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Grace Fleming

How Long Should My Paper Be?

By September 11, 2012

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It's really annoying when a teacher or professor gives a writing assignment and doesn't offer specific instruction about how long the response should be. There is a reason for this, of course. Teachers like for students to focus on the meaning of the work and not just fill a given amount of space.

But students like guidance! Sometimes, if we don't have parameters to follow, we are lost when it comes to getting started. For this reason, I'll share these general guidelines pertaining to test answers and paper length. I've asked several professors to explain what they really mean when they say the following:

"Short answer essay"- We often see short answer essays on exams. Focus on the "essay" more than the "short" on this one. Write an essay that contains at least five sentences. Cover about a third of a page to be safe.

"Short answer"- You should respond to a "short answer" question on an exam with two or three sentences. Be sure to explain what, when, and why.

"Essay question"- An essay question on an exam should be at least a full page in length, but longer is probably better. If you're using a blue book, the essay should be at least two pages long.

"Write a short paper"- A short paper is normally three to five pages long.

"Write a paper"- How unspecific can a teacher be? But when they give such generic instruction, it means they really want to see some meaningful writing. Two pages of great content will work better than six or ten pages of fluff.

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