Whenever you’re writing an essay for a class, to get into your dream school, or for some other reason besides “just for the heck of it,” you usually need to write a minimum number of words or pages.
And while there are probably topics you could write about forever — an ode to your pillow or your deep, unabashed love for nineties sitcoms, for instance — there will be times when you simply run out of things to say before you reach your target word count.
So what do you do when you feel as though you’ve squeezed out every last word you can say about your topic, but your essay falls short of your goal?
This post will help you learn how to make an essay longer without resorting to useless fluff, purple prose, or 6 silly things the reader will totally notice (so don’t even bother).
How to Make an Essay Longer: Before You Write
Don’t underestimate the value of planning ahead. When you’re staring down a hefty page requirement, there are a few things you can do before you ever start writing to set yourself up for success.
- Do lots of research. The more information you have about your topic from the get-go, the easier it is to write (and write, and write, and write some more).
- Create a thorough outline. Planning what you will write in advance helps you organize your ideas and spot weaknesses in your arguments and ideas that you can elaborate on. Plus, it helps you write more quickly. (Need some help? Check out these posts on the expository essay outline or 5-paragraph essay outline for strategies you can use for papers of any length).
- Broaden your topic (if necessary). Sometimes, after researching or thinking about your topic and creating an outline, you realize that you still don’t know enough about your topic to draft a complete essay. This doesn’t mean that your approach is wrong; sometimes the information simply isn’t there.
This is a good time to consider broadening the scope of your essay by…
…discussing a wider range of perspectives,
…examining a larger population,
…looking at a larger geographic area,
…considering a broader time span,
And of course all of this planning works best when you start your essay well in advance of the deadline, so don’t procrastinate.
What happens if you use these strategies and still come up short?
How to Make an Essay Longer (the Obnoxious, Lazy Way)
Let me preface this section by acknowledging that you, dear reader, are a smart cookie. So I know that you would never resort to cheap padding strategies, right?
But just in case you’re tempted to quote like crazy or tweak the formatting to make an essay look longer and need a reminder of why that’s a bad idea, remember that it will be totally obvious (and super annoying) if you…
….increase the page margins.
….increase the font size (even if it’s just the periods — don’t!).
….choose an odd-looking font because it’s larger than average.
….add extra spaces after periods.
….add extra spaces between paragraphs.
….add long but ill-placed or irrelevant quotations to your essay.
People (ahem, your instructors) who read essays for a good chunk of the day are on to these tricks. In a stack of 20 or more essays, the one with the subtly larger font and and slightly wider margins will stick out!
Don’t believe me? Have a look at these two essays:
Adding a quarter inch to the margins and using a larger font does make the essay longer. But it creates a pretty obvious difference!
Furthermore if you turn your paper in electronically, your teacher might adjust the font/margin by default…then you’re totally busted, and your efforts were a total waste.
One more thing: don’t assume that an assignment with a required number of pages rather than words is a green light to go nuts with formatting.
This simply means that your instructor trusts that you are mature enough to hand in a paper with reasonable margins, a normal-sized font, and so forth.
Don’t abuse that trust!
Ultimately, the effort you put into adjusting the formatting or hunting for quotes could be better spent writing more content.
But as you will see in the next section, the kind of content you write matters.
How to Make an Essay Longer (and Ruin It in the Process)
Before you can make your essay longer the honest way — by adding more actual words — you need to know the difference between substance and, well, everything else.
Take fluff, for instance.
Fluff is awesome on chicks and bunnies, but it’s less awesome in writing. So what is fluff anyway?
Fluff is clutter, plain and simple. It’s writing that takes too many words to get to the point. And while it is a tempting means by which to lengthen your essay, it annoys your readers…and it’s easy to spot.
- Stating the obvious
- Saying rather than showing
- Redundancy/repeating yourself
- Using overly complex words/sentence structures
- Overusing words like “very,” “really,” “rather,” etc.
“Purple prose” is another kind of fluff. This refers to flowery, over-the-top writing that is way too heavy with adverbs and adjectives.
Let’s look at a fluffy, purple example from a narrative or personal statement:
“It was in the great, shining city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, that I instinctively drew my first breath.”
That’s a terribly dramatic and wordy way to say, “I was born in Philadelphia.”
Here’s another over-the-top example focused on a piece of literature. I’ll bold the fluff so you can follow along:
“The Great Gatsby is a very interesting novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald. The author of the book uses many symbols that are utilized to symbolize certain things. The mysterious green light on Daisy’s dock is a symbol that the author uses to show the reader something.This rather important symbol represents Gatsby’s hopes and dreams of the future. Scholar T. Smith also states that this symbol is important in the book because it “reflects Gatsby’s future ambitions.”
Well, that says a whole lot of nothing. It’s repetitive, it’s wordy, it contains an unnecessary quotation, and reading it is not unlike wading through mud. Look how much that idea can be condensed when I take out the fluff:
“In The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald includes a number of symbols, including the green light on Daisy’s dock that represents Gatsby’s hopes and dreams of the future.”
Still not sure what constitutes fluff? Check out Stephanie Orges’ 47 words and phrases that slow your reader down for some great examples of fluffy constructions to avoid.
Also read How to Avoid Sticky Sentences and Be a Better Writer.
Now that you know how not to make your essay longer, let’s look at some legit strategies for bulking up your writing so that you end up with an essay that’s all killer, no filler.
How to Make an Essay Longer…and Better than Ever
There are plenty of ways to make an essay longer without sacrificing its readability or your reader’s sanity. Assuming that you already have your essay drafted, you can use one or more of the following strategies to generate real, substantial content.
1.Let someone else read your essay. Sure, you think that your essay is clear, persuasive, entertaining, and thorough, but sometimes we make silly leaps in logic that don’t work as well for our audience. Ask a trusted friend or a Kibin editor to look over your paper and make suggestions about where to add more details or support.
(Pro tip: For this reason, a lot of writers specifically request that I ask questions while I edit their papers. Don’t be afraid to ask!)
2. Look at your topic from a new angle. If you’re writing a persuasive or argumentative essay, consider counterarguments or alternate views. Addressing these arguments (and taking them down point by point) not only adds length to your essay, but it strengthens your own argument, too.
3. Think outside the box. The five-paragraph essay has its place when you are learning to compose an essay. Unless stated otherwise in an assignment, though, an essay can have 4 or 7 or 20 paragraphs! If you have a solid structure (a good outline helps), then don’t hem yourself in with arbitrary notions of what constitutes an essay.
4. Add more support. Depending on the type of essay you’re writing, “support” may include quotations and paraphrased information from research or anecdotes and examples from your own experience. Be sure that any support that you add actually strengthens the point you’re trying to make. Here are some of the most common types of support for different types of essays:
5. Walk away for a while. Sometimes, all you need to renew your inspiration is to step away from your writing for a bit. This is a time-tested cure for writer’s block and is an important reason to start drafting your essay early — not, say, the night before it’s due.
If you can spare the time, set your essay aside for a couple days. If you’re staring down a deadline, even an hour or two away from your writing will help you revisit it with a fresh perspective and — hopefully — some new ideas.
Armed with the pre-writing and revising strategies outlined in this post, you now know how to make an essay longer and stronger without resorting to fluff, filler, or formatting ‘solutions’ that only waste your time and frustrate your reader.
If you’re new to writing essays longer than a few pages, check out Shawn Doyle’s post The Five-Paragraph Fix — How to Write Longer Essays for advice on tackling longer essays and why writing ten pages can eventually become easier than writing just 2.
Also, read these tips for writing longer papers from Hamilton College. This resource provides some great advice for organizing, researching, drafting and revising long essays and research papers so you don’t get stumped in the first place.
Psst... 98% of Kibin users report better grades! Get inspiration from over 500,000 example essays.
Writers Workshop: Writer Resources
Writing Tips: Thesis Statements
Defining the Thesis Statement
What is a thesis statement?
Every paper you write should have a main point, a main idea, or central message. The argument(s) you make in your paper should reflect this main idea. The sentence that captures your position on this main idea is what we call a thesis statement.
How long does it need to be?
A thesis statement focuses your ideas into one or two sentences. It should present the topic of your paper and also make a comment about your position in relation to the topic. Your thesis statement should tell your reader what the paper is about and also help guide your writing and keep your argument focused.
Questions to Ask When Formulating Your Thesis
Where is your thesis statement?
You should provide a thesis early in your essay -- in the introduction, or in longer essays in the second paragraph -- in order to establish your position and give your reader a sense of direction.
Tip: In order to write a successful thesis statement:
- Avoid burying a great thesis statement in the middle of a paragraph or late in the paper.
- Be as clear and as specific as possible; avoid vague words.
- Indicate the point of your paper but avoid sentence structures like, “The point of my paper is…”
Is your thesis statement specific?
Your thesis statement should be as clear and specific as possible. Normally you will continue to refine your thesis as you revise your argument(s), so your thesis will evolve and gain definition as you obtain a better sense of where your argument is taking you.
Tip: Check your thesis:
- Are there two large statements connected loosely by a coordinating conjunction (i.e. "and," "but," "or," "for," "nor," "so," "yet")?
- Would a subordinating conjunction help (i.e. "through," "although," "because," "since") to signal a relationship between the two sentences?
- Or do the two statements imply a fuzzy unfocused thesis?
- If so, settle on one single focus and then proceed with further development.
Is your thesis statement too general?
Your thesis should be limited to what can be accomplished in the specified number of pages. Shape your topic so that you can get straight to the "meat" of it. Being specific in your paper will be much more successful than writing about general things that do not say much. Don't settle for three pages of just skimming the surface.
The opposite of a focused, narrow, crisp thesis is a broad, sprawling, superficial thesis. Compare this original thesis (too general) with three possible revisions (more focused, each presenting a different approach to the same topic):
- Original thesis:
- There are serious objections to today's horror movies.
- Revised theses:
- Because modern cinematic techniques have allowed filmmakers to get more graphic, horror flicks have desensitized young American viewers to violence.
- The pornographic violence in "bloodbath" slasher movies degrades both men and women.
- Today's slasher movies fail to deliver the emotional catharsis that 1930s horror films did.
Is your thesis statement clear?
Your thesis statement is no exception to your writing: it needs to be as clear as possible. By being as clear as possible in your thesis statement, you will make sure that your reader understands exactly what you mean.
Tip: In order to be as clear as possible in your writing:
- Unless you're writing a technical report, avoid technical language. Always avoid jargon, unless you are confident your audience will be familiar with it.
- Avoid vague words such as "interesting,” "negative," "exciting,” "unusual," and "difficult."
- Avoid abstract words such as "society," “values,” or “culture.”
These words tell the reader next to nothing if you do not carefully explain what you mean by them. Never assume that the meaning of a sentence is obvious. Check to see if you need to define your terms (”socialism," "conventional," "commercialism," "society"), and then decide on the most appropriate place to do so. Do not assume, for example, that you have the same understanding of what “society” means as your reader. To avoid misunderstandings, be as specific as possible.
Compare the original thesis (not specific and clear enough) with the revised version (much more specific and clear):
- Original thesis: Although the timber wolf is a timid and gentle animal, it is being systematically exterminated. [if it's so timid and gentle -- why is it being exterminated?]
- Revised thesis: Although the timber wolf is actually a timid and gentle animal, it is being systematically exterminated because people wrongfully believe it to be a fierce and cold-blooded killer.
Does your thesis include a comment about your position on the issue at hand?
The thesis statement should do more than merely announce the topic; it must reveal what position you will take in relation to that topic, how you plan to analyze/evaluate the subject or the issue. In short, instead of merely stating a general fact or resorting to a simplistic pro/con statement, you must decide what it is you have to say.
- Avoid merely announcing the topic; your original and specific "angle" should be clear. In this way you will tell your reader why your take on the issue matters.
- Original thesis: In this paper, I will discuss the relationship between fairy tales and early childhood.
- Revised thesis: Not just empty stories for kids, fairy tales shed light on the psychology of young children.
- Avoid making universal or pro/con judgments that oversimplify complex issues.
- Original thesis: We must save the whales.
- Revised thesis: Because our planet's health may depend upon biological diversity, we should save the whales.
- When you make a (subjective) judgment call, specify and justify your reasoning. “Just because” is not a good reason for an argument.
- Original thesis: Socialism is the best form of government for Kenya.
- Revised thesis: If the government takes over industry in Kenya, the industry will become more efficient.
- Avoid merely reporting a fact. Say more than what is already proven fact. Go further with your ideas. Otherwise… why would your point matter?
- Original thesis: Hoover's administration was rocked by scandal.
- Revised thesis: The many scandals of Hoover's administration revealed basic problems with the Republican Party's nominating process.
Do not expect to come up with a fully formulated thesis statement before you have finished writing the paper. The thesis will inevitably change as you revise and develop your ideas—and that is ok! Start with a tentative thesis and revise as your paper develops.
Is your thesis statement original?
Avoid, avoid, avoid generic arguments and formula statements. They work well to get a rough draft started, but will easily bore a reader. Keep revising until the thesis reflects your real ideas.
Tip: The point you make in the paper should matter:
- Be prepared to answer “So what?” about your thesis statement.
- Be prepared to explain why the point you are making is worthy of a paper. Why should the reader read it?
Compare the following:
- Original thesis:
- There are advantages and disadvantages to using statistics. (a fill-in-the-blank formula)
- Revised theses:
- Careful manipulation of data allows a researcher to use statistics to support any claim she desires.
- In order to ensure accurate reporting, journalists must understand the real significance of the statistics they report.
- Because advertisers consciously and unconsciously manipulate data, every consumer should learn how to evaluate statistical claims.
Avoid formula and generic words. Search for concrete subjects and active verbs, revising as many "to be" verbs as possible. A few suggestions below show how specific word choice sharpens and clarifies your meaning.
- Original: “Society is...” [who is this "society" and what exactly is it doing?]
- Revised: "Men and women will learn how to...," "writers can generate...," "television addicts may chip away at...," "American educators must decide...," "taxpayers and legislators alike can help fix..."
- Original: "the media"
- Revised: "the new breed of television reporters," "advertisers," "hard-hitting print journalists," "horror flicks," "TV movies of the week," "sitcoms," "national public radio," "Top 40 bop-til-you-drop..."
- Original: "is, are, was, to be" or "to do, to make"
- Revised: any great action verb you can concoct: "to generate," "to demolish," "to batter," "to revolt," "to discover," "to flip," "to signify," "to endure..."
Use your own words in thesis statements; avoid quoting. Crafting an original, insightful, and memorable thesis makes a distinct impression on a reader. You will lose credibility as a writer if you become only a mouthpiece or a copyist; you will gain credibility by grabbing the reader with your own ideas and words.
A well-crafted thesis statement reflects well-crafted ideas. It signals a writer who has intelligence, commitment, and enthusiasm.