How long should your doctoral dissertation be?

Many PhD students are concerned about overdoing or under delivering on their doctoral dissertation. While some will tell you that there is a minimum required length for a doctoral dissertation, there are those who will tell you that length really doesn’t matter. So which one is true? The trick is to find a balance between too much and too little. Here are some factors to take into consideration.

Some insight into page numbers and word count

The consensus seems to be that 75 pages is the minimum for a doctoral dissertation. This also assumes that each page contains 500 words on average. While this is a good guideline to follow, going over or falling under this page/word count is not an issue—provided you deliver a dissertation that meets all its requirements.

There are many other factors that should be taken into account before using this guideline as a rule of thumb.

Your field of study

The subject you are writing on will also influence your word count. While engineering may require an average word count of 80 000, there are other subjects that may require less, or more. A good way to gauge whether yours falls into the right margin, is to either ask your professor, or get hold of a dissertation sample that fits your field of study.

Section length

It’s important not to just focus on the word count as a whole, but the word count for each section. The abstract, introduction, thesis, conclusion, statement, etc. all have approximate word count requirements; so clue yourself in on what all of those are. Again, the best way to get a good idea of how many words each section should contain is to source a decent dissertation example that’s relevant to your subject.

Write less and say more

Something to bear in mind about your dissertation is that relevance is of more importance than word count. If you can say a lot in few words, then you’re on the right track. Avoid using empty words for the sake of filling in space. Your dissertation will read a lot better if it’s packed full of interesting, relevant information that contributes to your paper as a whole.

So in conclusion, perhaps the question, “How long should my doctoral dissertation be?” is not the right question to ask. Rather concentrate on relevance and good research and the word count will take care of itself.

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