How to Stick to Essay Word Counts

Essay word counts matter with college essays

Flickr user Caleb Roenigk

Essay word counts and page limits matter a lot in the collegiate world. Almost every written assignment—whether it’s for a class, scholarship, or college admissions essay—will have some limitation. You need to be able to work within those limitations. Precision and conciseness are valuable skills exemplified by sticking to word counts. With that in mind, here are some tips to keeping your words in check.


This might seem counterintuitive, but it’s a useful tool for some writers. Rather than attempting to find the exact phrase you need the first time, get your thoughts on the page. This allows you to evaluate which ideas are worth keeping and expanding, which can be rewritten, and which can be taken out. You can always modify to make things shorter once they’re already on paper.

Understand your assignment.

It’s likely that you’ll have a prompt of some kind for your assignment. Understanding what you’re writing about is key to staying within parameters. It also means that you can look for additional information more easily. It also means that you’ll get to your point.

Stick to your topic.

Include only relevant information in your essay. If you’re referencing a text, only use lines that add to your argument. The same goes for scholarship essays and personal information: You need to stay on topic. If you’re talking about how sports have affected your time at school, it’s best not to segue into your passion for theatre.

Use active voice.

It may seem like a small thing, but each helping verb adds up. Rather than writing something like “The reversal of the boys’ civilized ways is represented by the breaking of Piggy’s glasses,” try, “Piggy’s glasses breaking represent the reversal of the boy’s civilized ways.” There’s a four-word difference between those two sentences. Over the course of an essay, active voice gives you more space to work in.

Leave out unnecessary words to stick to your essay word counts.

There are a few broad categories here, adverbs being the primary. Unless it informs the reader, an adverb isn’t necessary. Words such as “just” and “very” are also dangerous. There’s often a single word that can take the place of “very ______,” and “just” can be left out most times.

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One thought on “How to Stick to Essay Word Counts”

  1. Richard says:

    Thanks for info!

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