How to Make Your Paper Longer, Part One: The Right Way

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In my first video, I told the viewers that I wouldn’t use that series to teach people how to artificially increase the length of their papers. That much is going to remain true– for a short time. Today, however, I’m going to give you some advice on reaching your page quota the right way. There won’t be any tricks or chicanery in this post; it is designed to actually boost your word count.

The fact of the matter is that professors are increasingly requiring digital copies of papers. This is ostensibly to reduce plagiarism, but a side effect of that is that there is a handy little word counter in the bottom left corner of Microsoft Word, so the second they open your document, they’ll know you’ve pulled a fast one. Even if that doesn’t tip them off, they’ll be able to see that you’ve messed with margins and spacing and font sizes. So, really, it doesn’t pay to be sneaky very often anymore.

But every college student has been there. We’ve all written everything we could think of, and still came up short by a couple of pages. It can be one of the most frustrating things in a student’s college career, and I sympathize. So here are some tips that have helped me in the past.

Before I begin the rundown, keep the following things in mind:

1. Your inserted sentences should always be in places that make sense. Don’t just add them willy-nilly.

2. Keep your paragraphs tight. If you fill up one body paragraph with too many ideas, spin it into an extra paragraph.

3. Don’t rush yourself. Even though we’re pushing quantity, quality is still important.

Okay. That should be enough in the way of disclaimers. Here is the good stuff:

1. Explain a counter-argument to your thesis, and then refute it. This can be a great way to add an extra couple of paragraphs to a paper. Let’s say that your thesis is that Capitalism is the most humane economic system conceived by mankind, because it rewards success, hard work and ingenuity. To bump up your page count, it might be a good idea to address the arguments of some groups against capitalism. For example, the problem of wage stagnation or the creation of what seems to be a permanent underclass.

In these types of situations, however, it is imperative that you do not construct a “straw man” argument. Don’t pick some ludicrously radical advocacy group to attack, or drum up some outrageous argument that nobody makes simply to make a point. Your best bet is to find a source that has data to back up a reasonable argument against your thesis. Once you have explained that argument, rebut the points that are made in it. Seriously, you can undermine your thesis if you just explain problems with it without addressing them.

If you can’t think of an adequate rebuttal, then you might want to consider changing your thesis. If that isn’t an option due to time constraints (or, more likely, you just don’t feel like rewriting the rest of your paper), pick a different argument that you can refute. Make sure that you spend enough time on both explanation and rebuttal– remember, we’re playing for length here, so it’s okay to overdo it a bit.

2. Explain who or what is affected by your thesis. Most students tend to write one-dimensional papers. Well, that’s probably one reason why you’re short. Take some time to think of the farther-reaching effects of your thesis. Ask yourself “who would benefit from more capitalistic policies?” Identify some groups or nations who struggled because of anti-capitalist sentiments. Explain ways in which the lives and status of people within those groups would be different with a rapid infusion of good ol’ fashioned capitalism!

The point of this is to get it in your head that there are dozens of aspects of any thesis that are unexplored in a five page paper. Thinking about people who are affected by it is just one way of getting there. You can approach it in plenty of other ways as well. Think of long-term effects. What happens when a society is socialist or communist for too long? What happens when one is purely capitalist for too long? Is there an appropriate balance that can be reached, or is it all just a seesaw that never settles?

Think outside of the bounds of your existing work. Write a paragraph that goes in a different direction, or addresses something new. Just remember that you might need to find sources. Plagiarism is bad.

3. Tell us why it matters. Explain the relevance of your thesis. Why is it important to the class? For example, why is capitalism important in American history? Moreover, why is capitalism important now? Take the time necessary to tell the reader why you bothered to do all of this research and assemble all of these arguments.

Obviously, it’s because you needed a grade. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t real-world applications to the information you’re providing. Just because something isn’t entirely unique doesn’t mean it doesn’t have value. For example, my senior thesis was on Saladin’s unification of Arabic and Islamic tribes and nations, which formed the Ayyubid dynasty. The real-world application of this information is that it has never been replicated, and despite similarities, cultural, societal and religious disparities will likely prevent another unification from happening in the future.

I chewed up three pages on that. In reality, the vast majority of papers you’re going to write in college fall between three and seven pages. You’re probably only going to be writing one or two paragraphs covering the why of the thesis. But hey man, an average paragraph is between 100 and 150 words in essays. That’s half a page in your pocket.

4. As a last-ditch effort, over-explain. I’m not a fan of fluff. I hate it when people tell students to do things like restate points that have already been made, only in a different way. Teachers hate it too. It’s a filibuster. When you do that, you’re wasting the reader’s time.

But sometimes, measures must be taken.

This is a desperation ploy, but go back into your body paragraphs and find unfamiliar terms and define them. Then look for concepts– for example, the use of stock options as bonuses to employees– and explain them.

Try not to get to the point where you’re holding your professor’s hand throughout the reading of your paper. If it reads like you’re talking down to him or her, you might want to actually go back and add some new content.

 

These are the legitimate ways to lengthen a paper. There are tons more, and I will likely add more posts in the future. Remember to try and avoid using tricky tactics, because it doesn’t do you any good, and teachers see through them.

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