I made an academic appeal over the marking of an essay, which was 13 words over the word limit. The mark on the word-count section was unexpected, but was not consistent with the formal university word-limit marking rubric. (I cannot change the essay anymore.) Unexpectedly, my appeal was denied.

How should I further advance the appeal? Here is what I considered so far:

  1. Rely on independent student advocate, found by internal university contact. The issue with this is that I don’t know whether they play their role effectively. My first appeal was already denied. And before marking academic appeal, I did request for independent student advocate to be involved and witness debate of academic appeals process.

  2. Approach an ombudsman and independent student advocate to invite them observe the entire process of complaints to the university registrar (invitation goes before arrival of formal approach, so there are witnesses to breakdowns in procedures)? This seems workable solution, and is an option I believe I can trust.

  3. Consult the family lawyer to engage in challenges and observe the review process to make sure no more maladministration.

  4. Perhaps a combination of 2 and 3? This may be too aggressive, but seems to have a higher chance of success than 2 or 3.

Is my thinking sound? Is there a better way I haven’t thought of?

Details on word count inconsistency are as follows...... a/ There are 5 gradated sections for word count limits. There is no hard public published specification on when you transition from one gradated section to another. There is no published specification that suggests that if 5 (or 10 or 15)% over word limit then you lose marks. The marking rubric is vague and does not specify what percentage over word limits, transition you from one gradated marking section to the next one down. It is at the marker's discretion

b/ My essay had a word limit of 2500 words. My submitted essay had a word count of 2513 words, or 13 words (0.5 %) over the word limit. From my understanding based on experience from submitting previous essays within this department and university system, it should have gotten in the top section (because it was within the previous experience of applied margin of errors before mark degradation), or one down from the top gradated section. The mark I got for the word count section was the 2nd section from the bottom.

c/ I did email the instructor (before essay deadline) for guidance on when word count limits transition from one formal marking section to another, eg 5% or 10% etc. The instructor never replied to this query.

d/ the word limits was only for the main body of the essay only -where the substantive argument is. Word count does not include title, references, bibliography, footnotes.

e/ the essay word count was not changed after first formal deadline. It was the same word count at the time of submission of first formal deadline, as it was at the time of academic appeals denial.

Would you like any other details?

  • 2
    Question reopened and comments purged (since all should be addressed; if not, repost). @Anti-Tao: Please check whether everything is correct. Also, can you please edit your question to specify how bad your grade was (in comparison to what you consider the fair grading) and what impact this has on your studies? This may allow us to give better answers.
    – Wrzlprmft
    May 3, 2020 at 9:34
  • 2
    The question is still missing details on what the penalty given was and what the official guidelines stated. The fact that the essay was originally much longer and was later cut down after turning it in (as was mentioned by OP in a comment) also seems potentially relevant, depending on what the official guidelines state. May 3, 2020 at 10:00
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    Proceeding with a lawyer seems to be the best option because you are in a dispute with the rules. Arguing within the university system won't work well because the rules are going to be upheld. The core of the argument is essentially that sticking rigorously to the rules is unreasonable, and that has to be argued outside of the university system where the university will be forced to defend the reasons for having the rules and enforcing these rules so strictly. They then cannot engage in a circular argument involving those same rules. May 3, 2020 at 11:13
  • 1
    With the added details, it certainly seems harsh to move that far for such a small amount in excess (though how you could ever expect to be placed in the top one is beyond me). The details about changing word count is still missing (the comment was deleted along with the rest, so I can't see it, but I recall you mentioned originally submitting something 400 words too long). May 3, 2020 at 13:54
  • 6
    It is hard to be sympathetic, actually. You seem to have made a lot of assumptions. You seem to be overly judgmental of the actions of others and not accepting your own errors. It is easy enough, today, to check your word count. It only takes a few moments and minimal effort. You are suggesting bringing in lawyers for what is, in essence, a request for special treatment. My advice is to swallow this and do better in future.
    – Buffy
    May 3, 2020 at 14:41

3 Answers 3


Your post sets out details of the substantive matters in your case, but it does not give any information on the adjudication rules and the avenues for appeal in the rules. You have already appealed to the university, and this failed. You refer to this as your "first appeal", but you have not made clear whether there are any other steps of appeal allowed in the process. If there is another step of appeal allowed in the rules then you may avail yourself of this; if not, then that is the end of the (internal) adjudication process. Thus, the first thing you need to do, if you are interested in pursuing this, is to read the university process for appeals of marks, and see if you have exhausted the internal appeal process.

If you decide to contact a student advocate, ombudsman, or lawyer, their first step will be to find out what has happened so far, and whether you have any additional right of appeal within the university rules. A paid lawyer will happily attend meetings, hearings, etc., with you, but that will be very expensive. For a student advocate or ombudsman, they will make their own decisions on what, if any, actions they wish to take to mediate the matter, and they would be unlikely to agree to attend the entire process. The substantive complaint you have sounds weak to me, and presumes various things that are not requirements by the university. Moreover, if the appeal process is already exhausted then you unlikely even to get to an assessment on the merits (since that has presumably already been done). If there is no further right of appeal, the most likely outcome is that the university will write to you (or your lawyer, ombudsman, etc.) stating that the appeal process has already occurred and is now concluded.


Accept it and move on. Consider:

  1. You had a clear rule for the word count
  2. You violated that rule
  3. You appealed and were denied

And that's it. Engaging in other extreme forms of behavior, such as trying to involve a lawyer (!), will surely sour the attitude of everyone involved toward you.

To address one point specifically, when you didn't hear back from the professor about word count rules, you should probably have defaulted to following the rules to the letter. I personally try to always respond to the emails I get, but I admit I vastly deprioritize emails that are asking me things with clear answers already available - such as a word count limit.


Your best course of action is going to be to accept things and move on.

Unless the marks you've lost on this essay make the difference between getting your degree or not, the damage to your reputation incurred by any of your options will significantly outweigh the gains.

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