Have you ever been relieved to finish a writing project, only to discover that you were paragraphs or even pages short of the required length? Most of us have. We have probably resorted to all types of tricks to try to figure out how to make an essay longer. If you are only a little short, you may be able to use those tricks, such as adding in some filler to stretch your essay to the required length. However, if you are paragraphs or pages short, then if you you’re your paper with fluff, the likely result is a lowered grade. After all, professors can spot filler. Instead, what you need is a tried and true way to add high-quality content to your essay.
The first step to writing a longer essay is choosing an appropriate topic. There are several things to keep in mind when you are choosing a topic for a long essay. The first thing you need to consider is whether the topic is sufficiently interesting to you to keep you motivated for the entire duration of a long essay. If the topic does not interest you, then how are you going to sustain momentum from research through your final draft? You might feel like you are constrained in your topic selection, especially if you are given a specific prompt or are only given a narrow list of topics from which to choose from your essay.
Even if a topic seems boring to you, you might be surprised what type of interesting information you can find about topics. Google “interesting facts about [your topic]” or even “interesting myths about [your topic]” to find out some facts about your topic that you are unlikely to see in a classroom. Even myths can make for an interesting starting point for your research, as you try to uncover how they came into existence. For example, although the myth that Catherine the Great died while attempting to have sex with a horse is false,[i] it would, nevertheless, be a very interesting starting point for a paper about the ruler because the rumor highlights the level of misogyny she encountered as well as the general attitude towards royalty during her time period.
The second thing you need to consider is whether the topic is appropriate for a long essay. This requires that you be very realistic about whether your topic is sufficiently broad to support an essay of the required length. There are some fabulous essay topics out there that really do not work in a long-essay context. Going back to the Catherine the Great example, an essay that focused narrowly on whether she died while having sex with a horse would not support a long essay, while an essay that focused on the social conditions that made rumors about her sexual appetites so prevalent in Russia during her reign would support, not just a long essay, but several books. Therefore, you want to ensure that you choose a topic that is long enough to provide material for the essay you need to write.
If you have to tackle a long essay, you may be working on it for much of a semester, over the course of an entire semester or even for an entire school year. Therefore, staying motivated becomes mission-critical. However, it can be very difficult to stay motivated if you feel like you are not making any progress. That is why we suggest breaking down your essay into smaller assignments, and setting goals for completion of those assignments.
Sometimes your professors or advisors will provide you with a schedule that helps you break down your essay into smaller assignments, anyway. For example, a professor may set due dates for smaller subsections of the paper. Students frequently encounter due dates for annotated bibliographies, outlines, rough drafts, and final drafts. Following those dates can help you stay on track to have your paper completed on time.
Of course, not all professors micromanage the paper-writing process. In addition, while large goals are important to keeping you on task, they may not be enough to keep you motivated. After all, completing an annotated bibliography for a major paper can be a huge task, in and of itself. That is why we suggest that you set big goals and little goals.
What types of big goals should you set? Even if your professor does not require you to turn in intermediate work, we suggest that you set your own “due dates” for: topic selection, thesis statement, annotated bibliography, outline, working outline, and rough draft. The due dates are going to vary with the length of the assignment, but if you divide the time you have to complete the project into 1/10th sections, then an ideal calendar is: topic selection by the 1/10th mark, thesis statement by the 2/10th mark, annotated bibliography by the 4/10th mark, outline by the 5/10th mark, rough draft by the 8/10th mark, and final product at the 10/10th mark.
In order to accomplish those big goals, you may need to set intermediate goals for yourself. Those are going to vary from person-to-person and are somewhat dependent on your schedule. Some people have a little time each day to work on their paper, while others may have no free time on some days but plenty of working time on other days. For undergraduate papers that are written as part of coursework, a guideline we suggest is dedicating at least 15 minutes per day to working on your paper, with that time period being extended the longer and more important your paper is to your grade. If you do not have a schedule that permits 15 minutes of work per day, then you could compromise by dedicating 2 hours every Sunday to working on the paper. If you are in a course where the paper is your entire grade, then you probably need to devote as much time to the paper as you would otherwise devote to coursework. One rule of thumb that we have heard is that the number of credit-hours you get for a course is how many hours you should spend devoted to coursework outside of each hour of classroom instruction. Therefore, if you are in a course that is three credit hours and you are actually in the class three hours per week, you should be devoting an additional nine hours of study to that class. If your entire grade is a paper, then your intermediate goals should be to devote nine hours a week to writing that paper.
After picking your topic, you are going to want to write a thesis statement. A thesis statement is a short statement that summarizes the main point of your paper. The body of your paper is then use to provide the factual support and evidence to back up your thesis statement. While your essay is a work-in-progress, be aware that your thesis statement might change. Your research may reveal that your thesis is incorrect, requiring revisions. However, you still want to begin by developing a thesis statement to help guide you in your research. Furthermore, your thesis statement will oftentimes be reviewed by your professor, TA, or advisor. If they express concerns that you will not be able to find support for your thesis statement, it is a good indication that you need to further refine your topic.
While research is always an important part of any research paper, it is especially critical when you are writing a long essay. You need to devote sufficient time to thoroughly research a topic and choose a large number of sources, hopefully with different perspectives about your topic. The more you know about the topic, the easier it will be for you to write an in-depth essay on it.
If you do not know where to start with your research, we are going to suggest you start with Wikipedia. There is a stigma against using Wikipedia as a source in academic writing, which we understand because it is an open-source encyclopedia that allows users to modify it. In its early days, there were some significant factual errors in many of the entrees. However, Wikipedia has really tightened its editorial standards, making it a very reliable, if sometimes biased, source of information. What we love about Wikipedia articles is that they tend to provide you with a broad overview of a topic and just help you get familiar with it. They also provide a great list of sources at the bottom, and you can go do your own further investigation in each of those sources as part of your initial research.
For longer research projects, we suggest starting an annotated bibliography and keeping all of your research notes in that annotated bibliography. Handling your research this way will make it easier to cite sources and create your references page when you get to the writing stage of your essay. In addition, it will help you keep track of the sources that you have already researched, preventing you from duplicating research efforts.
The format of an annotated bibliography varies from writing style to writing style, and if you are going to have to turn in a copy of an annotated bibliography as part of your coursework, then you will want to follow that format. However, the annotated bibliography that we suggest you create as part of your research is going to be far less formal and probably much more extensive than one you would turn in as part of your coursework.
Each entry in this annotated bibliography should contain your reference, fully cited in whatever citation style you need to use to complete your paper, followed by detailed notes about the source. Direction quotations are in quotation marks, even if they are long enough that they would be block quotes in an actual paper, while paraphrased notes are just written as notes. The page number of the source is indicated in the notes. Because some things are best shown by example, we will provide one below. The working annotated bibliography entry is for an essay on the role of the Portuguese in the beginning of the Mid-Atlantic Slave Trade, to be written in APA format.
Thomas, H. 1997. The slave trade: The story of the Atlantic slave trade: 1440-1870. New
York: Simon & Schuster.
comprehensive overview of the slave trade written by an award winning historian who was the former professor of history and Chairman of the Centre for Policy Studies
“in the second quarter of the sixteenth century, about 40,000 slaves were probably shipped from Africa to the Americas or to Europe and to the Atlantic islands” (p.114)
Portuguese slave traders bought or captured slaves on the West African Coast (p.115)
Fernando Jimenez was one of the most important Portuguese slave traders and this role brought him to prominence in Portugal and with the Pope, even though Jimenez was Jewish and anti-Semitism was a significant issue during that time period (p.117), making it clear that becoming involved in the slave trade was one way for people to gain power and influence in that time period
Brazil was one of Portugal’s main New World colonies and the indigenous people of Brazil had a history of keeping slaves, who were usually captives from wars and might be used in human sacrifices (p.105)
European slavery differed from indigenous slavery in a number of ways, mainly what type of treatment the slaves could anticipate (p.105)
Brazil’s use to grow sugar was tied to the growth of slavery in the area (p.106)
By keeping your notes organized in an annotated bibliography format, with interesting facts and quotations already kept in your notes, it will streamline the outlining and writing processes. In addition, because you can expect to examine a large number of resources while researching for a long paper, it will help you know where to return to your sources for additional information. For example, the source cited in our example is over 900 pages and Portugal is cited so frequently that it takes up more than one-quarter of a page in the index. By having the page numbers contained in the notes, it gives the writer a good starting point if they have to return to the source for additional research while writing the paper.
Some people always find outlines to be helpful when tackling a writing assignment, while others find outlines to be less helpful. For longer writing assignments, we think that the outline is an important writing tool because they are a way of helping you organize your thoughts into a logical and cohesive pattern. An outline also provides a way to help you see where you need additional information and research.
Before you can outline your paper, you first have to decide what structure you are going to use. There is a reason the five-paragraph essay structure is a classic that is used repeatedly in academic writing; it provides a great structure for supporting your thesis. That is why we suggest using the five-paragraph model as the basis for your essays structure, but modifying it for the additional length of the paper.
Before we tell you how to modify the basic five paragraph essay structure, we are going to spend a moment reminding you about that structure. First is an introductory paragraph that: 1) introduces your topic; 2) introduces the reasoning you will use in your body paragraphs; and 3) provides your thesis statement. Next are three body paragraphs, each supporting a reasoning statement you used in your introduction. Finally, the five paragraph essay concludes with a conclusion that restates the information in your introductory paragraph. Generally, a five paragraph paper will range in length from 2 to 3 pages, depending on the length of your included paragraphs. The outline for a traditional five paragraph paper looks like this:
A. Support A
B. Support B
C. Support C
D. Thesis statement
II. Support A
III. Support B
IV. Support C
A. Restate thesis statement
B. Restate support A
C. Restate support B
D. Restate support C
To write a moderate-length paper, you can modify the five paragraph paper structure by including additional body paragraphs, transforming it from a five paragraph structure to a longer structure. This approach works best for moderate-length papers up to six or seven pages in length. To outline a longer paper, you would add additional reasoning sentences to the introductory and conclusory paragraphs and then add an additional body paragraph for each of the additional reasons you add to the introduction and conclusion. For this outline structure, each additional roman numeral would indicate a new paragraph.
However, sometimes simply adding additional paragraphs will not allow you to investigate your research topic thoroughly and will not result in a paper of the desired length. You can still use the format of the five-paragraph paper as the backbone for your structure, but instead of adding paragraphs to your reasoning, you are going to turn each of your body paragraphs into sub-topics and what would have been supporting sentences in a body paragraph becomes its own supporting paragraph, with the capital letters indicating new paragraphs and the Roman Numerals indicating subheadings or subparts of the paper. We have only fleshed out section II of that outline, but the outline for that structure would be:
A. Reason A
B. Reason B
C. Reason C
D. Thesis statement
II. Reason A
1. Support 1
2. Support 2
3. Support 3
4. Generalized statement about the sub-heading
B. Support 1
1. Evidence a
2. Evidence b
3. Evidence c
C. Support 2
1. Evidence a
2. Evidence b
3. Evidence c
D. Support 3
1. Evidence a
2. Evidence b
3. Evidence c
1. Restate generalized statement about sub-heading
2. Restate support 1
3. Restate support 2
4. Restate support 3
III. Reason B
B. Support 1
C. Support 2
D. Support 3
IV. Reason C
B. Support 1
C. Support 2
D. Support 3
A. Restate thesis
B. Restate reason A
C. Restate reason B
D. Restate reason C
As the outline makes clear, what this structure does is actually breaks your paper down into smaller papers, with each sub-heading turning into its own five-paragraph structure. Of course, some subheadings may only break down into four paragraphs, while others may require six or seven paragraphs, but outlining it beforehand helps you see how it will divide into sections.
Obviously, we have provided the structure of the outline, but in your own outline you will fill in your actual terms in place of the structural place holders. Working with your annotated bibliography, you may even be able to use facts, figures, and quotes to provide the support required for your structure, which can make it very easy to transform an outline into a paper.
Once you have completed your outline, you can see, at a glance, how many paragraphs you will need to complete your paper. In addition, you will see what type of information you need to complete each of those paragraphs. Then, start by writing the body paragraphs.
Why do we tell you to write the body paragraphs first? In large research projects, you may find that your research does not support your thesis or leads you naturally to a different thesis. You may also discover that you initially thought of something as two different points, but discover that your supporting evidence is the same for both of them, requiring you to collapse multiple paragraphs into a single paragraph. You may also find that, when you are providing supporting evidence for one of your statements, you need to go further in-depth, requiring you to change it from a supporting paragraph to its own sub-topic. All of these changes will impact the structure of both your introductory and conclusory paragraphs, which is why we suggest writing the body paragraphs first.
Look at your body paragraphs and compare them to your outline. Is the structure of the outline the best way to present the information, or would it make more sense to present information in a different order? Make any revisions to the other order that you think are necessary to present your information in the most cohesive light. Then, go through and add sentences that make your paper flow together, making each of the distinct paragraphs a clear part of a larger whole.
Once you have completed the body of your paper, you may want to revisit your outline, at least the introduction and conclusion sections. If your paper deviates from your outline, make a note of those changes so that you can reflect them in your introduction and conclusion. Then, write your introduction and conclusion. Your first draft is finished.
Revision is even more critical in a long essay than it is in a short essay. If you are making an argument, read your paper critically to see if it supports your argument. You may find that there are areas where you need to go into greater depth to support your argument. You may also find places where you begin to ramble and stray off-topic. Edit accordingly.
If you have followed the above steps and your essay is still too short, there are some things you can do to make your essay longer. First, look at how far away you are from the word or page minimum. If you are within a few hundred words of your goal, then you can lengthen your essay by adding additional supporting evidence to your body paragraphs in a longer paper or adding a few additional body paragraphs to a shorter paper. If you are pages short of your goal, then you will probably need to add a few subtopics to your paper, which may mean broadening your original research topic and revising your thesis statement.
When professors assign a minimum page length without specifying margin size, font, font size, line spacing, etc., they are working, they are making an assumption that you will use standard sizes, resulting in pages with 300 to 350 words per text per page. If you decide to modify any of those factors to get to the stated page length, do not be surprised if you lose points for failing to complete the assignment that was given and if the professor takes off additional points because they saw through your attempts to evade finishing the assignment.
Another thing that does not work is adding fluff to your writing. Too many adjectives or adverbs detract from your writing. Restating the same thing multiple different ways is another red-light for your readers. Sure, if you are short a sentence or two, adding in one purple prose sentence is probably not going to tank your grade. However, if you are a paragraph short, look for a way to add real, supporting material to your paper.
We know that long papers can be daunting, even for experienced writers. We hope this tutorial has provided you with the correct steps on how to make an essay longer and the task seem a little less daunting. Just remember, we are here to help, whether you need a full example essay or simply help crafting an outline for a killer paper!
[i] Mikkelson, D. 2014 Mar. 31. Was Catherine the Great killed by a horse? Retrieved May 9, 2017 from Snopes website: http://www.snopes.com/risque/animals/catherine.asp