I used to answer this question by saying: “As long as it takes to be good.” Although I agree teachers shouldn’t be sticklers about word count, there are times when word count does matter. For example: college and scholarship application essays, submitting to an op-ed or story contest. As a professional writer, I frequently have to trim my essays or stories because they are over the word limit stated in the publication guidelines. Students should also develop a feel for the length of a piece. They should know that 1000 words is about 3-5 pages. If they want to submit their work, there will almost always be a word count minimum and maximum.
I completely agree. And now, in the middle of college applications, all of which contain writing supplements of 650, 500, or 250 word counts, I agree even more! 🙂
However, being the wordy writer (and terrible editor) that I am, I find it more difficult to stay within the limits the word count than to reach it. 😛
Some assessment tasks ask for diagrams, tables, maps, and/or visual images which are either placed together in an appendix or placed at appropriate points in the essay. These are normally labelled, for instance as Fig. 1, Fig. 2, etc. Such visual material should be clearly captioned; the captions do not count towards the overall word count. Unless module handbooks or departmental guidance explicitly allow otherwise, appendices should not normally contain writing other than captions or writing that is integral to diagrams, etc.: in other words, an appendix is not the place to argue a point.
You remember how it went: You write the paper and count the words: 465 — thirty-five short. What do you do? Seek an additional illustration to support your argument? Heck, no! You go back and add as many words as possible to your existing sentences. Instead of saying,
The word count specified for assessments will include footnotes, quotations and in-line references, but exclude the bibliography and appendices. The exception to this are modules taught within History; please see the for their guidelines.
As a college writing tutor, I am almost daily faced with word count questions and issues. When a professor dictates a minimum word count (as usual), the student and I search together for ways to include pertinent description and more concrete examples instead of artificially attempting to add wordiness which does nothing to clarify.
Like with all essay outlines, informative essay outlines too should have a word count limit. Else they would defeat the very purpose of writing them. A good assumption is to use the one tenth fractions wherein the word count of an outline should be one tenth of the actual essay word count. By doing this you ensure that the main essay word count does not increase and at the same time the essay contains relevant and precise information. Depending upon the complexity of the essay you may wish to increase or decrease the word count of the outline. Some templates contain word count limits on the outlines and the essays.
I have fewer concerns about maximum word counts. Having to cut words is a good exercise. It’s minimum word counts that teach bad habits with young people.
The process of editing an essay down to the required wordcount almost always improves it, and any great piece of writing has gone through several drafts,although burning the first draft is probably a little extreme (Arson 1965).
Editing and re-drafting an essay almost always improves it andclear, concise essays that stick closely both to the topic and to the recommended word count arelikely to score higher marks.