How Many Paragraphs In A Persuasive Essay

There is no firm rule that says an essay needs to have a set number of paragraphs, but an essay must be a minimum of three paragraphs. There are a lot of people who say an essay should be five paragraphs, but it’s an extremely limiting rule, and unless you’ve been instructed to write a five paragraph essay, there’s no reason to stick to it.

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.

Structure and organization are integral components of an effective persuasive essay. No matter how intelligent the ideas, a paper lacking a strong introduction, well-organized body paragraphs and an insightful conclusion is not an effective paper.

The Introduction

Simply enough, the introductory paragraph introduces the argument of your paper. A well-constructed introductory paragraph immediately captures a reader’s interest and gives appropriate background information about the paper’s topic. Such a paragraph might include a brief summary of the ideas to be discussed in body of the paper as well as other information relevant to your paper’s argument. The most important function of the introductory paragraph, however, is to present a clear statement of the paper’s argument. This sentence is your paper’s thesis. Without a thesis, it is impossible for you to present an effective argument. The thesis sentence should reflect both the position that you will argue and the organizational pattern with which you will present and support your argument. A useful way to think about the construction of a thesis sentence is to view it in terms of stating both the “what” and the “how” of the paper’s argument. The “what” is simply the basic argument in your paper: what exactly are you arguing? The “how” is the strategy you will use to present this argument. The following are helpful questions for you to consider when formulating a thesis sentence:

  • What is the argument that I am trying to convince the reader to accept?
  • How exactly do I expect to convince the reader that this argument is sound?

Once you have answered these questions, the next step is to synthesize these answers into a single thesis sentence, or, if necessary, two thesis sentences.

For example: You want to convince your reader that the forces of industry did not shape American foreign policy from the late 19th century through 1914, and you plan to do this by showing that there were other factors which were much more influential in shaping American foreign policy. Both of these elements can be synthesized into a thesis sentence:

Fear of foreign influence in the Western hemisphere, national pride, and contemporary popular ideas concerning both expansion and foreign peoples had significantly more influence on American foreign policy than did the voices of industrialists.

This sentence shows the position you will argue and also sets up the organizational pattern of your paper's body.

The Body

The body of your paper contains the actual development of your paper’s argument. Each body paragraph presents a single idea or set of related ideas that provides support for your paper’s argument. Each body paragraph addresses one key aspect of your paper’s thesis and brings the reader closer to accepting the validity of your paper’s argument. Because each body paragraph should be a step in your argument, you should be mindful of the overall organization of your body paragraphs.

The first step in writing an effective body paragraph is the construction of the first sentence of this paragraph, the topic sentence. Just as the thesis sentence holds together your essay, the topic sentence is the glue binding each individual body paragraph. A body paragraph’s topic sentence serves two main purposes: introducing the content of the paragraph and introducing the next step of your argument. It is important to keep in mind that the goal of the topic sentence is to advance your paper's argument, not just to describe the content of the paragraph.

The first part in your thesis on page two states that fear of foreign influence in the Western Hemisphere had more influence on American foreign policy than did industry. Thus, you need to elaborate on this point in your body paragraphs.

An effective topic sentence for one of these paragraphs could be:

American fear of foreign influence was a key factor in the United States’ actions in the Spanish-American War. Subsequent body paragraphs might offer further evidence for the idea presented in this body paragraph.

A good way to test the strength of both your topic sentences and your argument as a whole is to construct an outline of your paper using only your paper's thesis statement and topic sentences. This outline should be a logical overview of your paper's argument; all of your paper’s topic sentences should work together to support your thesis statement.

The Conclusion

A basic purpose of your paper’s concluding paragraph is both to restate the paper’s argument and to restate how you have supported this argument in the body of the paper. However, your conclusion should not simply be a copy of your introduction. The conclusion draws together the threads of the paper’s argument and shows where the argument of your paper has gone. An effective conclusion gives the reader reasons for bothering to read your paper. One of the most important functions of this paragraph is to bring in fresh insight. Some possible questions to consider when writing your conclusion are:

  • What are some real world applications of this paper’s argument?
  • Why is what I am writing about important?
  • What are some of the questions that this paper’s argument raises?
  • What are the implications of this paper’s argument?

While the organization and structure described in this handout are necessary components of an effective persuasive essay, keep in mind that writing itself is a fluid process. There are no steadfast rules that you need to adhere to as you write. Simply because the introduction is the first paragraph in your essay does not mean that you must write this paragraph before any other. Think of the act of writing as an exploration of ideas, and let this sense of exploration guide you as you write your essay.

by Adam Polak ’98 and Jen Collins ’96

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