• 3-minute read
  • 11th May 2018

How to Increase the Word Count in an Academic Paper

We’re sometimes asked to help increase the word count in college papers. But that is well outside a proofreading remit! Everything in your writing should be your own work (and you should clearly quote and cite anything you have borrowed from elsewhere). Otherwise it would count as plagiarism.

However, we can offer some advice on boosting your word count. First, though, we’ll take a quick look at one thing you should never do when your document is feeling a little skinny.

How NOT to Increase the Word Count

The first thing most people do when stretching to meet the word count is add padding words. This means inserting unnecessary modifiers and clauses to artificially boost the word count. However, this will make your work harder to read. For example, you might begin with a sentence like this:

The Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776.

But after the Padding Word Fairy has visited, it could end up looking more like this:

The historic Declaration of Independence, which is a very significant document in American history, was eventually signed in the seminal year of 1776.

However, none of additions here provide extra information or insight on the topic: e.g., saying that the Declaration of Independence is “very significant” is not helpful unless we also explain how it is significant. And since clarity and concision are key in academic writing, this version is worse than the original! But what can you do instead? We have a few suggestions below.

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Hitting the Word Count the Right Way

Even if your main objective is increasing the word count, anything you add to a paper should enhance your argument. There are three main ways to do this:

  • Explain your arguments in more depth
  • Add examples or quotations to illustrate your point
  • Compare and contrast two ideas

In all of these cases, the idea is to use whatever you add to demonstrate your understanding of the subject matter. For instance, we could expand the example above to say:

The Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776. According to Belz (2004), this action “asserted the natural right of revolution as a principle of American nationality” (p.68).

Here, the quote gives a specific consequence of the signing. Quoting someone also shows that you’ve done extra research, especially if it isn’t from one of the texts on your reading list!

This extra sentence only adds 19 words (including the citation). But if you can do this throughout your document, it will increase the word count while also making your work much stronger.

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