How Long Is a Dissertation Paper?

How Long Is a Dissertation Paper?

How long is a dissertation? Should it be 500 words or 5000 words? Is a question that crosses the mind of any doctoral degree student. It’s quite valid because the most extended dissertation on record was 2,654 pages. Written by Dr. Joachim Schumacher, a historian, it focused on the  development of sailing. On submission, to the University of Konstanz in Germany, he had edited it to 2,200 pages.

As daunting as it seems, don’t fret at the prospect of Dr. Schumacher’s lengthy dissertation. Instead, consider what’s important, which is delivering a resourceful dissertation (regardless of length). Key factors that influence a dissertation’s length are the topic and writing style. To a lesser extent you can include the institution and course.

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If you Google to find out: How long is a Ph.D. dissertation? There are websites that will give specific answers. Others will base their answers on the analysis of select dissertations. These variances are due to lack of definite answers on the average dissertation length.

As a result, this handy article seeks to establish the practicable length of a dissertation paper (once and for all).

What is a dissertation?

Before you proceed, you need to understand the meaning of a dissertation. Since it varies with institutions and countries. Some consider a dissertation and thesis as same. Others consider thesis to be for PhDs only.

Research shows that dissertation comes from a Latin word ‘dissertate’ meaning ‘to debate’. So it’s accurate to say that a dissertation presents different ideas about a particular subject.

The purpose of a dissertation

For evaluation, you’ll present your dissertation in writing or as an oral presentation (dissertation defense). The dissertation defense is a formality, since your paper is already evaluated. What you’ll need to find out is how long is a dissertation in defense? A dissertation defense shouldn’t go beyond two hours. As this duration is sufficient to cover the dissertation committee’s questions and deliberation time.

The evaluation process serves to reveal your mastery of the subject. Plus, your acquisition of the requisite scholars skills to gather and interpret information. This revelation is evidence that you’ve acquired the vital skills of a scholar.

More so as an academic researcher able to deploy knowledge when and where necessary. On this basis alone, you’re thus entitled to a final grade for graduation and awarding of your doctoral degree.

The difference between a dissertation and a thesis

You may have noticed that some institutions refer to a thesis as a dissertation and vice versa. This can be confusing, so for clarity’s sake, here’s a proper explanation. In the US, a thesis is for the master’s program, while a dissertation is for the doctoral program.

In Europe and the UK, it’s the opposite. In such a situation, you might wonder, how long is a thesis? Is it as long as a dissertation? Again, there’s no definite answer. Because it varies between countries, institutions and courses.

The same applies to: How long is a master’s dissertation, or how long is a bachelor’s dissertation. But even without a conclusive answer, the rule of thumb dictates that, when a thesis reaches a hundred pages, review content for relevance.  For more details on this issue, check the section on how to write a dissertation. But remember: What matters in your dissertation is the quality and detail of your content. 

To understand similarities and differences between a dissertation and thesis, here’s a breakdown.


  • Each is a final project required for your graduation
  • Both need a mastery of the subject topic at hand
  • Each must be your original work
  • They are both used to defend an argument and must have submission deadlines


  • A dissertation is longer than a thesis, and so is its oral presentation. Because dissertations carry complex research that requires more data and explanations
  • A thesis chooses a stance on an existing idea and defends it with analysis. But, a dissertation relies on new research and requires a hypothesis that is then proven

This breakdown helps clarify the differences between a dissertation and thesis. Each institution has its own definition for both terminologies. So it’s vital that you understand how your current institution defines them.

How long is a dissertation?

Now that you know what a dissertation is, you’re ready to tackle the next issue: How long is a dissertation pages?  Dissertations, especially the qualitative ones (like Dr. Schumacher’s), are pretty lengthy. As a result, some institutions have guidelines to address the length issue for quality purposes. The page count is the standard measure of a dissertation’s length.

Still, there is an average dissertation length of 200 – 300 pages. If you refer to a word page counter, you’ll find some of the factors used to determine the length of a dissertation as:

  • Type of font,
  • Font size
  • Spacing elements
  • Margins used on the paper
  • Paragraph length

Based on this guideline, how long is a dissertation with 70 000 words?

Assume you’re using the MLA essay format, which is preferred by most institutions. In it, a specific page has a 1-inch margin. The font is a legible Arial font of point size 11 or 12 with standard spacing. If single-spaced, you’ll have 500 words per page. If double-spaced, you’ll have 250 words per page.

So, if your dissertation is 70,000 words, you can estimate 140 pages with single spacing and 280 pages with double spacing. But there’s a downside to relying on page count only for your dissertation’s length. Because there are many variations that compromise quality.

Some students used to opt for bigger spacing’s and larger fonts to fill up the pages. They did this without any regard for quality. Hence the reason why most assignments are now issued on word count as opposed to page count.

The average number of pages in a chapter also varies by institution. The common practice is not to exceed the 25-page mark per chapter. Most dissertation chapters, in essence, range between 15 – 20 pages.

Here’s a practical example of a 70,000 word dissertation structure.  Note the number of pages in sections 1 and 2, plus those in the respective chapters. The research method and analysis take the lion’s share.

How long is a dissertation pages

Reference: Siti Hajar, PhD Education & EFL Pedagogy & Curriculum. Classroom-Based Action Research, University of Queensland.

Now, if the average number of pages in a chapter shouldn’t exceed 25, how many words should a chapter be? There isn’t an unarguable answer for this. Reason being, there are factors specific to each dissertation that determine word count per chapter.

But if you would like a concise indication, you can also determine words per chapter by examining other dissertations. Especially the ones in your field of study. Another alternative would be to look out for the sample dissertation structure and breakdown further down the article. So, keep reading.

How long is a doctoral dissertation?

How long is the average dissertation paper? At this point, you can answer this question. But there’s still the other question of how long does it take to write a dissertation? All factors considered, it should take 12 -18 months.

Completion of your dissertation will take 3.5 – 4 years. And that’s only  if you are committed and on a full-time basis. This though, doesn’t apply for US and Canada students because their programs are part time.

Part of what contributes to any completion within the 4 year mark is finding a program that: 1) Suits your field of study 2) Supports your project and  research 3) Pairs you with a dynamic supervisor. Since this is the ideal, how long does a Ph.D. take in more realistic circumstances or worst-case scenarios?

In the US, UK, Germany, India, China, and Japan, there is no time limit to the completion of your dissertation. Unlike Bachelor’s or Master’s, you can take as much time as you need to organise your research. On average, you can take five years, and if you’re pushing it, about seven or more.

Besides work and family, there are other factors that can extend this duration:

  • Study location: In Europe and the UK, the time limits are set to 3.5 – 4 years. It takes longer in the US and Canada because you must first pass your comprehensive exams before doing your dissertation. And this exams come two years after your coursework.
  • Complex research: Novel topics will take you a while, especially if your supervisor has limited experience in your field of study. Well known or well funded issues will be easier and quicker.
  • Benefits: Access to the right resources will boost your dissertation. Libraries, archives, laboratories, collaborative opportunities, and research materials will hasten completion. Adequate funding, cross cultural exchanges are examples of other beneficial resources.
  • Amount of preparation: The stringent preparations and intense research could extend the duration. Before you start your dissertation, you must write a dissertation proposal for approval. This involves the collection of information, writing the proposal and seeking approval.

Before starting your dissertation proposal, you’ll need to have a Ph.D. committee to guide you through the entire process. This is significant as this committee, especially the chairman, is key to your success. You’ll need their approval for your dissertation proposal by proving to them is value and feasibility.

Tips to selecting your dissertation committee

Before you learn how to write a dissertation proposal, here are tips on how to select your dissertation committee. Most institutions require you to have a chair and four other members. Pay heed to their competencies to ensure they can contribute valuable insights to your dissertation.  More so, if their abilities extend to key elements like research method and analysis. 

1.    Understand the requirements 

Your department should have a guideline on how to go about this. Find out what it entails and take the time to review it before you draw any selection list.

2.    Follow a criteria or shortlist 

Make a selection of who you would like, then narrow them down using a suitable criteria for elimination  if they are; 

  • In charge of a lot of programs, means they’ll not have adequate time to attend to your paper or give you proper guidance
  • Unrelated to your field, will result in an extended duration which is not ideal, especially if you have everything planned out to finish within a specific duration
  • Conflicting hypotheses, again this could lead to an extended duration since you’ll have to issue countless research findings and counter arguments to convince them
  • Unfair in classes, if your nominee has certain known biases you don’t want to jinx your final grade. Especially after all the hard work and sleepless nights, do you?
  • Already on many committees, means they’ll hardly have time to attend to you or share quality feedback or insights.

3.    Consult

Ask around especially from students more advanced in your field of study or graduate students with their own committees. They can give you valuable insights on who to include, exclude or pursue.

Look out for supervisors that care about students’ projects and are helpful during exams. Some other information to followup is whether they’re leaving the university as it could be a major setback to your project. 

4.    Meet selected professors 

Request the professors on your list for a meeting. If they agree to it, ask relevant questions to determine their suitability. The questions could be on your research or theirs.

Meeting them will enable you gauge their expertise in your field of study and they’ll also be gauging your level of commitment to the project.  At the end, if it feels right make your pitch.

Ask whether they would consider being on your dissertation committee. 

Of particular importance is finding the right chair.  Put more effort in finding a chair with a proven track record in helping students complete their dissertations within a reasonable time.

How to write a dissertation proposal

A dissertation proposal describes the research you want to do. What it’s about, how you’ll conduct it, and why it’s worthwhile. It has three chapters which form the first three chapters of your dissertation.

Before starting, confirm the necessary details with your supervisor. Such as the word count and preferred structure. Most institutions have guidelines for most of these paper assignments. Below is a general outline to aid you along.

1: The overarching idea

Before anything else, you must have the overarching idea for your dissertation. Meaning you must focus on identifying an issue that interests you in your field of study. Research it and find a gap that you can use for a new perspective.

More to this, find out what other researchers think of your preferred topic. Their suggestions, and what your unique contribution is likely to be. Once you confirm the topic, narrow it down to a specific niche and figure out the best way to frame it. For instance, if your proposed idea is African American Literature. Narrow it down to 19th Century African American Literature. And then select a suitable topic: The most remarkable African American authors of the 19th century and their cultural impact.

Other methods you can use to narrow down your dissertation topic are;

  • Conduct a thorough review of your department’s requirements. This could reveal which way to go since most are only specific to length and timelines.
  • Refer to previous dissertations, especially if you’re clueless. There’s bound to be something that piques your interest. That you can tweak in line with the requirements.

As soon as you have the research question, pick your research and data collection methods. Then decide on your approach for the data analysis. Another thing is: you should pick something that interests you. One that you’re passionate about and can master.

The reason being that your graduation depends on it. You’ll spend a lot of time writing and sifting through data. So it better be worthwhile. Below are examples of 3 topic ideas to guide your search and selection.

  • Strategies of small businesses and how they adapt to pandemics
  • Managing a company that employs the millennial and X generation
  • Financial accounting to prepare for natural disasters

2: The introduction

All academic papers begin with an introduction. The content comprises your research topic, background , objectives and research question(s). Below are vital pointers to starting and ending your introduction.

  • Use a hook to draw attention.

A riveting hook determines whether anyone will take an interest in your dissertation. Since you’ll spend considerable time working on it, you must have a killer hook. Some examples to consider are:

  • Start by telling an exciting story that’s relevant to your overarching idea.
  • State a relevant fact or quote a statistic that draws them into your research topic or;
  • Pose an interesting question that leads into the main topic.
  1. Context

For this part, you’ll share a description of your research. Explain its importance, and highlight any notable trends within your field of study. Other details to include are where it’s taking place and its active participants.

  1. Purpose

This is the section that vindicates your project. Since it captures your objectives and the research questions. The questions should be distinct, to the point, and easy to pick out from the rest of the text.

3: Explore research on the same topic.

Once you’re clear on the topic, review the existing research to ensure you’re not replicating. The way to do this is by summarizing other researchers’ findings. You can also comment on gaps or other challenges in their studies.

Due to the size of the task, use paraphrases. Your critical task in this section is to find gaps for your dissertation to address. Once you find them, you can highlight the fact, as shown below.

Samson’s methods continue to yield no significant results in all subsequent research conducted on the issue. Perhaps the failure is due to…

4: Method

To address the gaps in the other research findings, you’ll describe your proposed approach or method. The specific actions you’ll take, your research’s outline, and how you’ll gather and analyze the data.

The method and analysis section is long because you need to convince your dissertation committee that you have a veritable approach. Not only for research and data collection, but that you can execute it.

5: Outline potential implications of your research

Now, every research finding must have a result or outcome. Even though you’re not sure of the actual achievement. The outcome could be:

  • The development of a new theory
  • Expanded knowledge
  • New insights o reveals of new areas of research
  • Reveals of new opportunities

So with a hint of the possible outcome, give an incisive description of your research’s intent and expected impact:

The desired outcome is that this research will contribute to the growing body of knowledge. That is the link between African American culture and African American literature. And that its conclusions will inform future research and increase collaboration opportunities.

In closing, it’s prudent you give a weighty conclusion. Let your dissertation committee know for sure the contribution you hope to make with your dissertation:

This dissertation aims to show African American Literature’s impact on the African American community’s psyche. The findings will quantify its effects on the community’s culture and subsequent generations. This will help increase awareness of how literature is critical to building cohesion within a community.

6: Create the bibliography

Academic texts must cite sources and references of their research. A bibliography lists all the references used to create a piece of writing. This includes everything you used to create the work, even if you didn’t cite it in the body of the writing itself. This can include but isn’t limited to background sources.

A reference list on its part, only contains the sources cited in the body of the paper. These are actual quotes and ideas used by other writers or materials . Plus the various styles you can choose if your department or supervisor hasn’t given any specifications.

How to structure a dissertation

This article’s content boils down to the structure and breakdown of your dissertation. Knowing the average dissertation length and how to structure your dissertation will ease your writing. Even if your supervisor shares a specific guideline, you’ll know how to make it work by practicing now.

Review the general  guideline below on how to structure and breakdown your dissertation. From it you will learn how to arrive at a practicable length for your dissertation.  

1.    Title

For qualitative research, your title must feature the issue at hand. For quantitative research, your title must highlight the key variables. Their relationship plus the total participants involved.

  1. Abstract

A summary of your dissertation’s content is what features in the abstract. The way you write it, paying attention to descriptions and details, indicates whether it’s an excellent resource or not. Most students save it for last due to the weight it carries, in the validation of their work.

Your Abstract should include:

  • Introduction to the topic
  • Problem statement
  • Purpose statement
  • Key research questions
  • Research method and design
  • Participants
  • Key Results
  • Conclusions and recommendations for future research

3.    Chapter 1: Introduction

The introduction informs your reader of your research and consists of 10% of your whole dissertation. Here you’ll state your topic, the problem statement, share the research questions and objectives.

4.    Chapter 2: Literature review

The literature review section features your topic’s existing research. It comprises 30% of your dissertation and is helpful in explaining the gap your research will address. You can further explain your research method in detail and if possible, highlight proposed solutions.

5.    Chapter 3: Research method

Academic research is a two-step process where you harness data and interpret it. In this section you’ll dive into the specifics of how you’ll yield results for your research. Since it consists of 15% of your dissertation, you’ll share a brief on the analysis approach.

Include the number of respondents, and selection criteria. If you don’t have a guideline or idea how to go about it, find out how other researchers present their dissertation methodologies.

6.    Chapter 4: Results or findings

Your research findings should take up 5% of the entire content. This section will tell the reader everything they need to know about your findings. Be brief but coherent and don’t use excessive diagrams, graphs, and tables.

7.    Chapter 5: Analysis and discussions

This particular chapter provides a complete overview of the outcome of the findings which should be relevant to your dissertation’s overarching idea. It comprises 30% of your entire content and is the ‘meat’ of your dissertation.

It’s also the section where most students seek help in determine the correct formulas to use and accurate statistics. If need be, hire experts to ensure complete accuracy.

8.    Chapter 6: Interpretations, Conclusions, Recommendations

In this section, you’ll summarize the central argument of your dissertation. It should take up 10% of the total content and is your last pitch to ensure the reader understands your dissertation. Unlike conclusions for essays, this requires a breakdown of the argument into different sections:          

  • First inform the reader that the research question is answered.  Next, show them how this has been done and the contribution you have made to your study field
  • Be sure to highlight any shortfalls within your research for the next generation of researchers to tackle
  • Guide these next generation researchers to areas where they can replicate or add to your outcome

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

1.    How long is a dissertation should be?

There is no definite answer to how long a dissertation is, as long as it exhausts the research question. Still, there’s an average dissertation length of 200 – 300 pages which translate to about 75,000 to 150,000 words. Most institutions only issue guidelines on length as a strategy to manage the quality of the dissertations. 

2.    What is the average length of the dissertation?

The average dissertation length is 200 to 300 pages. But this length isn’t restrictive, and you’re free to submit any length as long as the content meets the required threshold.  For instance, how long is a dissertation in psychology? Being qualitative content, it’s expected to be lengthier than quantitative content. Some dissertations are known to have as much as 700 pages.

3.    How long does it take to write a dissertation?

It depends on several factors, and if they all flow congruently, it can take you at least 12 – 18 months, and at most 20 months.  

Several factors need to align for this to happen find a program that : 1) Suits your field of study 2) Supports your project and the accompanying research 3) Pairs you with a dynamic supervisor.

In addition to this, you would need to have your research methodology figured out. Plus the analysis sorted with accurate formulas and statistics. 

4.    How long is a Ph.D. dissertation have to be?

A Ph.D. dissertation is longer than a thesis. A thesis is about 100 – 200 pages. Most dissertations are about 200 – 300 pages and can take up to 20 months to complete. The critical thing to remember about length is that, nobody will penalize you if it’s extended.

Some dissertations are only 21 pages long while others run into thousands. What should concern you though, is the quality of your content. Is it something people will want to read? Will it be a valuable resource contributing to your field of study?


How long is a dissertation? You can now respond to this with confidence. What’s more, you’ll now be adept at structuring and breaking down the content in your dissertation in line with any guidelines.

A dissertation is serious work and a symbol of your hard work, resilience, and commitment. To succeed, you must hone various outstanding skills in different fields. These include being a skillful writer, mastering knowledge, managing time, being patient and resilient.

It’s a significant career milestone that most students never manage to complete; very few make it. If you want to achieve it, but for some reason you can’t, some experienced writers can help you along. 

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