How Long Is a Dissertation? Here Are the Details.

One reality of most graduate school programs is that even students who breezed through their coursework can have trouble with completing their dissertation process. This is because dissertation writing involves an iterative process where students are expected to address a novel research topic not yet completely addressed by academia, unlike coursework where students can attain all the knowledge needed to pass their courses by studying textbooks and demonstrating a good faith effort towards completing all the assignments.

The most effective approach to navigating through your dissertation requirements is to first choose a research topic according to recommendations from recent peer-reviewed literature. That way, you have the assurance that your research addresses a currently relevant gap of knowledge in academia and that the hard work you put into developing your topic doesn’t go to waste from having to choose a different focus later on. Some of the questions that students have when beginning the dissertation process include:

  • How many pages should I write for my dissertation? 
  • How many sources should I include in each chapter? 
  • How would I identify and collect the data required for my study?
  • What if I don’t have a ton of experience with using software to conduct the Data Analysis components of the dissertation?
  • What if I get stuck and I’m not making progress?
  • Should I receive dissertation editing help from a professional academic consultant?

Average Length of PhD Dissertations

The length of a dissertation depends on what subject area you’re studying, the research topic and methodology chosen, and your institutional requirements. Although some degree programs do not have specific minimum or maximum page requirements, many dissertation committees provide recommendations for how long each chapter and section should be as well as what objectives should be met. Many schools also provide checklists, rubrics, and templates along with samples of approved dissertations to help students with structuring their content.

Reviewing dissertations that have already been approved at your school will generally give you the best idea of the length you should aim for when writing your dissertation. Generally speaking, most dissertation committees are satisfied with a length of 100 to 300 pages total, with much more focus being on the quality of content and whether your dissertation addresses an important gap of knowledge using a novel approach.

Why Write a Dissertation?

Typically, receiving the final approval needed on your dissertation will be the last hurdle to receiving your graduate degree. In most disciplines, students are expected to formulate and answer research questions involving an important phenomenon or issue using qualitative or quantitative research methods. Most accredited graduate degree programs require students to complete a dissertation or thesis because: (1) the school committee will be able to evaluate the student as a researcher and (2) the school will be able to maintain its reputation as a competitive research institution.

By completing a dissertation, a student can demonstrate that he or she is capable of original research leading to new findings. In graduate school, most students are fairly new to research and learn the tools that they can use in dissertation writing through coursework. If you feel that you’re not adequately prepared for the dissertation phase of your graduate program, one option is to discuss your exact needs with an academic consulting agency specializing in dissertation help.

Dissertation Length By Discipline

The average dissertation lengths can vary greatly depending on the discipline due to the nature of the studies conducted, type of data collected and analyzed, and methodologies used. In disciplines such as English, History, and Theology, dissertations are often based on hundreds or even thousands of sources where the researcher justifies the need for his or her study based on consensus among the chosen sources. On the contrary, disciplines such as Mathematics and Physics often emphasize brevity above quantity; for instance, John Forbes Nash Jr. received his PhD in Mathematics from Princeton after submitting a 26-page dissertation containing a total of just two citations.

Types of Dissertations

There are many choices that you will be making throughout your dissertation research, including what type of peer-reviewed journals you will be exploring for relevant citations, what type of methodology and research design you will use, what type of instruments you will use to collect data, and what type of constructs or variables you will focus on for your results and findings.

When determining what type of dissertation you’d like to write and how long your dissertation should be, the most important consideration should be on what research approach is best suited for your research setting and not so much on how many pages you will be writing. Given that your dissertation is expected to undergo multiple rounds of review and will likely be revised at least several times until final approval, it normally won’t be a problem if the dissertation needs to be lengthened or shortened by a bit for publication later on.

How Long Are Quantitative Dissertations?

Quantitative dissertations tend to be shorter in length when compared to qualitative dissertations, with many dissertations being completed with 100 or fewer pages of work. Typically, students in disciplines such as Nursing, Public Health, and the Social Sciences have the option to choose whether they’d like to utilize quantitative or qualitative methods for their dissertation research, while students in disciplines such as Engineering or the Physical Sciences must use quantitative methods.

Quantitative dissertations can be approved with fewer pages of work since students have the option to summarize their results and findings using tables and graphics, and since the literature review can be somewhat shorter. However, the level of rigor required for final approval is often higher when compared to qualitative dissertations due to the complexity of statistical programming and the need to interpret quantitative models.

How Long Are Qualitative Dissertations?

Qualitative dissertations tend to be longer in length when compared to quantitative dissertations, with most dissertations ranging between 100 to 300 pages and sometimes much longer. This is mainly because qualitative data are open-ended instead of closed-ended, where the data tend to be much longer when presented in written form. Since qualitative data are more likely to be subjective for this reason, students completing a qualitative dissertation are often required to use multiple sources of data (i.e. triangulate the data) to add credibility to their findings.

Creative Dissertations

Many Arts, Humanities, and Social Science PhD programs encourage students to add elements of creative writing so that dissertations resemble a book. In this case, dissertations may be based on elements of personal narratives or even poetry and fiction. Creative dissertations are very similar to qualitative dissertations in that they do not involve extensive numerical computations, but rather, are rooted in descriptions and meanings conveyed by the data sources or subjects in the story. Although creative dissertations vary in length, the general range is between 200 and 300 pages of content.

Deconstructing the Dissertation

Students spend varying lengths of pagination and time when constructing their dissertations. Given that the quickest students take 6 to 12 months to complete the entire dissertation process while some students do not finish even after 10 years, it is imperative that you plan ahead if you want to graduate sooner than later.

The dissertation process starts when you begin to browse potential research topics to focus on. Many institutions require students to complete a document, form, and/or a PowerPoint presentation introducing their topic prior to beginning dissertation writing. Other institutions may allow students to begin work on Chapters 1-3 immediately. In any case, it is important to remember that the dissertation process is an iterative one, and you should be communicating with your chair and committee members often in addition to submitting any weekly edits or revisions on time.

Even after finalizing the content for all chapters of your dissertation, you will still need to conduct rounds of editing to make sure that your dissertation is ready to be published. Although your dissertation template will have the specific layout for structuring, the general format is:

– Title page
– Acknowledgements
– Abstract
– Introduction
– Literature Review
– Research Methodology
– Data Analysis
– Discussion and Conclusion
– Appendix
– Index

How Long Is a Dissertation? Summary

How long a dissertation is depends on many variables including your subject area, type of data collected and analyzed, and your degree program requirements. Although it is important to remember that the academic merit of your research matters much more than the number of pages, it is a good idea to know how many pages your dissertation committee might be expecting to review. Most students who worked with Approval Ready Consulting, a prominent academic consulting firm based in New York City, fell under these ranges:

– Quantitative Dissertations (e.g. Computer Science/Informatics, Mathematics, Nursing, Physics, Psychology, Public Health, Statistics, etc.): 100-150 pages
– Qualitative Dissertations (e.g. Arts, Education, History, Linguistics, Political Science, etc.): 150-300 pages
– Creative Dissertations (e.g. Comparative Literature, Essays, Fiction, Memoirs, Poetry, memoir, etc.): 200-300 pages.