How long does it take to write 1000 words? (ESSAY PLANNING MASTERCLASS)

How long does it take to write 1000 words? (ESSAY PLANNING MASTERCLASS)

Essay writing involves more than just writing—it’s a multi-stage process that’s partly an art and partly a science. The good news is that you can use a simple, repeatable method to get consistent results in a predictable timeframe. This article breaks down a reliable approach you can use for any essay question.

Let’s start with the most common question people new to academic writing have: how long does it take to write an essay?

How long does it take to write 1000 words?

Writing 1000 words should take you between 60 to 90 minutes. But this is only true if you have already done your research and know what you need to write.

If you haven’t prepared well and don’t have a good understanding of your topic, it will take you considerably longer to write 1000 words—at least two or three days. That’s because the actual *writing* part is only one stage of the essay writing process—and it’s not the first stage. The real work is the preparation you must do before you start writing.

Here is what a complete essay writing process looks like:

  • Stage one: understanding the question
  • Stage two: brainstorming initial ideas
  • Stage three: conducting research
  • Stage four: outlining an essay plan
  • Stage five: writing your essay draft
  • Stage six: editing your essay
  • Stage seven: formatting for submission

So writing your essay is the fifth out of seven stages. If you try to shortcut the process by starting with the writing stage, you’re in for a world of pain. Let’s look at each step in more detail to understand why skipping stages makes things harder, not easier.

Step one: Understanding the question

Before you write anything, you must first understand the essay question’s scope and purpose. If your tutor has given you the essay’s assessment criteria, review them. This is a cheat sheet that tells you exactly what they’ll be looking for when they mark your essay—and, therefore, exactly what you should include in it—so don’t ignore it.

Pay close attention to the question phrasing and the instruction words it uses (“evaluate”, “discuss”, “review”, etc.). Think about what you are being asked to do (and also what you aren’t being asked to do).

Carefully considering the essay question and assessment criteria in this way will help you focus your research, structure your argument, and write your essay efficiently. It will save you from going down dead ends and doing unnecessary work, so start here before you jump into researching or writing anything.

Step two: brainstorming initial ideas

Jot down your initial ideas about the topic and group them into key themes (you can do this by making lists under different subheadings or by drawing a mind map). This will give you a starting point to help you identify what to research and how to plan your essay. Don’t spend too long on this. You will develop (and possibly reject) these ideas during the following two stages.

Three: conducting research

Once you know how you will approach your essay topic, begin your research. This is the most important (and time-consuming) part of the process. Quality research is the foundation on which strong essays are built. Getting it right will make writing your assignment much easier, so don’t half-ass it.

Start with any sources your tutor recommended. As you read the source material, note down any key themes and talking points you could use in your essay. Then seek out additional sources for the specific information you need to support (or counter) each point.

Using a wide range of sources will help you construct a stronger argument (and gives you a diverse list of references, which is always a bonus). But avoid the trap of doing endless research and getting lost in the weeds—this is a common way people procrastinate to put off the writing stage.

You don’t need to know everything about your topic—just enough to answer the essay question.

You only want to use highly relevant source material. Refer to your list of key themes and initial talking points to keep your research focused and efficient. Skip over anything that isn’t relevant to your core argument. When you make notes on the research you want to use in your essay, write down the source so you can easily find and reference it later.

Done correctly, your discussion points and research notes should form the outline of your essay. This brings us nicely to the next stage.

Step four: outlining your essay plan

Now it’s time to structure your essay draft using bullet points. This will give you a framework on which to hang your argument, making it far easier (and quicker) to write.

Think of your essay plan as the written equivalent of the preliminary sketch an artist does before they start a painting. It allows you to get your thoughts in order and structure your essay to ensure it flows before you get stuck into writing it.

Start by writing a subheading for each theme and/or key discussion point in your essay. Then list the details you will use to expand on each item (such as which referenced pieces of supporting evidence you will include) as bullet points underneath.

Organise your bullet points to form a logically flowing argument. Each item should build on the previous one to lead to a conclusion. Allocate rough word counts to each section and talking point to ensure you have enough source material to hit your word count.

A good working estimate is 200-250 words per discussion point, plus 5-10% of your target word count for your introduction and the same again for your conclusion.

An example 1000 word draft essay plan might look something like this:

  • Introduction: 150 words
  • Discussion point 1: 250 words (2 references)
  • Supporting point: 200 words (1 reference)
  • Counter-argument: 250 words (2 references)
  • Conclusion: 150 words

If you have too many points to stay within your word count, you have the difficult task of deciding what to leave out. This is an excellent problem to have, as it will force you to choose only the best talking points and evidence, which will help you write a strong essay.

If your essay plan shows you will fall short of your word count, you have two choices:

  1. Expand on your existing talking points with a deeper, more detailed analysis (which may require more references)
  2. Do some further research to find more talking points that round out your discussion

Don’t buffer your word count by going off on tangents and adding irrelevant talking points or examples. A good essay must be tightly focused. Use the outlining process to solve this problem early and make sure you have enough relevant material to write a solid first essay draft.

Get your outline right, and the writing process becomes a simple case of expanding on each bullet point one by one. Tackling your essay in small chunks like this is far more manageable than taking on the whole thing at once. This is where the outlining process pays off—it allows you to write 1000 words in an effortless hour instead of a few frustrating days.

Once you’re happy with your draft essay plan, you can move on to the writing stage.

Step five: writing your essay draft

Your best friend when writing is momentum. You don’t want to stop writing to think about what you need to say or to go off and find things out. That’s why you get the research out of the way and make an outline first.

When writing your first essay draft, you should focus on one thing only—getting the ideas out of your head and onto the paper (or, more likely, the screen).

Don’t get hung up on typos, sentence construction, or word count. They are all distractions that will slow you down. Right now, you just want to hit the milestone of completing your first draft from start to finish.

Work through your essay outline, starting a new paragraph for each discussion point. Begin each of these paragraphs with a topic sentence that clearly states the point you are about to discuss. Expand on this with further detail and supporting evidence (with references). Finish with a concluding statement that explains the significance of the point you’ve just made by linking it back to the essay question.

Do this for each discussion point in your essay outline. Use linking phrases like “supporting this idea . . .”, “in contrast . . .”, etc., to make your points flow into one another as you expand on them. This will make your essay more coherent and speed up the editing process.

If you realise you need to look up a specific detail or do some further research to sufficiently expand on a point, don’t stop writing to find the information. Instead, write some unique placeholder text (such as “***” or “jjj”, etc.) to mark the spot so you can easily find and replace it later. Then keep going so you don’t lose momentum.

Expand on all your bullet points until you reach the end. Congratulations, you’ve now finished your first essay draft.

Check the length of your draft. Hopefully, it is close to (or slightly over) your target word count. If so, you now have enough raw material to polish into your final submission. Be happy—you’re almost there.

What if my essay is too short?

If you’re under the required word count, read back through your essay and look for any of the following:

  • Weak arguments you can strengthen with further supporting evidence
  • Sections lacking sufficient depth or detail that could be expanded
  • Gaps in your logic that need filling in with extra information
  • Unbalanced viewpoints that would benefit from additional counter-arguments

Each is an opportunity to increase your wording and improve your essay.

If you used any placeholder text, research the information you need to fill in the blanks, then add it to your essay to complete your first draft.

You can now move on to the editing stage.

Step six: editing your essay

Many people skip this step, but you shouldn’t. Editing is how you turn your raw first draft into a tight, crisp, written argument that is easy to follow and—importantly—mark. Ideally, you should do three rounds of editing:

  1. Macro editing: Read through your essay and sense-check it. Does it answer the question? Is your argument coherent and well-structured? Are there any contradictions or repetition? Is anything missing or irrelevant? Fix this big picture stuff first before worrying about any smaller details. That might mean adding or deleting significant chunks of information or moving paragraphs around to improve your essay’s flow.
  2. Copy editing: Does your essay meet the word count? Is your writing clear and concise? Are your arguments and sentences well-phrased? Make any necessary tweaks to improve your essay’s readability (this will make it easier for your tutor to understand what you’re saying and award you marks.)
  3. Proofreading: Here you’re just looking for nitpicky details and minor mistakes like typos, minor grammatical errors, and missing references you didn’t catch on your previous two rounds of editing.

Give your essay a final read through. Check it flows well and makes sense. It should move from the introduction to a conclusion with a logical, balanced argument constructed of points that build on one another and are supported by relevant examples.

Refine everything until you’re happy and your essay hits the word count. Now finalise your references and formatting, and you’re done.

Step seven: formatting your essay

Most essay briefs will include formatting specifications covering the preferred text size, line spacing, and referencing style. Adhere to any guidelines you are given. 

If you aren’t given any guidelines, you can use these generally accepted formatting conventions :

  • Body text: 10-11pt, with 1.5x line spacing
  • Titles and heading: 24pt
  • Sub-headings: 14pt bold
  • Verbatim quotes: italicised in speech marks
  • Titles of books, movies, songs, etc.: italicised, no speech marks
  • Referencing: Harvard system

Essay planning — there are no shortcuts

If this process seems long-winded and you think you can cut some steps, think again. If you try skipping a stage, you’ll end up merging it with another one. This is actually a slower, more complicated process that ends up being counter-productive.

Look at it like this: If you skip the research, you won’t know what to write about and will have no references. If you skip the outlining stage, you’ll be trying to figure out how to structure your essay while you’re writing it. You will keep having to stop and figure out what to write next, which kills your momentum.

Writing is the process of putting your thinking onto paper. The main reason people struggle with it is because they’re not sure what they’re trying to say. Starting with an outline gives you clarity and structure, which makes writing your essay much easier and saves you a ton of time.

The other reason people struggle with writing is because they try to edit as they go. Don’t do this. It causes you to lose your train of thought and forget what you are about to say, which makes the writing process slow and frustrating.

Though it may not seem so at first glance, working through each stage of this process one by one is actually the quickest and most efficient essay writing method. It also happens to create the best results, so follow it precisely.

Writing your essay draft—time management

Here are some rough estimates for how long it will take to write an assignment if you follow this process. Can you write 3000 words in a day? Yes, but not in one sitting. It’s hard to write more than 1500 words in one go, so we’ve included the number of writing sessions you can expect to need for essays of different lengths.

  • 1000 words: 1-1.5 hours (1-2 sessions)
  • 1500 words: 1.5-2 hours (1-2 sessions)
  • 2000 words: 2 hours (1-3 sessions)
  • 3000 words: 3-4 hours (2-4 sessions)
  • 5000 words: 5-8 hours (3-6 sessions)
  • 10000 words: 10-20 hours (6-15 sessions)

These estimates are just for the writing stage and assume you have done your research and made a solid outline essay plan. The editing stage will require additional time.

Shorter essays will take about as long to edit as they took to write. The editing time for longer essays should be similar to the lower end of the time range for the writing phase (so editing a 5000 word essay would take 4-5 hours).

Following this seven-stage process is the most reliable way to avoid writer’s block and consistently write quality essays. It simplifies the part people often struggle with the most—the writing phase—and compresses it from a matter of days to a few hours. 

We’ll leave you with our top tips to help you execute the process efficiently and make the most of your time.

Essay writing—top tips

  1. The human brain works in mysterious ways. You may find your best ideas come to you when you’re not actively working on your essay. If this happens, capture them in your phone so you don’t forget them. (Make this style of on-the-go information capture a general habit for any uni work.)
  2. Research, writing, and editing all require mental focus. Distraction is your biggest enemy, so turn your phone off and/or put it in another room when you sit down to work on your essay. You’ll work so much faster without it.
  3. Your tutor should provide you with the marking criteria for your essay along with the essay question. This tells you exactly what they will be looking for—use it as a cheat sheet to guide your research and essay plan.
  4. When you write your essay, start with a single sentence that defines your main argument. This will keep you focused while you write your first draft. Once you’ve done this, move on to the main discussion section and leave writing your introduction and conclusion until the end. What you need to say in these sections will be dictated by what you write in your main discussion, so leave them until last.
  5. Don’t underestimate the importance of the editing stage—it’s how you make average work good and good work great, making it a good way to pick up extra marks. Get a good night’s sleep between the writing and editing stages and take a break between each round of editing so you see the work with fresh eyes and a clear mind.