Word limits and assignment length
Assignment length requirements are usually given in terms of numbers of words.
Unless the lecturer tells you that these limits are strict, it is normally acceptable to be 10% above or below this word limit (so, for example, a 2000 word assignment should be between 1800 and 2200 words). If the assignment uses the words “up to” (as in “up to 2500 words”) that usually means that you cannot go above the limit.
Use the tool below to calculate the acceptable range for an assignment (based on +/- 10%).
Unless the lecturer tells you otherwise, the word limit does not include ‘administrative’ sections of the assignment: the cover or title page, table of contents, table of figures, reference list, list of works cited, bibliography, or any appendices.
The word limit that you are given reflects the level of detail required. This means that if your assignment is too long, you're either taking too many words to explain your point or giving too many / too detailed examples. If your assignment is too short, either there is more to the answer than you have written or the assignment has not gone into enough detail about the answer.
- Don't try to remove single words from your assignment. It is unlikely to reduce the assignment's length significantly, but it may confuse your argument. Instead, aim to remove or condense whole sections of your assignment.
- You should not include something just because it is a fact, or just because it is included in your course materials. Include something only if it is relevant to your argument.
- Be direct. State your point rather than writing many paragraphs to ‘lead up’ to it.
- Go back to the question. Which sections relate to the point and which are secondary?
- Go back to the plan. Which paragraphs fit in the overall structure? Which paragraphs overlap and can be combined?
- Remove sections where you
- Over-explain your point
- Over-specify your point
- Repeat yourself
- Write off-topic or ramble
- Remove multiple examples where one or two are sufficient.
- Remove ‘hedging” language that adds little to the argument, e.g. “I think that” “it would seem that” “it is possible that”
If you are often over the word count you should look at your writing style. See writing concisely for more.
Explain your argument fully
- Make sure every argument in your head and in your plan is on the page.
- Would a general (i.e. non-specialist) reader understand your point? Have someone else read over your assignment and ask you questions about it. What do they think is missing?
- Are there gaps in your argument?
- Does each point logically follow the last one, or do you jump over important points?
Look for the ‘hidden’ answer
- What theories do you think the marker expects?
- How does this relate to the materials from lectures and study guides? Use the course information in your answer to the assignment question.
- Are there complications or contradictions in the argument or in your research? Explain them and explore them.
Flesh it out
- Define any special terminology you've used that a general reader would not be familiar with.
- Illustrate with more examples and/or quotations.
- Contextualise and explain the quotations you use. How do they relate to your argument?
Page authorised by Director, CTL
Last updated on 25 October, 2012
How Many References for a 2000 Word Essay
We have just analysed 200 undergraduate law essays to answer the question ‘How many references do I need for a 2000 word essay?’
Here’s what we found out about how many references you need to include in your law coursework.
By Ben Coleman – LLB, LLM.
We have just finished analysing 200 student essays submitted to our coursework database to answer this question ‘How many references do you need for a 2000 word essay?’.
Our findings confirm that there is a very strong correlation between the number of sources you include in your coursework and the final mark you receive.
Today we are delighted to share those findings with our readers and finally answer one of our most asked questions – How many references for a 2000 word essay?
Here is a Summary of the Key Findings of Our Study:
1. There is a strong positive correlation between the number of sources used in a piece of law coursework and the final mark awarded to students.
2. The average number of sources for law coursework scoring between 60 and 65 was 10.94.
3. The average number of sources for coursework scoring between 66 and 70 was 13.91.
4. The average number of references for coursework scoring between 71 and 75 was 14.34.
5. The average number of references for coursework scoring 76 and 80 was 20.68.
6. The average number of sources for law coursework exceeding 80 was a whopping 28.36.
A Quick Note on the Methodology of the Study
We selected 200 pieces of undergraduate coursework that had been submitted to our law coursework database.
A few things to note:
We only used law coursework from the LLB or equivalent (e.g. Law with Criminology, Law with Finance)
We only used coursework which had been submitted with verifiable marker feedback and a final agreed mark
The number of samples in each range is not identical. However, there is a minimum of 15 samples for each marking band.
The number of sources is calculated per 2000 words. This does not mean that all essays were 2000 words in length. If a 1000 word essay was analysed and had 10 sources, then it was recorded as having 20 sources per 2000 words. Equally, if a 4000 word essay was sampled and had 40 sources it was recorded as having 20 sources per 2000 words.
No dissertations were used from our law dissertation database in the calculations.
The samples were of law essays only. No problem questions have been included in the calculation.
A source was included if it was a (a) case (b) piece of legislation (c) textbook (d) journal articles from reputable journal databases like Westlaw, Lexis and HeinOnline (e) official publication e.g. Law Commission Report, NGO Report (f) Newspaper articles (g) practitioner texts. Sources such as Wikipedia, study guides, online notes etc were excluded form the calculations.
First year undergraduate coursework was excluded from the list. Students in many law schools are not required to include references outside of their own module content.
Not surprisingly, we found that there is a strong positive correlation between the number of referencesin an essay and the final mark awarded:
The graph shows a strong positive relationship between the number of references in an essay and the final grade awarded to students.
We noticed a few interesting patterns when the data was calculated:
If you are a law student who wants to break the 80 mark then it seems imperative that you use in excess of 20 sources per 2000 words. Although extremely high marks are reserved for essays that use more than 30.
We found that the quality of sources was also important. When we examined the type of references in the essays that recorded marks exceeding 80 they primarily used cases, legislation, journal articles and official publications.
Journal articles are very important. If we look at the number of journal articles only, there is yet again, a strong correlation between the number of journal articles used (per 2000 words) in an essay and final grade:
We are not telling you anything groundbreaking here. Breadth and depth of resources is one of the key criteria applied when marking law essays. You probably knew that already. It shows the examiner or your lecturer that you have heightened understanding of a topic.
However, we believe this study will help reinforce the message that the number of sources and the number of articles you use in your coursework is important if you want to break into the higher grades.
We recognise the limitations of this study. We assume here that the number of references in a 2000 word essay is the only factor that dictates your final grade. In reality, there are so many other factors that are important also. Students that include more sources and journal articles tend to have developed the other skills needed to do well; analysis, presentation and referencing, application of the law. Therefore, these students tend to score higher. Nevertheless, we have proven in this study that the number of references is a key factor in the final mark you are awarded.
We also recognise that some coursework does not need any references. An ethnographic task or a reflective report for example. It is still possible to score high marks in these exercises without using any references.