Dissertation Length - No hard rule

Discussion in 'General Distance Learning Discussions' started by PaulC, Jan 15, 2003.

  1. PaulC

    PaulC Member

    There is currently a discussion going on in another thread about dissertation length. Some proposing that perhaps length is a meaningful indicator of merit.

    Before I stared on my dissertation, I wanted to have as good a sense as I could about what type of work was accepted at half a dozen well known or well resected regionally accredited institutions. I researched UMI and purchased six dissertations of vaguely similar topics or at least similar methodologies.

    The dissertations came from:

    University of New Mexico
    Penn State
    University of Washington
    Mississippi State

    The dissertations ranged in length from 48 pages to 150 pages. All followed a 5-chapter format. Some were very limited lit reviews and others had proportionally longer lit reviews. The bottom line was that all of these respected regionally accredited universities had quite a few qualitative dissertations that were not limited in success by a minimum required page count.

    By the way, I would urge anyone nearing the dissertation stage of his or her doctoral program to purchase several completed dissertations in their field and of similar methodologies. It was a great help to have them as reference.
  2. me again

    me again Well-Known Member

    Facinating Topic

    Coincidently and within the last couple of days, I was reading about the dissertation topic at a RA university and it stipulated that their required dissertation may be anywhere from 75 to 150 pages in length. But I can't remember from which school that I read it.
  3. obecve

    obecve New Member

    I have read about 50 dissertations (either while preparing for my own or as part of a study group that helped people finish their dissertations). I have seen them as short as 104 pages and over 500 pages. The quantitative dissertations tended to be longer and follow the 5 chapter format. The qualitative dissertations were all over 300 pages and many were more than 5 chapters. The feature that was common to all of the dissertations was the generation of new ideas or new information. Length was not the key---quality efforts and new concepts were.
  4. Re: Facinating Topic

    I remember reading, in 1999, what I believe was the Ph.D. Regulations for DeMontfort UNiversity in UK. The cap on size was no more than 100,000 words for a Ph.D. dissertation. I don't remember the minimum. I later recalled that my Columbia Commonwealth masters thesis had been 107,000 words. I then realized that I would one day have to learn to edit size without losing any important content. Last year, I wrote a chapter (the epilogue) for a new academic book published by Ashgate in UK. By the time I submitted the final edit I had been required to chop it down from 16,000 words to a little over 7,000. It was an interesting exercise to work through.
  5. maranto

    maranto New Member

    One interesting bit of human psychology that I've found… typically anyone who has gone through the ordeal of authoring a dissertation will be so permanently scared by the event that they will forever have the total page length branded into their memory (mine was 212 pages). Anecdotally I've found this to be a truism. Go up to any still sharp octogenarian holding a doctorate and within a few seconds, they'll be able to tell you the page measure of their dissertation that they wrote before the Korean War… it's quite an interesting experiment.

    By the way, once I took my dissertation and readied it for publication in a peer review journal (and cut away all of the "extra" academic stuff), the document condensed nicely to 17 pages. Oh well.

    Tony Maranto
  6. roysavia

    roysavia New Member

    Interestingly enough the length of my dissertation was 270 pages. Obviously is was accepted by my supervisory committee. Now, had I submitted my dissertation to schools like Deakin, U. of London, Manchester, Keele, Liecester or several others in the U.K. and Australia, it most likely would have been returned to me. They require a minimum of 80,000 words (300+ pages). Research doctorate programs do not have cousework or comprehensive examinations. In the U.S and Canadian, universities don't have a minimum word requirement. If you look at other PhD dissertations (look in the archives of your university's library) you will see that they vary from 50 to 800 pages in length.
  7. PaulC

    PaulC Member

    You bring up an interesting point. Research only doctoral programs, such as those found in the UK, often require no coursework and can have defined minimum page length for dissertations. Let's say 300 pages minimum.

    My Capella dissertation was 138 pages. However, my comps were 85 pages and my combined research papers for my coursework totaled over 250 pages. So, if one were only looking at pages written in the doctoral quest, my total would be something around 470 pages.

    If you don't have to do any coursework, I can understand why a school might look at a minimum page length. For those that struggle through research based coursework, written comprehensives, and a dissertation...well, clearly there is some difference between the dissertation only process and the traditional American process. Both are valid.
  8. maranto

    maranto New Member

    Agree. Research only doctorates are a horse of a different color. If I had to add up all of the writing involved in the coursework leading up to my research project... well, I don't know what the total would be, but the combined bulk neatly fills up the storage space under my staircase.

  9. Anthony Pina

    Anthony Pina Active Member

    Several months ago, I was visiting a large research university and spent some time at their collection of over 1,500 dissertations. The shortest ones--just over 100 pages--were all quantitative experimental studies. The longest ones--400-700 pages--tended to be qualitative/historical studies. The average length appeared to be 150-200 pages.

    Tony Piña
    School of Education, La Sierra University
    School of Education, Cal State U. San Bernardino
  10. Rich Douglas

    Rich Douglas Well-Known Member

    I submitted a quantitative study in my UIU program. The dissertation was 175 pages, inclusive. (Only 8 pages of appendices, the survey instrument.)
  11. telfax

    telfax New Member

    Stop doing this!

    Stop doing this! A doctorate is about quality NOT QUANTITY! Einstein's Theory of Relativity could have been written on a piece of paper the size of a postage stamp! As ha been mentioned, social science type theses tend to be longer in terms of word length, often because they include the writing up of case studies. In the UK specific and we think in terms of word length not pages, bearing in mind that an A$ size piece of paper (unknown generally in the USA) accommodates approximately 240 words (double spacing). With one or two exceptions (Oxford, for example) the maximum word length for a PhD is 80,000 (Oxford and one or two others is 100,000 words) and these days candidates are penlised if they go significantly over this word length. More technolical/scientific PhDs may be fewer words.

    The UK professional doctorates (still regarded as taught research degrees) such as EdD, DBA, etc vary enormously. The thesis for some, typically averages 50,000 words plus course work although some institutions allow course work assignmentas anf two 20,000 word projects. One DBA requires 30,000 words course work and an 80,000 words thesis! So, there is no overall clear picture for UK professional doctorates. However, in many institutions, the assignment requirements for the course work can end up being chapters for the final thesis. Typically a British PhD is 10 chapters with a very heavy emphasis on detailed literature reviews and demonstration iof research capability whereas other institutions place greater emphasis on 'contribution to knowledge' in a deeper and wider sense than some other establishments.


  12. Jeff Hampton

    Jeff Hampton New Member

    >>A doctorate is about quality NOT QUANTITY!<<

    I couldn't agree more. However, it's interesting that the bulk of your post deals with REQUIRED word lenghths, whether minimums or maximums.
  13. obecve

    obecve New Member

    In response to Moranto...242 pages reduced from an original of over 350 pages, and written comps were 66 pages. I remember oh so well.
  14. roysavia

    roysavia New Member

    Yes it is about quality not quantity. However, many universities are requiring their doctoral candidates to produce a minimum number of pages. However, the rule-of-thumb for North American universities is 150-200 pages (depends on the discipline). I have asked several Arts & Science professors at U of T for their opinion on what is an acceptable length. They prefer to see 150 -200 pages.
  15. PaulC

    PaulC Member

    One of my dissertation committee members was a former Dean of the School of Education at UMass. He vehemently refused to discuss page length. So too my Committee Chair refused to discuss page length.

    I am with telfax on this. I started this thread not to validate some arbitrary page length for dissertations, but to make the point that, in my humble opinion, the focus on page length is ridiculous. You could gather one hundred doctoral candidates and they could all quote their own experience as to what they found and where...20 pages to 500 pages, 80 pages to 400 pages, 100 as average, 180 as average...it is all meaningless.

    Length only matters if your school has some fixation about size. Otherwise, if you have a committee of respected academics, they will gladly tell you if you have covered what you needed to cover in the number of pages you have assembled.
  16. roysavia

    roysavia New Member

    Hey, I'm with you on this issue. Some schools do have a fixation on the number of pages they expect from their students. Its just that some profs want to see quality mixed with a bit of quantity. It varies from school to school and supervisory committee to supervisory committee.
  17. Ike

    Ike New Member

    Please note that "Quantitative Approach" and "Qualitative Approach" are two approaches that are often used to conduct researches. I suppose that you are not confusing "Qualitative Research" with "quality" or "Quantitative Research" with "quantity".
    What some posters are saying is that "quantitative" dissertations such as researches in natural sciences that employ several statistical and mathematical methods are usually smaller than "qualitative" dissertations that are usually descriptive in nature. One example of a "quantitative" dissertation is Dr. John Nash's dissertation that is only 23 pages in length.
  18. nanjc

    nanjc New Member

    Length of Dissertation

    The critical issue is not how long should a dissertation be but rather have/has the research question/s been answered! Have you met your outcomes or research objectives? If these question are taken care of, then the length will dictate itself!
  19. telefax

    telefax New Member


    I agree. It may be too tempting for people to focus on dissertation length to the point where this even becomes a factor in their choice of a school.
  20. telfax

    telfax New Member


    This is where experience comes in and you know what actually isneeded to produce a sound doctoral thesis (dissertation in the USA). 'Typically', by the time you've done a thorough 'literature review', a thorough 'research methods' (what I prefer to label as 'research process' ) chapter and have rehearsed that facts that you are aware of all the various approaches, and then complete your research and its analysis and draw some conclusions, you are into approximating 80,000 words - at least in a typical UK PhD (in most subjects - perghaps not mathematics and other scientific PhS where equations (and their like) have a part to play.


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