Length Requirements for Academic Papers

It’s a question we’ve all found ourselves pondering: if my professor has assigned a paper to be between “x” and “y” pages, how many pages should I actually be writing? Many students seem to think there is some sort of secret formula that will reveal the perfect number of pages for any given assignment. Five to seven pages you say? Well, of course you should finish up halfway down page six. Two page maximum? You are allowed inch four lines onto page three, but no more.

If only.

It has been my experience that unlike those (poor) individuals who grade SAT essays, your professors will not award you higher marks simply for having filling up all the allocated pages. So long as you are within the parameters outlined in the assignment and you express yourself eloquently and concisely, you should be fine. Worry less about convention and more about content: perhaps you’ve reached the page limit, but will your paper really make sense if you cut it off now? Do you still need to add a conclusion? Are there any sections you can go back to and cut down? Conversely, if you are struggling to reach the minimum five pages, resist the urge to ramble until your cursor crosses the page break. professors have certain expectations about how much material you should cover in any given assignment. That page minimum is there for a reason, so if you are unable to meet it, go back and rethink your overall approach to the assignment. What are you missing? What needs more elaboration?

Finally, no matter how tempting it might be, please don’t play with the margins or ever-so-slightly enlarge your typeface. Just don’t bother. Your professors will be able to tell that something’s up. Professors notice when analysis that should take up three to four pages somehow winds up trailing onto page six. They have been at this for quite some time, after all.

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