Finding the Answer to How Long is a Dissertation – Read On

September 01, 2021

If you are asking the question, “how long is a dissertation,” you are probably getting ready to attack the final hurdle toward that Master’s or Doctorate. Make no mistake – you are in for a lot of work. But worrying about the length should not be “on your plate” of issues. This guide will show you how to answer this question.

The Average Dissertation Length

Overall, dissertations may run between 100 and 200 pages, but this number could vary. Dissertation lengths for a Master’s are at the lower end of this page number, while Ph.D.’s are at the higher end.

Length variations depend on your institutional requirements, your department requirements, your committee requirements, and the research field of a thesis itself.

So, let’s unpack some factors that determine the average length of dissertation projects.

University Guidelines

Universities do provide some guidelines for Master’s and doctoral candidates. Usually, these guidelines serve three purposes:

  • To give students general ideas of overall length
  • To protect faculty from being overburdened by theses that are too lengthy
  • To establish credibility for a candidate and university.

Department Guidelines

While universities have general guidelines for the average length of dissertation projects, academic departments have their own. These can vary. Universities give departments latitude, as they want departments to be autonomous in their criteria. Departments establish length parameters for all parts of a thesis, and these vary. A thesis in social sciences, for example, is longer than one in hard science, such as chemistry, because book reviews and research methods vary so much.

Committee Guidelines/Advice

A dissertation proposal passes through an advisor but goes to a committee for approval. If you are not certain how to write a dissertation proposal, get some professional help, and/or read through proposals of colleagues. Individual committee members make requests and provide advice that either expand or contract your project parameters – literature to be reviewed, methodologies, the data to be collected, etc. All of this impacts the average length of a dissertation.

NOTE: there are times when committee members disagree. One might want a piece of literature included while another could think it unnecessary. You may be able to satisfy both by adding it to an appendix with appropriate acknowledgments.

A Look at Dissertation Length by Chapters

The length of a dissertation is a sum of its parts. And each part will have length parameters. Let’s unpack each chapter of a thesis, look at what it contains, and then consider how long should a dissertation be.

Chapter 1 – Introduction

Just like any academic piece, the beginning is the introduction. In a research paper, you introduce your topic and your thesis. In a thesis introduction, you introduce your research question, explaining the importance of your research to your academic field, and briefly describing your research methodology. In terms of how long is a doctoral dissertation introduction, a general rule is between 12-25 pages. The temptation is to write more than you should. If you find your introduction running more than 25 pages, get some dissertation help online from a service that has Ph.D. consultants in your research field. They can whittle that introduction down, removing content that should be reserved for elsewhere.

Chapter 2 – Literature Review

How long is the average dissertation literature review? This chapter will vary significantly, based upon a discipline. For example, a narrow thesis topic in the field of chemistry could yield a relatively small number of literature to review. On the other hand, a broader research area, such as psychology or sociology, will yield a much larger amount of literature and might have to be scaled down.

If your literature review is less than 10 pages, you should scale up, perhaps adding literature that relates to research methodology you are using. If your review exceeds 25 pages, you will need to scale down, focusing on those that most directly relate to your research question and are most current. If that review is too long, your committee may request revision when you arrive for your oral defense.

The literature review is much like writing a research paper. If you struggle with it, contact a custom research paper writing service that has a Ph.D. in your field to help.

Chapter 3 - Methodology

Just how long is a doctoral dissertation methodology chapter? This vary somewhat but not as much as the literature review chapter. This chapter must provide a detailed description of the research methodology, whether quantitative or qualitative. Your methodology could involve experimental and control groups; it might involve qualitative research with human respondents. The key is to describe in detail exactly what you did, and why you did it. As well, it must explain how you intend to analyze results, once the methodology had been implemented.

The “rule of thumb” here is to provide enough detail so that another researcher can replicate your methodology exactly. This means the length of this chapter can be as much as 20-25 pages, standing upon the necessary detail. It would be a good idea to present this chapter to a “do my dissertation” writing service and let a Ph.D. in your field review it to ensure that it provides the necessary information.

Chapter 4 – Results

This chapter provides a full picture of results of your research. It may be lengthy, not because of word count, but because of the need for charts and graphs that depict your results. A single chart, for example, might consume an entire page. This chapter can be as long as 25 pages or more, depending upon graphics involved. The key here is not how long is a phd dissertation results chapter. The key is, have you shown all results, in both graphic and verbal format?

Chapter 5 – Discussion

Now it’s time to put the meaning into the data that you presented in the previous chapter. This, of course, requires statistical analysis, and this is where math-challenged degree candidates seek help from professionals. There is no shame in this. You have gathered the right data through your research, but statistical results should be perfectly analyzed and presented to show that your research shows a statistical significance. Exactly how long is a dissertation paper discussion chapter depends upon the amount of data to be analyzed and, again, graphics and verbal explanations that are necessary. And again, it’s not a matter of word count. There must be a clear and understandable presentation and explanation of the data’s importance. This chapter could run anywhere from 15 to 25 pages, it depends on the analytical complexity.

Chapter 6 – Conclusion

Many institutions and departments combine the discussion and conclusion chapters, so be certain you know whether you need to do so or not. Your conclusion must cover these key elements:

  • Re-state the research question and how your specific research answered that question
  • Point out any nuisance factors in the research and how they were addressed
  • Avoid presenting any new information that was not contained in the other chapters
  • Show how your research supports or contradicts prior studies
  • Point future researchers in new directions.

This chapter may be the shortest of all, but it is no less important. Instead of worrying about how many words is a dissertation conclusion, be certain that you have covered these five elements. Do not scrimp on this chapter. Here, you could express your opinions, and it might take up to 15 or so pages to do so.

Are you finally finished? Not quite. Your thesis must be perfectly written, and you should not be the one to review and edit the work. Find an essay proofreading service with a Ph.D. in your research field to do this.

How Long are Dissertations by Discipline?

So, how long does a dissertation have to be? The answer is not definite. Most institutions have length guidelines, but these can and often are superseded by disciplinary departments.

In general, theses are, on average, between 100-200 pages long, and this also includes references, footnotes, and bibliography, which, by the way, should never exceed 20% of the length. And be certain you understand how to cite a master’s thesis APA or a dissertation in the same format unless another format is required.

But here is where the length could become varied, according to the academic discipline. A sociology thesis, for example, is closer to the 200-page mark, while one in chemistry is much closer to the 100-page mark. Much of this disparity is result of the literature reviews and methodologies. STEM research is quantitative with fewer pieces of literature, while a thesis in humanities could very well have a significantly longer literature review section and may be based upon qualitative research which can be more involved.

The other major disparity depends upon whether the thesis is for a Master’s or a Ph.D. degree program. In general, a Master’s thesis is much shorter because it does not involve original research.

Some University Requirement Examples

Here is a table that shows just a few examples of U.S. and UK university word count guidelines for theses.


University STEM Disciplines Humanities/Soc. Sciences
Oxford University 80,000 100,000
Harvard 80,000 100,000
University of Warwick 70,000 90,000
University of Edinburgh 80,000 100,000
MIT 75,000 100,000
Stanford 75,000-80,000 80,000-100,000


Note: These word counts do not include the proposal or the abstract.

Use This Guide as a Start Point

So, how long are dissertations? In short, as long as they need to be to satisfy university, department, and committee guidelines/demands. This guide prepares you for what you are facing in a general sense, along with the structure of a dissertation. As such, you should find it very helpful as you plan what will be a lengthy project.