How Long is a Dissertation for a PhD?

By Dr. Brianna Anderson
Edited by Briana Sukert
Updated on April 13, 2024
Edited by Briana Sukert
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How long is a dissertation? This is one of the most common questions asked by current or aspiring doctoral students.

How Long is a Dissertation for a PhD

A dissertation is an extensive research project that contributes fresh knowledge to the author’s field. Many doctoral programs require students to write, defend, and revise a dissertation to earn their degrees.

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This article explores the average length of a dissertation and various factors that affect the scope of these papers.

How Long Is a Dissertation?

Man taking PhD, working on his dissertation

For most graduate students, the dissertation is the longest and most time-consuming paper they write throughout their education. This project aims to address a research question in the student’s field and build on existing bodies of scholarship.

Additionally, the dissertation showcases the student’s mastery of research methodologies. Because a dissertation must accomplish several goals, they tend to be ambitious and lengthy.

Most dissertations are 100 to 250 pages long. But many factors impact the length of a dissertation, including:

  • Academic field. Each discipline has different norms regarding dissertation content and length. For instance, literature dissertations often include extended close readings of texts, while science dissertations focus more on data analysis and research design. As a result, humanities dissertations are typically longer.
  • Institutional requirements. Most colleges and universities specify a minimum number of pages for the dissertation. You can ask your academic advisor or the graduate studies office about specific dissertation guidelines.
  • Topic complexity. Broad or complex research questions may require more data and analysis to answer, resulting in a longer dissertation.
  • Individual writing style. Some doctoral students enjoy writing elaborate and detailed sentences, while others prefer to get straight to the point.
  • Research methodologies. The approaches and methods used in the research can dramatically affect the length of the dissertation. For example, some dissertations include case studies, which may require lengthy explanations and analyses. Others use quantitative research methods and may include a number of charts and figures.
  • Committee feedback. Graduate students typically write their dissertations under the supervision of a faculty committee. These professors may recommend adding or cutting material during revision, impacting the dissertation’s final length.
  • Future goals. Some doctoral students plan to revise their dissertation and publish it as an academic monograph after graduation. Writing a longer dissertation gives them more material to adapt for their book.

Reading dissertations from your department and field can give you a better sense of the typical length.

How Long Are Dissertations by Discipline?

Woman doing research for her dissertation

The answer to “how long is a doctoral dissertation?” varies by field. In some disciplines, it’s common for graduate students to spend several years writing extensive manuscripts. Other fields produce shorter dissertations of approximately 100 pages.

Here are a few examples of dissertation norms for different disciplines:

  • Arts: Students studying art and creative writing may produce a creative dissertation. These projects typically consist of a theoretical introduction and a creative project, such as a poetry collection or a series of paintings. Creative dissertations may have fewer than 100 written pages, but the artistic elements can still be time-consuming.
  • Chemistry: These dissertations typically range from 100 to 150 pages. They typically describe experimental methodologies and draw conclusions from the author’s findings.
  • Computer science: Dissertations in this field are generally 50 to 150 pages long and often include quantitative data and algorithms.
  • English: PhD students in this field frequently write lengthy literature reviews and provide in-depth analyses of novels and other texts. English dissertations may range from 200 to 350 pages.

Faculty in your discipline can help you understand dissertation expectations.

Average Dissertation Length Per Chapter

Man working on a chapter of his dissertation

Dissertations typically have similar components and structures across disciplines. Here are six common chapters and their average lengths:

  • Introduction: The first chapter introduces the primary research topic and explains its relevance to the field. The introduction also provides a brief overview of the investigation method. Most introductions are 10 to 25 pages long.
  • Literature review: This chapter situates the project within the broader discipline. The author analyzes existing sources already written on their research topic and identifies biases or gaps that their own project remedies. Humanities dissertations tend to have 20 to 30 page literature reviews, while STEM dissertations devote 10 to 20 pages to this component.
  • Methodology: The third chapter typically focuses on the methods and techniques used to gather data. Ideally, this description should contain all the details that another researcher would need to duplicate the experiment and verify the results. The methodology chapter ranges from 15 to 25 pages, depending on the complexity of the research.
  • Findings: This section analyzes the collected data and discusses the results of the research project. It often includes charts, diagrams, and other data visualizations illustrating the findings. This chapter could be 20 to 50 pages, depending on the number of images and the amount of text needed to thoroughly examine the results.
  • Discussion: This chapter explains the significance of the results. The author may also compare their findings to previously published scholarship. The discussion is typically 15 to 25 pages.
  • Conclusion: The author summarizes their findings, acknowledges the limitations of their research, and suggests avenues for future studies. Most conclusions consist of 15 to 20 pages.

Some dissertations deviate from this format. For instance, English dissertations may devote several chapters to critical analyses of different genres or authors.

What Is a Dissertation?

students researching together for their dissertation

A dissertation is a lengthy written document that a doctoral student produces based on their original research. This project demonstrates the student’s expertise in their area of specialty and contributes to existing knowledge in the field.

Dissertations typically fall into one of two categories. Empirical dissertations require students to collect and analyze data. For instance, a psychology student may interview people about their mental health, while a marketing student could interpret sales data.

Theoretical dissertations focus on analyzing existing scholarship and secondary sources. For example, a literature student might research psychoanalysis and apply this approach to superhero comics.

How Many Pages Is a Dissertation?

Man reviewing some printouts of his dissertation

The length of a dissertation varies by discipline, institution, and research project. Some dissertations can be as short as 50 pages, while others may total 400 pages. But the average dissertation ranges from 100 pages to 250 pages.

Dissertations in the humanities and social sciences are typically the most extensive. These projects often include detailed analyses, case studies, and literature reviews. By contrast, dissertations in STEM fields like economics and mathematics are often 150 pages or less.

Students in these disciplines frequently use mathematical formulas and data visualizations to prove their findings, resulting in less text.

Why Are Dissertations So Long?

Woman reading her dissertation

Dissertations are typically the most extended assignments that students complete in graduate school. Several factors contribute to their length, including:

  • Depth of research. Doctoral students can spend several years researching their topic and analyzing data. This extensive work often takes hundreds of pages to summarize and explain.
  • Literature review. Most fields have extensive bodies of scholarship, so students spend many pages analyzing sources and contextualizing their projects.
  • Bibliography. Dissertations often cite dozens or even hundreds of sources, resulting in lengthy bibliographies.

Also, colleges often require dissertations to include additional materials like abstracts and tables of content.

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

Depending on the type of graduate program you enroll in, you may be required to write a dissertation or thesis. Here are the main differences between a thesis vs. dissertation.

Thesis Dissertation
  • Often required by master’s degree programs
  • Summarizes existing research on a topic
  • Typically ranges from 50 to 100 pages
  • Typically completed at the end of a PhD program
  • Mainly consists of the author’s unique research
  • Average length is 100 to 250 pages

If you want to develop your own concepts or theories, a dissertation can help you accomplish this goal.

What’s the Difference Between a Capstone vs. Dissertation?

There are doctorate programs with no dissertation. Like some online doctoral programs in education without dissertation requirements, they have a capstone project instead. Here’s a comparison of a dissertation vs. capstone.

Dissertation Capstone
  • Typically required by PhD programs
  • Focuses on generating original academic research
  • Consists of a traditional written document
  • Often part of doctorate programs that teach professional skills
  • Focuses on applying existing knowledge and theories to real problems in the field
  • May consist of a paper, portfolio, or project

Your career goals can help determine if a capstone or dissertation is right for you.

How Long Is a Dissertation for a PhD Degree?

students taking PhD degree, working on their dissertation

People often wonder, “How long is a PhD dissertation?” These projects are typically 100 to 250 pages long, though dissertations on complex topics may total more than 400 pages.

Writing a dissertation allows you to develop advanced expertise on your chosen research topic. Many students also publish portions of their dissertations as peer-reviewed articles and share their findings at conferences. These activities enhance your CV and may make you more competitive for academic jobs.

You can kickstart your doctoral journey today by researching accredited online programs in your field.

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