word count.
The more research you conduct, the more ideas, perspectives, and information you have to base your arguments on.
Research takes time and effort, which you may or may not have.
Here's where my smart tools come into play.
No matter how long a paper is, Wordtune Read will give you all the key highlights.
The following is a composite screenshot of how Wordtune Read summarized the effects of video games on children from a long and complex article. The key highlights on the right help you distill the core messages of the research in minutes, condensing hours of reading into minutes.
In just a few steps, you can add at least two supporting arguments or stats 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.
6. Ask 'Why' questions
At this stage, the research has already provided you with some solid perspectives, but there's nothing like adding some original perspectives to the existing body of research. Asking ‘why’ questions is an effective way to do this. In addition to strengthening your arguments, it will also enhance your essay with relevant and original content.
Think 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 dig deeper into the text.
Ask questions like: "why is that true?", "Why is it important?", etc. For each answer, ask another why question and develop some original angles based on the insights that may emerge.
While it beats manual paraphrasing in terms of speed, I felt it also improved the overall quality of the writing.
7. Address the counter view
It's a foolproof way to score brownie points with tutors and also add some value - and word count - to your essay.
Counter views or counterpoints are positions diametrically opposed to your own.
I argue, for example, that video games negatively affect children in the essay about video games. There is always some literature available (and there is always some literature available) on the counter-side of why and under what circumstances video games can actually have a positive impact on children. I am able to write a pretty solid section on that topic.
By balancing the pros and cons of both arguments, I will also be able to bridge the two points of view.
Just like that, you've added about 200 words to your essay!
8. Use quotes and references
While the bibliography section doesn’t usually count towards the overall essay word count, there are some easy tricks you can use to maximize the references. Once you are done with the essay, run through your list of citations and find interesting quotes that you may have missed, which you can now incorporate.
9. Get feedback from a friend
If you're like me, working on the same essay for a long time with complete immersion means you develop blind spots to obvious misses and flaws in your text.
Ask a trusted friend or peer to look over your essay again. Share your essay on Gdoc with your friends and find out if they spot something that seems missing, out of place, or that stands out like a sore thumb.
Also, ask them to question your assumptions in the essay - this may give you new angles and perspectives to explore, thus expanding the word count even further.
10. Add text while editing
Once you have finished writing your essay, you can use the review stage to edit and add text to your essay.
This is another great opportunity to use your AI writing tool, and get suggestions for ways to make your sentences more fluent. You can also replace superfluous words with stronger vocabulary, and pick alternative ways to word sentences that contain repetitive words.
Try and spot long, convoluted sentences and break them up to smaller sentences.
Keep it long and interesting
Essays that meet the prescribed criteria, including word count, indicate to your teachers that you not only possess subject matter knowledge, but also writing, grammar, logic, research, and communication skills.
You can find interesting angles even in the most mundane sounding topics if you challenge yourself to do the work and not worry too much about the word count. With the 11 smart hacks - including use of the smart writing tools - essay writing and meeting the specified word count becomes much easier!
Learning how to expand a text in an interesting way - and not just by adding fluff - makes you a better writer regardless of the format - essays, reports, statements of purpose - even books!
This article was co-written with Wordtune. Wordtune didn’t write the whole piece. Instead, it contributed ideas, suggested rephrasing alternatives, maintained consistency in tone, and of course - made the process much more fun for the writer.