How to write an academic paper using a “Word Count” system.

Assigning Word Count

Now comes the bread and butter of this process. You’ll need to assign a word count to each of your sections. Let’s consider that we’ve been assigned a five page double spaced paper. We’ve done the word count conversion and know that it should be about 1,500 words long. We’re going to divide that word count to the five sections of the outline. The Introduction and Conclusion each get 1/10th of the total word count. Divide the rest evenly between your major points. Write your section word count in parentheses at the end of each line. As you’re writing, you’ll find there’s some give and take with this word count. That’s okay. It’s not law. But it is a benchmark and a goal. Going a little over or being a little under is fine.

  1. Introduction. (150)
    1. Thesis: Write a single sentence that describes the entire paper.
  2. A sentence describing your first point. (400)
  3. A sentence describing your second point. (400)
  4. A sentence describing your third point. (400)
  5. Conclusion. (150)

Subpoints and Dividing the Word Count

Now it’s time to start expanding the outline. As a general rule, each point should have at least three arguments demonstrating or supporting the point, but you may certainly use as many as you need. Write these in complete sentences as subpoints in your outline. Then evenly divide the word count you have in that section between each subpoint. For larger papers your points may be big enough to require their own Introduction and Conclusion. That’s fine. Just divide up the word count accordingly to whatever divisions your paper requires. Each subpoint represents a paragraph. If a subpoint contains too much information for one paragraph, then make another subpoint. Beneath each subpoint, you’ll want to start listing out specific things you want to include in those paragraphs. Simply keep dividing word count evenly between your divisions. You’ll want to divide until you have 25-50 word bites. The smaller you divide, the more intimate you get to know your paper and the faster you’ll write it. Here’s some examples of what you can do:

  1. A sentence describing your first point. (400)
    1. A sentence describing subpoint 1. (133)
      1.    Description (33)
      2.    Argument (33)
      3.    Counter argument (33)
      4.    My opinion (34)
    2. A sentence describing subpoint 2. (133)
      1.     Example 1. (44)
      2.     Example 2. (44)
      3.     Quote. (45)
    3. A sentence describing subpoint 3. (134)
      1.     Criticism. (67)
      2.     Biblical application. (67)

Now, writing your paper is as simple as going into your outline and typing out each 25-50 word section into complete sentences. Suddenly, writing a paper doesn’t seem so difficult, does it? By the time you’ve worked out all of those small bites, you’ve completed an entire point of your paper. You’ve also done it in a balanced way, so that each section receives equal treatment. Without planning, it’s very easy to spend too much time in one area and not enough somewhere else.
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1 thought on “How to write an academic paper using a “Word Count” system.

  1. says:

    Great article Kevin. Very insightful. Although I have my own method of paper writing by now this is another great tool for use and another way to look at preparation.


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