How Long Does it Take to Write a Dissertation? [2024 Guide]

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Reading through the requirements for a PhD program may prompt you to ask, “How long does it take to write a dissertation?”

How Long Does it Take to Write a Dissertation

You probably already know that this is a major project, but you may be curious about how much of your life you’ll need to commit to the process.

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Dissertation writing can vary significantly from one student to the next. Even still, learning more about dissertations can help you have a better idea of what you can expect in terms of time commitment and workload.

How Long Does It Take to Write a Dissertation?

student reviewing his PhD dissertation

Before you sit down to write your PhD dissertation, it makes sense to figure out approximately how long the process is going to take you. That way, you can approach this project with reasonable expectations in mind.

Having an idea of the common timeframe for dissertations may also encourage you to set realistic goals. Many students write their dissertations within 1 to 2 years. In other words, once you reach All But Dissertation (ABD) status, you might be less than 2 years away from completing your PhD program.

You might be anxious to type your dissertation in less than 12 months so that you can move on with your life. While that’s understandable, you may be putting undue pressure on yourself. In fact, your school may require you to spend at least a year on your dissertation.

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It’s also possible that you expect to need more than 2 years. As long as you keep moving, that’s okay. Just remember to check your university’s rules. Some schools set a time limit on doctoral enrollment.

No matter how long the process takes, you’ll go through multiple steps as you work toward your goal:

  • Selecting a topic
  • Reviewing relevant literature
  • Developing a research project
  • Conducting research and analyzing the data you gather
  • Outlining your paper
  • Writing the first draft
  • Editing and producing a final draft

You may begin some of these steps, such as deciding on your topic, during the coursework portion of your program. Eventually, though, you’ll move into ABD status, and it will be time to focus solely on the dissertation.

Some students lose motivation at that point. If life is too busy, your wallet feels too strained, or you don’t have a good support system, you may feel like throwing in the towel. It can be especially tempting to quit if the project simply feels too overwhelming. To try and avoid these obstacles to finishing your PhD, it can help to make a plan for writing your dissertation.

You can break the project down into steps, carve out writing time, set attainable goals, and move progressively closer to a final product of which you’ll be proud.

Tips for Dissertation Writing

 doctoral student working on her dissertation paper

The answer to “How long does a dissertation take?” depends in large part on your process. Putting the following tips into practice may help you finish more quickly:

  • Understand the assignment. Reading other people’s dissertations can help you get a feel for what you’ll be doing yourself.
  • Dive in early. The sooner you start working on this project, the sooner you’ll be able to finish.
  • Craft an outline. Organizing your thoughts into a workable dissertation structure can make all the difference.
  • Schedule daily sessions. It’s strategic to make sure you write a bit each day. Some people recommend 2 hours of daily writing, but that’s not the best fit for everyone. Figure out how much time you can commit, and pencil it into your calendar.
  • Stretch your legs. Even during a marathon writing session, it helps to give yourself breaks. You might take a quick walk or do some stretches.
  • Get excited about your goals. It’s beneficial to break your process down into milestones and celebrate each time you achieve one.

Finally, it helps to surround yourself with a great support team—such as family, friends, and your faculty advisor—to whom you can turn when times feel tough.

How Long Is a Dissertation?

student reviewing pages of his dissertation

Each student’s dissertation is a slightly different length. Typically, though, most dissertations are between 100 and 300 pages long. It’s common for them to include about 80,000 words. Some are closer to 100,000 words.

Your school may set guidelines for the length of your paper. The requirements may even vary from one department to the next. For example, dissertations in the natural or physical sciences are often under 100 pages. Dissertations in fields like theology and history commonly contain several hundred pages.

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The content will be broken into various chapters, such as the introduction, the methodology, and the results.

What’s the Difference Between a Doctoral Dissertation vs. Thesis?

The words “thesis” and “dissertation” are often used in similar contexts. You can think about which one you’ll be writing during your doctoral studies.

Doctoral Thesis Doctoral Dissertation
  • Involves a careful study of the available research on a topic
  • Draws conclusions based on research that has already been done
  • Often takes less time since you’re not carrying out your own research
  • Requires an original research project
  • Furthers developments in a field with new research and ideas
  • Often takes longer since you will complete a research project

While a dissertation is the standard final project for a PhD, theses are more common at the master’s degree level. In addition, some programs don’t require a dissertation, like several online doctoral programs in education without dissertation, but require a capstone.

Writing a Dissertation

PhD student researching for her dissertation

Whether you are just beginning the PhD journey or have reached ABD status, there’s a dissertation in your future.

Yes, writing a dissertation is a task that is going to take a significant amount of time and effort. But now that you have a better idea of what to expect, you are one step closer to your goal. You can make a plan, block out time, and get your dissertation written.

Remember to surround yourself with support and ask for help as needed. Cheer yourself on throughout the process, and celebrate each milestone. It may take a few years, but you can accomplish this goal!

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Joy is pursuing her Ph.D. in Public Policy & Foreign Policy at Liberty University and holds a Master of Business Administration in Strategic Management from Amberton University, as well as a Bachelor's in Business Administration from Columbia College. With over 20 years of experience navigating online degrees and courses, Joy's focus is helping non-traditional students find accelerated degree options and credit for prior learning opportunities.