As a rule, you’ll write your essay in three main parts. First, you’ll introduce your topic to your reader. Next, you will have body text in which you discuss the topic in more detail, and finally, you’ll have a conclusion that tells your reader what you were able to see after looking into the facts or thinking through the topic.
In its simplest form, an essay can consist of three paragraphs with one paragraph being devoted to each section. Proponents of the five paragraph essay say that the body text should consist of three paragraphs, but in reality, it’s fine to write more or fewer paragraphs in this section.
Guessing How Many Paragraphs Before You Begin
This is a rule of thumb, which means it won’t always work quite that way, but it’s handy all the same. In academic work, your paragraphs are likely to be a bit longer than most of the ones you see in this blog post. On average, there are usually 100 to 200 words in a paragraph. So if you’d like a guesstimate, you can assume that a 1,000-word essay will have between five and ten paragraphs.
What Points Do You Have to Cover?
Another, less limiting and more accurate way to work out how many paragraphs you need to cover your topic is to look at the main points you have to cover in the body text. A paragraph contains all the ideas that support or explain a single concept.
When you are planning your essay, you will think of or research the main elements that are needed in the body text. It would be safe to assume you need at least one paragraph for each of these. Of course, if there is a lot of information to cover in order to explore each area, you may need more.
For example, if you are writing an essay on childhood development and exposure to technology, you will want to look into the physical, psychological and cognitive developmental effects of tech on kids. When you research this topic, you will find that there are contrasting points of view and researchers have identified several physical, developmental, and psychological effects of technology use in children.
Assuming five psychological effects have been identified, you can assume you’ll need to write five paragraphs if you are going to write a relatively in-depth essay. But if both those who say technology is bad for kids and those who say it can be good have done a great deal of work on the sub-topic, you might want to make that ten paragraphs so that you can cover both sides of the argument and look into how earlier authors reached their conclusions.
Of course, if you have been set a relatively short word limit, you may not be able to go in-depth at all, in which case a paragraph for each of the main sub-topics (psychology, physical development, and cognitive development) will likely be adequate.
Essay Content Is More Important Than the Number of Paragraphs
Ultimately, your essay will be evaluated on the information you present, not on the number of paragraphs in the essay. Early in your academic life, teachers and lecturers may give you both a structure for your essay and a guideline on how long each part of the essay should be. I have seen essay instructions say how many marks are allocated for each section, and my trick is to take the total word count and allocate a percentage of words to each section based on the percentage of marks you can get for it. After all, if the teacher is allocating 80 marks for content in total and you can see 50% of the mark relates to a certain part of the essay, then 50% of your essay’s words should be devoted to that section.
Sometimes, you’ll just be given a topic and told to air your opinion. This gives you more freedom, but it’s a tad more difficult. The research will show you how many angles you should look at, and it’ll help you to find information that both supports and contradicts your point of view. To make a strong argument, you need to look at both supporting and contradictory information.
To avoid getting tangled up in one aspect of the discussion, you’ll have to decide how long it should be. If it’s the most important aspect informing your conclusion, you can spend a little more time (and words) on that particular point. It could run into several paragraphs rather than just one or two.
Always Remember the Purpose of Paragraphs
Paragraphs structure information into sub-topics, and they make your work easier to read and understand thanks to the structure they provide. With careful advance planning, you’ll be able to work out more or less how many paragraphs you need to complete your essay.
How many paragraphs is…
For those looking for a general rule-of-thumb, below are some estimates on the number of paragraphs there would be in an essay of different lengths based on an average length of 150 words per paragraph. Of course, the number of paragraphs for your essay will depend on many different factors. You can use the following information for a general reference, but don’t take these numbers as literal..
Basic Essay Word to Paragraphs Conversions
- A 100 word essay is 3 paragraph. (minimum for an essay)
- A 200 word essay is 3 paragraphs. (minimum for an essay)
- A 250 word essay is 3 paragraphs. (minimum for an essay)
- A 300 word essay is 3 paragraphs. (minimum for an essay)
- A 400 word essay is 3 paragraphs. (minimum for an essay)
- A 500 word essay is 3 to 4 paragraphs.
- A 600 word essay is 4 paragraphs.
- A 700 word essay is 4 to 5 paragraphs.
- A 750 word essay is 5 paragraphs.
- A 800 word essay is 5 to 6 paragraphs.
- A 900 word essay is 6 paragraphs.
- A 1,000 word essay is 6 to 7 paragraphs.
- A 1,250 word essay is 8 to 9 paragraphs.
- A 1,500 word essay is 10 paragraphs.
- A 1,750 word essay is 11 to 12 paragraphs.
- A 2,000 word essay is 13 to 14 paragraphs.
- A 2,500 word essay is 16 to 17 paragraphs.
- A 3,000 word essay is 20 paragraphs.
- A 4,000 word essay is 26 to 27 paragraphs.
- A 5,000 word essay is 33 to 34 paragraphs.
- A 6,000 word essay is 40 paragraphs.
- A 7,000 word essay is 46 to 37 paragraphs.
- A 7,500 word essay is 50 paragraphs.
- A 8,000 word essay is 53 to 54 paragraphs.
- A 9,000 word essay is 60 paragraphs.
- A 10,000 word essay is 66 to 67 paragraphs.
Paragraphs & Topic Sentences
A paragraph is a series of sentences that are organized and coherent, and are all related to a single topic. Almost every piece of writing you do that is longer than a few sentences should be organized into paragraphs. This is because paragraphs show a reader where the subdivisions of an essay begin and end, and thus help the reader see the organization of the essay and grasp its main points.
Paragraphs can contain many different kinds of information. A paragraph could contain a series of brief examples or a single long illustration of a general point. It might describe a place, character, or process; narrate a series of events; compare or contrast two or more things; classify items into categories; or describe causes and effects. Regardless of the kind of information they contain, all paragraphs share certain characteristics. One of the most important of these is a topic sentence.
A well-organized paragraph supports or develops a single controlling idea, which is expressed in a sentence called the topic sentence. A topic sentence has several important functions: it substantiates or supports an essay’s thesis statement; it unifies the content of a paragraph and directs the order of the sentences; and it advises the reader of the subject to be discussed and how the paragraph will discuss it. Readers generally look to the first few sentences in a paragraph to determine the subject and perspective of the paragraph. That’s why it’s often best to put the topic sentence at the very beginning of the paragraph. In some cases, however, it’s more effective to place another sentence before the topic sentence—for example, a sentence linking the current paragraph to the previous one, or one providing background information.
Although most paragraphs should have a topic sentence, there are a few situations when a paragraph might not need a topic sentence. For example, you might be able to omit a topic sentence in a paragraph that narrates a series of events, if a paragraph continues developing an idea that you introduced (with a topic sentence) in the previous paragraph, or if all the sentences and details in a paragraph clearly refer—perhaps indirectly—to a main point. The vast majority of your paragraphs, however, should have a topic sentence.
Most paragraphs in an essay have a three-part structure—introduction, body, and conclusion. You can see this structure in paragraphs whether they are narrating, describing, comparing, contrasting, or analyzing information. Each part of the paragraph plays an important role in communicating your meaning to your reader.
Introduction: the first section of a paragraph; should include the topic sentence and any other sentences at the beginning of the paragraph that give background information or provide a transition.
Body: follows the introduction; discusses the controlling idea, using facts, arguments, analysis, examples, and other information.
Conclusion: the final section; summarizes the connections between the information discussed in the body of the paragraph and the paragraph’s controlling idea.
The following paragraph illustrates this pattern of organization. In this paragraph the topic sentence and concluding sentence (CAPITALIZED) both help the reader keep the paragraph’s main point in mind.
SCIENTISTS HAVE LEARNED TO SUPPLEMENT THE SENSE OF SIGHT IN NUMEROUS WAYS. In front of the tiny pupil of the eye they put, on Mount Palomar, a great monocle 200 inches in diameter, and with it see 2000 times farther into the depths of space. Or they look through a small pair of lenses arranged as a microscope into a drop of water or blood, and magnify by as much as 2000 diameters the living creatures there, many of which are among man’s most dangerous enemies. Or, if we want to see distant happenings on earth, they use some of the previously wasted electromagnetic waves to carry television images which they re-create as light by whipping tiny crystals on a screen with electrons in a vacuum. Or they can bring happenings of long ago and far away as colored motion pictures, by arranging silver atoms and color-absorbing molecules to force light waves into the patterns of original reality. Or if we want to see into the center of a steel casting or the chest of an injured child, they send the information on a beam of penetrating short-wave X rays, and then convert it back into images we can see on a screen or photograph. THUS ALMOST EVERY TYPE OF ELECTROMAGNETIC RADIATION YET DISCOVERED HAS BEEN USED TO EXTEND OUR SENSE OF SIGHT IN SOME WAY.
George Harrison, “Faith and the Scientist”
In a coherent paragraph, each sentence relates clearly to the topic sentence or controlling idea, but there is more to coherence than this. If a paragraph is coherent, each sentence flows smoothly into the next without obvious shifts or jumps. A coherent paragraph also highlights the ties between old information and new information to make the structure of ideas or arguments clear to the reader.
Along with the smooth flow of sentences, a paragraph’s coherence may also be related to its length. If you have written a very long paragraph, one that fills a double-spaced typed page, for example, you should check it carefully to see if it should start a new paragraph where the original paragraph wanders from its controlling idea. On the other hand, if a paragraph is very short (only one or two sentences, perhaps), you may need to develop its controlling idea more thoroughly, or combine it with another paragraph.
A number of other techniques that you can use to establish coherence in paragraphs are described below.
Repeat key words or phrases. Particularly in paragraphs in which you define or identify an important idea or theory, be consistent in how you refer to it. This consistency and repetition will bind the paragraph together and help your reader understand your definition or description.
Create parallel structures. Parallel structures are created by constructing two or more phrases or sentences that have the same grammatical structure and use the same parts of speech. By creating parallel structures you make your sentences clearer and easier to read. In addition, repeating a pattern in a series of consecutive sentences helps your reader see the connections between ideas. In the paragraph above about scientists and the sense of sight, several sentences in the body of the paragraph have been constructed in a parallel way. The parallel structures (which have been emphasized) help the reader see that the paragraph is organized as a set of examples of a general statement.
Be consistent in point of view, verb tense, and number. Consistency in point of view, verb tense, and number is a subtle but important aspect of coherence. If you shift from the more personal "you" to the impersonal “one,” from past to present tense, or from “a man” to “they,” for example, you make your paragraph less coherent. Such inconsistencies can also confuse your reader and make your argument more difficult to follow.
Use transition words or phrases between sentences and between paragraphs. Transitional expressions emphasize the relationships between ideas, so they help readers follow your train of thought or see connections that they might otherwise miss or misunderstand. The following paragraph shows how carefully chosen transitions (CAPITALIZED) lead the reader smoothly from the introduction to the conclusion of the paragraph.
I don’t wish to deny that the flattened, minuscule head of the large-bodied "stegosaurus" houses little brain from our subjective, top-heavy perspective, BUT I do wish to assert that we should not expect more of the beast. FIRST OF ALL, large animals have relatively smaller brains than related, small animals. The correlation of brain size with body size among kindred animals (all reptiles, all mammals, FOR EXAMPLE) is remarkably regular. AS we move from small to large animals, from mice to elephants or small lizards to Komodo dragons, brain size increases, BUT not so fast as body size. IN OTHER WORDS, bodies grow faster than brains, AND large animals have low ratios of brain weight to body weight. IN FACT, brains grow only about two-thirds as fast as bodies. SINCE we have no reason to believe that large animals are consistently stupider than their smaller relatives, we must conclude that large animals require relatively less brain to do as well as smaller animals. IF we do not recognize this relationship, we are likely to underestimate the mental power of very large animals, dinosaurs in particular.
Stephen Jay Gould, “Were Dinosaurs Dumb?”
SOME USEFUL TRANSITIONS
(modified from Diana Hacker, A Writer’s Reference)
- To show addition:
- again, and, also, besides, equally important, first (second, etc.), further, furthermore, in addition, in the first place, moreover, next, too
- To give examples:
- for example, for instance, in fact, specifically, that is, to illustrate
- To compare:
- also, in the same manner, likewise, similarly
- To contrast:
- although, and yet, at the same time, but, despite, even though, however, in contrast, in spite of, nevertheless, on the contrary, on the other hand, still, though, yet
- To summarize or conclude:
- all in all, in conclusion, in other words, in short, in summary, on the whole, that is, therefore, to sum up
- To show time:
- after, afterward, as, as long as, as soon as, at last, before, during, earlier, finally, formerly, immediately, later, meanwhile, next, since, shortly, subsequently, then, thereafter, until, when, while
- To show place or direction:
- above, below, beyond, close, elsewhere, farther on, here, nearby, opposite, to the left (north, etc.)
- To indicate logical relationship:
- accordingly, as a result, because, consequently, for this reason, hence, if, otherwise, since, so, then, therefore, thus
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