How long is a Thesis or dissertation? [the data]

Writing a thesis for your undergraduate, master’s, or PhD can be a very daunting task. Especially when you consider how long a thesis can get. However, not all theses are the same length and the expected submission length is dependent on the level of study that you are currently enrolled in and the field in which you are studying.

An undergraduate thesis is likely to be about 20 to 50 pages long. A Master’s thesis is likely to be between 30 and 100 pages in length and a PhD dissertation is likely to be between 50 and 450 pages long.

In the table below I highlight the typical length of an undergraduate, master’s, and PhD.

Level of studyPagesWords
Undergraduate20 – 5010,000 – 30,000
Masters30 – 10025,000 – 50,000
PhD50 – 45060,000 – 80,000

It is important to note that this is highly dependent on the field of study and the expectations of your university, field, and research group.

If you want to know more about how long a Masters’s thesis and PhD dissertation is you can check out my other articles:

These articles go into a lot more detail and specifics of each level of study.

Let’s take a more detailed look at the length of a thesis or dissertation. We’ll start from the very basics including what a thesis or dissertation really is.

What exactly is a thesis or a dissertation?

A thesis or a dissertation is a research project that is typically required of students in order to gain an advanced degree.

A dissertation is usually much longer and more detailed than a thesis, but they both involve extensive research and provide an in-depth analysis of their given subject.

Many people use the term interchangeably but quite often a Masters level research project results in a thesis. While a PhD research project results in a much longer dissertation.

Thesis work is usually completed over the course of several months and can require multiple drafts and revisions before being accepted. These will be looked over by your supervisor to ensure that you are meeting the expectations and standards of your research field.

PhD Dissertations are typically even more involved, taking years to complete. My PhD took me three years to complete but it is usual for them to take more than five years.

Both a thesis and a dissertation involve researching a particular topic, formulating an argument based on evidence gathered from the research, and presenting the findings in written form for review by peers or faculty members.

My Master’s thesis was reviewed by the chemistry Department whilst my PhD thesis was sent to experts in the field around the world.

Ultimately, these experts provide a commentary on whether or not you have reached the standards required of the University for admittance into the degree and the final decision will be made upon reviewing these comments by your universities graduation committee.

There are several outcomes including:

  • accepted without changes – this is where you must make no changes to your thesis and is accepted as is.
  • accepted with minor changes this is where your thesis will require some minor changes before being admitted to the degree. Usually, it is not sent back to the reviewers.
  • Major changes – this is where the committee has decided that you need to rework a number of major themes in your thesis and will likely want to see it at a later stage.
  • Rejected – this is where the thesis is rejected and the recommendation to downgrade your degree is made.

What is the typical length of a thesis or dissertation?

The length of a thesis or dissertation varies significantly according to the field of study and institution.

Generally, an undergraduate thesis is between 20-50 pages long while a PhD dissertation can range from 90-500 pages in length.

However, longer is not necessarily better as a highly mathematical PhD thesis with proofs may only be 50 pages long.

It also depends on the complexity of the topic being studied and the amount of research required to complete it.

A PhD dissertation should contain as many pages and words as it takes to outline the current state of your field and provide adequate background information, present your results, and provide confidence in your conclusions. A PhD dissertation will also contain figures, graphs, schematics, and other large pictorial items that can easily inflate the page count.

Here is a boxplot summary of many different fields of study and the number of pages of a typical PhD dissertation in the field. It has been created by Marcus Beck from all of the dissertations at the University of Minnesota.

Typically, the mathematical sciences, economics, and biostatistics theses and dissertations tend to be shorter because they rely on mathematical formulas to provide proof of their results rather than diagrams and long explanations.

On the other end of the scale, English, communication studies, political science, history and anthropology are often the largest theses in terms of pages and word count because of the number of words it takes to provide proof and depth of their results.

At the end of the day, it is important that your thesis gets signed off by your review committee and other experts in the field. Your supervisor will be the main judge of whether or not your dissertation is capable of satisfying the requirements of a master’s or doctoral degree in your field. 

How Many Pages Should a Master or PhD Thesis Have? Length of a thesis?

The length of a master’s thesis can vary greatly depending on the subject and format.

Generally, a masters thesis is expected to be around 100 pages long and should include:

  • a title page,
  • abstract,
  • table of contents,
  • introduction,
  • literature review, 
  • main test and body of work, 
  • discussions and citations,
  • conclusion,
  • bibliography
  • and (sometimes) appendix.

Your supervisor should provide you with a specific format that you are expected to follow.

Depending on your field of study and the word count specified by your supervisor, these guidelines may change. The student must ask their advisor for examples of past student thesis and doctoral dissertations. 

For example, if there is a limited number of words allowed in the thesis then it may not be possible to have 100 pages or more for the thesis.

Additionally, if you are including a lot of technical information such as diagrams or tables in the appendix then this could increase the page count as well. For example, my PhD thesis contained a page like the one below. This page only contains images from atomic force microscopy. Because my PhD was very visual many pages like this exist.

Ultimately it is important to consult with your supervisor and determine how many pages your master’s thesis or PhD dissertation will be expected to have.

How long does it take to write a graduate thesis? Write your thesis quickly

Writing a graduate thesis can be a daunting task.

It is typically expected to take anywhere from one to three years, depending on the subject and scope of the project.

However, this is not just writing. A typical thesis or dissertation will require you to:

  1. formulate a research question
  2. do a literature review
  3. create research methodology
  4. perform original research
  5. collect and analyse results
  6. write peer-reviewed research papers
  7. write a PhD/masters thesis
  8. submit thesis and respond to examiners comments.

The actual writing component of a thesis or dissertation can take anywhere from one month to 6 months depending on how focused the graduate student is.

The amount of time it takes to write a thesis or dissertation can vary based on many factors, such as the type of research required, the length of the project, and other commitments that may interfere with progress.

Some students may have difficulty focusing or understanding their topic which can also add to the amount of time it takes to complete the project.

Regardless, writing a thesis is an important part of obtaining a graduate degree and should not be taken lightly.

It requires dedication and determination in order for one to successfully complete a thesis or dissertation within an appropriate timeframe.

In my YouTube video, below, I talk about how to finish your thesis or dissertation quickly:

it is full of a load of secrets including owning your day, managing your supervisor relationship, setting many goals, progress over perfection, and working with your own body clock to maximise productivity.

Wrapping up

This article has been through everything you need to know about the typical length of a thesis.

The answer to this question is highly dependent on your field of study and the expectations of your supervisor and university.

The Author

Dr Andrew Stapleton has a Masters and PhD in Chemistry from the UK and Australia. He has many years of research experience and has worked as a Postdoctoral Fellow and Associate at a number of Universities. Although having secured funding for his own research, he left academia to help others with his YouTube channel all about the inner workings of academia and how to make it work for you.