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Why does a masters thesis need to be 50+ pages? Especially if the same work is published in a <20 page article?

I stumbled across this post:

Is it ethical/legal to publish Master thesis manuscript as a journal paper?

Let me quote the top poster.

However, an MSc thesis is typically 50-100 pages long. A paper is (in a dense journal format) typically 8-12 pages long. Let's make a generous estimate for 20 pages in the thesis layout. So either your thesis is very thin, or the journal is very generous, both of which seems unlikely.

I'm currently finishing my master thesis. My professor likes the empirical results and told me I should orient myself to some journal articles in the respective journal he wants me to publish.

Why does a master thesis have to be 50-100 pages long?

I have written some parts of the thesis before and now that I am writing with the publication in mind I cut out >50%. I've realized that almost all of it was unecessary, boring "fluff" about definitions that every informed reader already knows or if not could find out much more easily online than reading my thesis.

Henceforth, the quote above concerned me.

I thought there is no problem in writing for a journal at the same time while writing the thesis. I plan to hand in my master thesis with approx. 30 pages. Everything is concisely explained. All other supplementary stuff will be pushed to the appendix.

I always found it particularly upsetting to have a minimum page number requirement. If its good, its good, or am I wrong?

cag51's user avatar

  • 4 Does your institution have a 50 page minimum, or are you just taking that from this SE post mentioning what is "typical"? –  Bryan Krause ♦ Commented Mar 29, 2023 at 14:13
  • 1 My university also has guidelines that master-thesis "should" be around 60 p. (+/- 10%). Of course I need to reconcile that with my own University. Yet still, this seems to be a wider trend in academia? I've seen thesis in our library database that write up to 80-100 p. even though the essential point could be made in under 40. –  rememberthename_ Commented Mar 29, 2023 at 14:22
  • Many schools still apply formatting such as double spacing, 12 point font, large margins, etc. to theses as a carryover from the days where they were microfilmed. This can easily double to quadruple the page count from a dense journal format. Page count is thus impossible to compare. Word count would be a more accurate comparison. –  user71659 Commented Mar 29, 2023 at 23:30

Actually, a masters thesis only needs to be as long as it needs to be. There may be some expectations by individual university departments or advisors on some minimum length, but not universally true.

In some fields theses might naturally be longer. My daughter's philosophy doctoral thesis was longer than my (quite long) math doctoral thesis as she needed a lot of supporting material and I only needed proofs.

If 30 pages is fine with your institution, then it is fine for all.

But note that a thesis of any kind normally needs more background material since, among other things, you are trying to convince professionals that you know what you are talking about. A paper, on the other hand, can dispense with saying a lot of what professionals can already be expected to know. So, a paper derived from a thesis is likely to be shorter; naturally so. Not universally so, of course.

Buffy's user avatar

  • That is interesting. I am writing in economics. Ultimately I would say the empirical results speak for themselve. If I would stretch the thesis this would mean explaining the methodology with 6-7 pages more instead of referencing to a book where it is explained ... writing 3-4 pages on a definition of a phenomena that has already been defined numerous times. I need to check back with my professor what he prefers. –  rememberthename_ Commented Mar 29, 2023 at 14:24
  • 3 Make your prof happy for the thesis. Make your editor happy for a paper. Copacetic. –  Buffy Commented Mar 29, 2023 at 14:27
  • 1 @HansD. I'd think of a thesis more like a merger between a publishable paper and a term paper you would write for a course. You're applying guidelines that you should apply to a paper to a thing that isn't that. –  Bryan Krause ♦ Commented Mar 29, 2023 at 14:28
  • 5 @HansD. the most important point (in my opinion at least) in Buffy's answer is that a master thesis and an article have different goals. For a master thesis you try to convince your instructor that you are good enough. In an article whether you are good or bad is irrelevant. It is all about the content: you have a possible answer to a question and you present your arguments. Different goals lead to different texts and text lengths. –  Maarten Buis Commented Mar 29, 2023 at 14:58

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master's thesis minimum word count

  • Formatting Your Dissertation
  • Introduction

Harvard Griffin GSAS strives to provide students with timely, accurate, and clear information. If you need help understanding a specific policy, please contact the office that administers that policy.

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When preparing the dissertation for submission, students must meet the following minimum formatting requirements. The Registrar’s Office will review the dissertation for compliance and these formatting elements and will contact the student to confirm acceptance or to request revision. The Harvard Griffin GSAS resource on dissertation formatting best practices expands on many of the elements below.

Please carefully review your dissertation before submitting it to ProQuestETD. The Registrar’s Office will email you through ProQuest if they have identified major formatting errors that need correction. Students will be provided with a brief extended deadline to make only the requested formatting updates.  

  • Embedded Fonts : If fonts are not embedded, non-English characters may not appear as intended. It is the student’s responsibility to make sure that fonts are embedded properly prior to submission. Instructions for embedding fonts can be found on the Dissertation Formatting Guidance resource .  
  • Thesis Acceptance Certificate: A copy of the Thesis Acceptance Certificate (TAC) should appear as the first page. This page should not be counted or numbered. The TAC will appear in the online version of the published dissertation. The author name and date on the TAC and title page should be the same.  
  • Title Page: The dissertation begins with the title page; the title should be as concise as possible and should provide an accurate description of the dissertation. The author name and date on the TAC and title page should be the same. Do not print a page number on the title page. It is understood to be page  i  for counting purposes only. 
  • Abstract : An abstract, numbered as page  iii , should immediately follow the copyright page and should state the problem, describe the methods and procedures used, and give the main results or conclusions of the research. The abstract will appear in the online version of the dissertation and will be made available by ProQuest and DASH. There is no maximum word count for the abstract.  
  • Preliminary pages (abstract, table of contents, list of tables, graphs, illustrations, and preface) should use small Roman numerals (i, ii, iii, iv, v, etc.). 
  • All pages must contain text or images.  
  • Count the title page as page i and the copyright page as page ii, but do not print page numbers on either page. 
  • For the body of text, use Arabic numbers (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, etc.) starting with page 1 on the first page of text.
  • Page numbers must be centered throughout the manuscript at the top or bottom. 
  • Every numbered page must be consecutively ordered, including tables, graphs, illustrations, and bibliography/index (if included); letter suffixes (such as 10a, 10b, etc.) are not allowed. 
  • It is customary not to have a page number on the page containing a chapter heading. Check pagination carefully. Account for all pages. 
  • Copyright Statement: A copyright notice should appear on a separate page immediately following the title page and include the copyright symbol ©, the year of first publication of the work, and the name of the author: © [ year ] [ Author’s Name ]. All rights reserved. Alternatively, students may choose to license their work openly under a Creative Commons license. The author remains the copyright holder while at the same time granting upfront permission to others to read, share, and—depending on the license—adapt the work so long as proper attribution is given. (If a student chooses a Creative Commons license, the copyright statement must not include the “all rights reserved” disclaimer and should instead indicate the specific Creative Commons license.) Please note: The copyright statement applies only to the student’s own work; the copyright status of third-party material incorporated into the dissertation will not change. Do not  print a page number on the copyright page. It is understood to be page  ii  for counting purposes only. 
  • Abstract 
  • Table of Contents 
  • Front Matter 
  • Body of Text 
  • Back Matter 

Students can refer to the resource on Dissertation Formatting Best Practice Resource for information on best practices for front and back matter

Individual academic programs may require additional formatting elements to meet the standards of a specific field or discipline. Students are responsible to ensure that their Dissertation Advisory Committee is in support of the final formatting as signified by the sign off on the Thesis Acceptance Certificate. Any deviation from these requirements may lead to rejection of the dissertation and delay in the conferral of the degree. 

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Word limits and requirements of your Degree Committee

Candidates should write as concisely as is possible, with clear and adequate exposition. Each Degree Committee has prescribed the limits of length and stylistic requirements as given below. On submission of the thesis you must include a statement of length confirming that it does not exceed the word limit for your Degree Committee.

These limits and requirements are strictly observed by the Postgraduate Committee and the Degree Committees and, unless approval to exceed the prescribed limit has been obtained beforehand (see: Extending the Word Limit below), a thesis that exceeds the limit may not be examined until its length complies with the prescribed limit.

Extending the Word Limit

Thesis word limits are set by Degree Committees. If candidates need to increase their word limits they will need to apply for permission.

Information on how to apply (via self-service account) is available on the ‘ Applying for a change in your student status’  page. If following your viva, you are required to make corrections to your thesis which will mean you need to increase your word-limit, you need to apply for permission in the same way.

Requirements of the Degree Committees

Archaeology and anthropology, architecture and history of art, asian and middle eastern studies, business and management, clinical medicine and clinical veterinary medicine, computer laboratory, earth sciences and geography, scott polar institute, engineering, history and philosophy of science, land economy, mathematics, modern and medieval languages and linguistics, physics and chemistry, politics and international studies, archaeology and social anthropology.

The thesis is not to exceed 80,000 words (approx. 350 pages) for the PhD degree and 60,000 words for the MSc or MLitt degree. These limits include all text, figures, tables and photographs, but exclude the bibliography, cited references and appendices. More detailed specifications should be obtained from the Division concerned. Permission to exceed these limits will be granted only after a special application to the Degree Committee. The application must explain in detail the reasons why an extension is being sought and the nature of the additional material, and must be supported by a reasoned case from the supervisor containing a recommendation that a candidate should be allowed to exceed the word limit by a specified number of words. Such permission will be granted only under exceptional circumstances. If candidates need to apply for permission to exceed the word limit, they should do so in good time before the date on which a candidate proposes to submit the thesis, by application made to the Graduate Committee.

Biological Anthropology:

Students may choose between two alternative thesis formats for their work:

either in the form of a thesis of not more than 80,000 words in length for the PhD degree and 60,000 words for the MSc or MLitt degree. The limits include all text, in-text citations, figures, tables, captions and footnotes but exclude bibliography and appendices; or

in the form of a collection of at least three research articles for the PhD degree and two research articles for the MSc or MLitt degree, formatted as an integrated piece of research, with a table of contents, one or more chapters that outline the scope and provide an in-depth review of the subject of study, a concluding chapter discussing the findings and contribution to the field, and a consolidated bibliography. The articles may be in preparation, submitted for publication or already published, and the combined work should not exceed 80,000 words in length for the PhD degree and 60,000 words for the MSc or MLitt degree. The word limits include all text, in-text citations, figures, tables, captions, and footnotes but exclude bibliography and appendices containing supplementary information associated with the articles. More information on the inclusion of material published, in press or in preparation in a PhD thesis may be found in the Department’s PhD submission guidelines.

Architecture:

The thesis is not to exceed 80,000 words for the PhD and 60,000 words for the MSc or MLitt degree. Footnotes, references and text within tables are to be counted within the word-limit, but captions, appendices and bibliographies are excluded. Appendices should be confined to such items as catalogues, original texts, translations of texts, transcriptions of interview, or tables.

History of Art:

The thesis is not to exceed 80,000 words for the PhD and 60,000 words for the MLitt degree. To include: footnotes, table of contents and list of illustrations, but excluding acknowledgements and the bibliography. Appendices (of no determined word length) may be permitted subject to the approval of the candidate's Supervisor (in consultation with the Degree Committee); for example, where a catalogue of works or the transcription of extensive primary source material is germane to the work. Permission to include such appendices must be requested from the candidate's Supervisor well in advance of the submission of the final thesis. NB: Permission for extensions to the word limit for most other purposes is likely to be refused.

The thesis is for the PhD degree not to exceed 80,000 words exclusive of footnotes, appendices and bibliography but subject to an overall word limit of 100,000 words exclusive of bibliography. For the MLitt degree not to exceed 60,000 words inclusive of footnotes but exclusive of bibliography and appendices.

The thesis for the PhD is not to exceed 60,000 words in length (80,000 by special permission), exclusive of tables, footnotes, bibliography, and appendices. Double-spaced or one-and-a-half spaced. Single or double-sided printing.

The thesis for the MPhil in Biological Science is not to exceed 20,000 words in length, exclusive of tables, footnotes, bibliography, and appendices. Double-spaced or one-and-a-half spaced. Single or double-sided printing.

For the PhD Degree the thesis is not to exceed 80,000 words, EXCLUDING bibliography, but including tables, tables of contents, footnotes and appendices. It is normally expected to exceed 40,000 words unless prior permission is obtained from the Degree Committee. Each page of statistical tables, charts or diagrams shall be regarded as equivalent to a page of text of the same size. The Degree Committee do not consider applications to extend this word limit.

For the Doctor of Business (BusD) the thesis will be approximately 200 pages (a maximum length of 80,000 words, EXCLUDING bibliography, but including tables, tables of contents, footnotes and appendices).

For the MSc Degree the thesis is not to exceed 40,000 words, EXCLUDING bibliography, but including tables, tables of contents, footnotes and appendices.

The thesis is not to exceed 80,000 words including footnotes, references, and appendices but excluding bibliography; a page of statistics shall be regarded as the equivalent of 150 words. Only under exceptional circumstances will permission be granted to exceed this limit. Candidates must submit with the thesis a signed statement giving the length of the thesis.

For the PhD degree, not to exceed 60,000 words (or 80,000 by special permission of the Degree Committee), and for the MSc degree, not to exceed 40,000 words. These limits exclude figures, photographs, tables, appendices and bibliography. Lines to be double or one-and-a-half spaced; pages to be double or single sided.

The thesis is not to exceed, without the prior permission of the Degree Committee, 60,000 words including tables, footnotes and equations, but excluding appendices, bibliography, photographs and diagrams. Any thesis which without prior permission of the Degree Committee exceeds the permitted limit will be referred back to the candidate before being forwarded to the examiners.

The thesis is not to exceed 80,000 words for the PhD degree and the MLitt degree, including footnotes, references and appendices but excluding bibliography. Candidates must submit with the thesis a signed statement giving the length of the thesis. Only under exceptional circumstances will permission be granted to exceed this limit for the inclusion of an appendix of a substantial quantity of text which is necessary for the understanding of the thesis (e.g. texts in translation, transcription of extensive primary source material). Permission must be sought at least three months before submission of the thesis and be supported by a letter from the supervisor certifying that such exemption from the prescribed limit of length is absolutely necessary.

The thesis is not to exceed, without the prior permission of the Degree Committee, 80,000 words for the PhD degree and 60,000 words for the MSc or MLitt degree, including the summary/abstract.  The table of contents, photographs, diagrams, figure captions, appendices, bibliography and acknowledgements to not count towards the word limit. Footnotes are not included in the word limit where they are a necessary part of the referencing system used.

Earth Sciences:

The thesis is not to exceed, without the prior permission of the Degree Committee, 275 numbered pages of which not more than 225 pages are text, appendices, illustrations and bibliography. A page of text is A4 one-and-a-half-spaced normal size type. The additional 50 pages may comprise tables of data and/or computer programmes reduced in size.

If a candidate's work falls within the social sciences, candidates are expected to observe the limit described in the Department of Geography above; if, however, a candidate's work falls within the natural sciences, a candidate should observe the limit described in the Department of Earth Sciences.

Applications for the limit of length of the thesis to be exceeded must be early — certainly no later than the time when the application for the appointment of examiners and the approval of the title of the thesis is made. Any thesis which, without the prior permission of the Degree Committee, exceeds the permitted limit of length will be referred back to the candidate before being forwarded to the examiners.

The thesis is not to exceed, without the prior permission of the Degree Committee, 60,000 words including tables, footnotes, bibliography and appendices. The Degree Committee points out that some of the best thesis extend to only half this length. Each page of statistical tables, charts or diagrams shall be regarded as equivalent to a page of text of the same size.

The thesis is not to exceed 80,000 words for the PhD and EdD degrees and 60,000 words for the MSc and MLitt degrees, in all cases excluding appendices, footnotes, reference list or bibliography. Only in the most exceptional circumstances will permission be given to exceed the stated limits. In such cases, you must make an application to the Degree Committee as early as possible -and no later than three months before it is proposed to submit the thesis, having regard to the dates of the Degree Committee meetings. Your application should (a) explain in detail the reasons why you are seeking the extension and (b) be accompanied by a full supporting statement from your supervisor showing that the extension is absolutely necessary in the interests of the total presentation of the subject.

For the PhD degree, not to exceed, without prior permission of the Degree Committee, 65,000 words, including appendices, footnotes, tables and equations not to contain more than 150 figures, but excluding the bibliography. A candidate must submit with their thesis a statement signed by the candidate themself giving the length of the thesis and the number of figures. Any thesis which, without the prior permission of the Degree Committee, exceeds the permitted limit will be referred back to the candidate before being forwarded to the examiners.

The thesis is not to exceed 80,000 words or go below 60,000 words for the PhD degree and not to exceed 60,000 words or go below 45,000 words for the MLitt degree, both including all notes and appendices but excluding the bibliography. A candidate must add to the preface of the thesis the following signed statement: 'The thesis does not exceed the regulation length, including footnotes, references and appendices but excluding the bibliography.'

In exceptional cases (when, for example, a candidate's thesis largely consists of an edition of a text) the Degree Committee may grant permission to exceed these limits but in such instances (a) a candidate must apply to exceed the length at least three months before the date on which a candidate proposes to submit their thesis and (b) the application must be supported by a letter from a candidate's supervisor certifying that such exemption from the prescribed limit of length is absolutely necessary.

It is a requirement of the Degree Committee for the Faculty of English that thesis must conform to either the MHRA Style Book or the MLA Handbook for the Writers of Research papers, available from major bookshops. There is one proviso, however, to the use of these manuals: the Faculty does not normally recommend that students use the author/date form of citation and recommends that footnotes rather than endnotes be used. Bibliographies and references in thesis presented by candidates in ASNaC should conform with either of the above or to the practice specified in Cambridge Studies in Anglo-Saxon England.

Thesis presented by candidates in the Research Centre for English and Applied Linguistics must follow as closely as possible the printed style of the journal Applied Linguistics and referencing and spelling conventions should be consistent.

A signed declaration of the style-sheet used (and the edition, if relevant) must be made in the preliminary pages of the thesis.

PhD theses MUST NOT exceed 80,000 words, and will normally be near that length.

A minimum word length exists for PhD theses: 70,000 words (50,000 for MLitt theses)

The word limit includes appendices and the contents page but excludes the abstract, acknowledgments, footnotes, references, notes on transliteration, bibliography, abbreviations and glossary.  The Contents Page should be included in the word limit. Statistical tables should be counted as 150 words per table. Maps, illustrations and other pictorial images count as 0 words. Graphs, if they are the only representation of the data being presented, are to be counted as 150 words. However, if graphs are used as an illustration of statistical data that is also presented elsewhere within the thesis (as a table for instance), then the graphs count as 0 words.

Only under exceptional circumstances will permission be granted to exceed this limit. Applications for permission are made via CamSIS self-service pages. Applications must be made at least four months before the thesis is bound. Exceptions are granted when a compelling intellectual case is made.

The thesis is not to exceed 80,000 words for the PhD degree and 60,000 words for the MLitt degree, in all cases including footnotes and appendices but excluding bibliography. Permission to submit a thesis falling outside these limits, or to submit an appendix which does not count towards the word limit, must be obtained in advance from the Degree Committee.

The thesis is not to exceed 80,000 for the PhD degree and 60,000 words for the MSc or MLitt degree, both including footnotes, references and appendices but excluding bibliographies. One A4 page consisting largely of statistics, symbols or figures shall be regarded as the equivalent of 250 words. A candidate must add to the preface of their thesis the following signed statement: 'This thesis does not exceed the regulation length, including footnotes, references and appendices.'

For the PhD degree the thesis is not to exceed 80,000 words (exclusive of footnotes, appendices and bibliography) but subject to an overall word limit of 100,000 words (exclusive of bibliography, table of contents and any other preliminary matter). Figures, tables, images etc should be counted as the equivalent of 200 words for each A4 page, or part of an A4 page, that they occupy. For the MLitt degree the thesis is not to exceed 60,000 words inclusive of footnotes but exclusive of bibliography, appendices, table of contents and any other preliminary matter. Figures, tables, images etc should be counted as the equivalent of 200 words for each A4 page, or part of an A4 page, that they occupy.

Criminology:

For the PhD degree submission of a thesis between 55,000 and 80,000 words (exclusive of footnotes, appendices and bibliography) but subject to an overall word limit of 100,000 words (exclusive of bibliography, table of contents and any other preliminary matter). Figures, tables, images etc should be counted as the equivalent of 200 words for each A4 page, or part of an A4 page, that they occupy. For the MLitt degree the thesis is not to exceed 60,000 words inclusive of footnotes but exclusive of bibliography, appendices, table of contents and any other preliminary matter. Figures, tables, images etc should be counted as the equivalent of 200 words for each A4 page, or part of an A4 page, that they occupy.

There is no standard format for the thesis in Mathematics.  Candidates should discuss the format appropriate to their topic with their supervisor.

The thesis is not to exceed 80,000 words for the PhD degree and 60,000 words for the MLitt degree, including footnotes and appendices but excluding the abstract, any acknowledgements, contents page(s), abbreviations, notes on transliteration, figures, tables and bibliography. Brief labels accompanying illustrations, figures and tables are also excluded from the word count. The Degree Committee point out that some very successful doctoral theses have been submitted which extend to no more than three-quarters of the maximum permitted length.

In linguistics, where examples are cited in a language other than Modern English, only the examples themselves will be taken into account for the purposes of the word limit. Any English translations and associated linguistic glosses will be excluded from the word count.

In theses written under the aegis of any of the language sections, all sources in the language(s) of the primary area(s) of research of the thesis will normally be in the original language. An English translation should be provided only where reading the original language is likely to fall outside the expertise of the examiners. Where such an English translation is given it will not be included in the word count. In fields where the normal practice is to quote in English in the main text, candidates should follow that practice. If the original text needs to be supplied, it should be placed in a footnote. These fields include, but are not limited to, general linguistics and film and screen studies.

Since appendices are included in the word limit, in some fields it may be necessary to apply to exceed the limit in order to include primary data or other materials which should be available to the examiners. Only under the most exceptional circumstances will permission be granted to exceed the limit in other cases. In all cases (a) a candidate must apply to exceed the prescribed maximum length at least three months before the date on which a candidate proposes to submit their thesis and (b) the application must be accompanied by a full supporting statement from the candidate's supervisor showing that such exemption from the prescribed limit of length is absolutely necessary.

It is a requirement within all language sections of MMLL, and also for Film, that dissertations must conform with the advice concerning abbreviations, quotations, footnotes, references etc published in the Style Book of the Modern Humanities Research Association (Notes for Authors and Editors). For linguistics, dissertations must conform with one of the widely accepted style formats in their field of research, for example the style format of the Journal of Linguistics (Linguistic Association of Great Britain), or of Language Linguistic Society of America) or the APA format (American Psychology Association). If in doubt, linguistics students should discuss this with their supervisor and the PhD Coordinator.

The thesis is not to exceed 80,000 words for the PhD degree and 60,000 words for the MLitt degree, both excluding notes, appendices, and bibliographies, musical transcriptions and examples, unless a candidate make a special case for greater length to the satisfaction of the Degree Committee. Candidates whose work is practice-based may include as part of the doctoral submission either a portfolio of substantial musical compositions, or one or more recordings of their own musical performance(s).

PhD (MLitt) theses in Philosophy must not be more than 80,000 (60,000) words, including appendices and footnotes but excluding bibliography.

Institute of Astronomy, Department of Materials Science & Metallurgy, Department of Physics:

The thesis is not to exceed, without prior permission of the Degree Committee, 60,000 words, including summary/abstract, tables, footnotes and appendices, but excluding table of contents, photographs, diagrams, figure captions, list of figures/diagrams, list of abbreviations/acronyms, bibliography and acknowledgements.

Department of Chemistry:

The thesis is not to exceed, without prior permission of the Degree Committee, 60,000 words, including summary/abstract, tables, and footnotes, but excluding table of contents, photographs, diagrams, figure captions, list of figures/diagrams, list of abbreviations/acronyms, bibliography, appendices and acknowledgements. Appendices are relevant to the material contained within the thesis but do not form part of the connected argument. Specifically, they may include derivations, code and spectra, as well as experimental information (compound name, structure, method of formation and data) for non-key molecules made during the PhD studies.

Applicable to the PhDs in Politics & International Studies, Latin American Studies, Multi-disciplinary Studies and Development Studies for all submissions from candidates admitted prior to and including October 2017.

A PhD thesis must not exceed 80,000 words, and will normally be near that length. The word limit includes appendices but excludes footnotes, references and bibliography. Footnotes should not exceed 20% of the thesis. Discursive footnotes are generally discouraged, and under no circumstances should footnotes be used to include material that would normally be in the main text, and thus to circumvent the word limits. Statistical tables should be counted as 150 words per table. Only under exceptional circumstances, and after prior application, will the Degree Committee allow a student to exceed these limits. A candidate must submit, with the thesis, a statement signed by her or himself attesting to the length of the thesis. Any thesis that exceeds the limit will be referred back to candidate for revision before being forwarded to the examiners.

Applicable to the PhDs in Politics & International Studies, Latin American Studies, Multi-disciplinary Studies and Development Studies for all submissions from candidates admitted after October 2017.

A PhD thesis must not exceed 80,000 words, including footnotes. The word limit includes appendices but excludes the bibliography. Discursive footnotes are generally discouraged, and under no circumstances should footnotes be used to include material that would normally be in the main text. Statistical tables should be counted as 150 words per table. Only under exceptional circumstances, and after prior application, will the Degree Committee allow a student to exceed these limits. A candidate must submit, with the thesis, a statement signed by her or himself attesting to the length of the thesis. Any thesis that exceeds the limit will be referred back to candidate for revision before being forwarded to the examiners.

Only applicable to students registered for the degree prior to 1 August 2012; all other students should consult the guidance of the Faculty of Biological Sciences.

Applicable to the PhD in Psychology (former SDP students only) for all submissions made before 30 November 2013

A PhD thesis must not exceed 80,000 words, and will normally be near that length. The word limit includes appendices but excludes footnotes, references and bibliography. Footnotes should not exceed 20% of the thesis. Discursive footnotes are generally discouraged, and under no circumstances should footnotes be used to include material that would normally be in the main text, and thus to circumvent the word limits. Statistical tables should be counted as 150 words per table. Only under exceptional circumstances, and after prior application, will the Degree Committee allow a student to exceed these limits. A candidate must submit, with the thesis, a statement signed by her or himself attesting to the length of the thesis. Any thesis that exceeds the limit will be referred back to candidate for revision before being forwarded to the examiners.

Applicable to the PhD in Psychology (former SDP students only) for all submissions from 30 November 2013

A PhD thesis must not exceed 80,000 words, and will normally be near that length. The word limit includes appendices but excludes footnotes, references and bibliography. Footnotes should not exceed 20% of the thesis. Discursive footnotes are generally discouraged, and under no circumstances should footnotes be used to include material that would normally be in the main text, and thus to circumvent the word limits. Statistical tables should be counted as 150 words per table. Only under exceptional circumstances, and after prior application, will the Degree Committee allow a student to exceed these limits. Applications should be made in good time before the date on which a candidate proposes to submit the thesis, made to the Graduate Committee. A candidate must submit, with the thesis, a statement signed by her or himself attesting to the length of the thesis. Any thesis that exceeds the limit will be referred back to candidate for revision before being forwarded to the examiners.

A PhD thesis must not exceed 80,000 words, and will normally be over 60,000 words. This word limit includes footnotes and endnotes, but excludes appendices and reference list / bibliography. Figures, tables, images etc should be counted as the equivalent of 150 words for each page, or part of a page, that they occupy. Other media may form part of the thesis by prior arrangement with the Degree Committee. Students may apply to the Degree Committee for permission to exceed the word limit, but such applications are granted only rarely. Candidates must submit, with the thesis, a signed statement attesting to the length of the thesis.

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Frequently asked questions

How long is a dissertation.

Dissertation word counts vary widely across different fields, institutions, and levels of education:

  • An undergraduate dissertation is typically 8,000–15,000 words
  • A master’s dissertation is typically 12,000–50,000 words
  • A PhD thesis is typically book-length: 70,000–100,000 words

However, none of these are strict guidelines – your word count may be lower or higher than the numbers stated here. Always check the guidelines provided by your university to determine how long your own dissertation should be.

Frequently asked questions: Dissertation

A dissertation prospectus or proposal describes what or who you plan to research for your dissertation. It delves into why, when, where, and how you will do your research, as well as helps you choose a type of research to pursue. You should also determine whether you plan to pursue qualitative or quantitative methods and what your research design will look like.

It should outline all of the decisions you have taken about your project, from your dissertation topic to your hypotheses and research objectives , ready to be approved by your supervisor or committee.

Note that some departments require a defense component, where you present your prospectus to your committee orally.

A thesis is typically written by students finishing up a bachelor’s or Master’s degree. Some educational institutions, particularly in the liberal arts, have mandatory theses, but they are often not mandatory to graduate from bachelor’s degrees. It is more common for a thesis to be a graduation requirement from a Master’s degree.

Even if not mandatory, you may want to consider writing a thesis if you:

  • Plan to attend graduate school soon
  • Have a particular topic you’d like to study more in-depth
  • Are considering a career in research
  • Would like a capstone experience to tie up your academic experience

The conclusion of your thesis or dissertation should include the following:

  • A restatement of your research question
  • A summary of your key arguments and/or results
  • A short discussion of the implications of your research

The conclusion of your thesis or dissertation shouldn’t take up more than 5–7% of your overall word count.

For a stronger dissertation conclusion , avoid including:

  • Important evidence or analysis that wasn’t mentioned in the discussion section and results section
  • Generic concluding phrases (e.g. “In conclusion …”)
  • Weak statements that undermine your argument (e.g., “There are good points on both sides of this issue.”)

Your conclusion should leave the reader with a strong, decisive impression of your work.

While it may be tempting to present new arguments or evidence in your thesis or disseration conclusion , especially if you have a particularly striking argument you’d like to finish your analysis with, you shouldn’t. Theses and dissertations follow a more formal structure than this.

All your findings and arguments should be presented in the body of the text (more specifically in the discussion section and results section .) The conclusion is meant to summarize and reflect on the evidence and arguments you have already presented, not introduce new ones.

A theoretical framework can sometimes be integrated into a  literature review chapter , but it can also be included as its own chapter or section in your dissertation . As a rule of thumb, if your research involves dealing with a lot of complex theories, it’s a good idea to include a separate theoretical framework chapter.

A literature review and a theoretical framework are not the same thing and cannot be used interchangeably. While a theoretical framework describes the theoretical underpinnings of your work, a literature review critically evaluates existing research relating to your topic. You’ll likely need both in your dissertation .

While a theoretical framework describes the theoretical underpinnings of your work based on existing research, a conceptual framework allows you to draw your own conclusions, mapping out the variables you may use in your study and the interplay between them.

A thesis or dissertation outline is one of the most critical first steps in your writing process. It helps you to lay out and organize your ideas and can provide you with a roadmap for deciding what kind of research you’d like to undertake.

Generally, an outline contains information on the different sections included in your thesis or dissertation , such as:

  • Your anticipated title
  • Your abstract
  • Your chapters (sometimes subdivided into further topics like literature review , research methods , avenues for future research, etc.)

When you mention different chapters within your text, it’s considered best to use Roman numerals for most citation styles. However, the most important thing here is to remain consistent whenever using numbers in your dissertation .

In most styles, the title page is used purely to provide information and doesn’t include any images. Ask your supervisor if you are allowed to include an image on the title page before doing so. If you do decide to include one, make sure to check whether you need permission from the creator of the image.

Include a note directly beneath the image acknowledging where it comes from, beginning with the word “ Note .” (italicized and followed by a period). Include a citation and copyright attribution . Don’t title, number, or label the image as a figure , since it doesn’t appear in your main text.

Definitional terms often fall into the category of common knowledge , meaning that they don’t necessarily have to be cited. This guidance can apply to your thesis or dissertation glossary as well.

However, if you’d prefer to cite your sources , you can follow guidance for citing dictionary entries in MLA or APA style for your glossary.

A glossary is a collection of words pertaining to a specific topic. In your thesis or dissertation, it’s a list of all terms you used that may not immediately be obvious to your reader. In contrast, an index is a list of the contents of your work organized by page number.

The title page of your thesis or dissertation goes first, before all other content or lists that you may choose to include.

The title page of your thesis or dissertation should include your name, department, institution, degree program, and submission date.

Glossaries are not mandatory, but if you use a lot of technical or field-specific terms, it may improve readability to add one to your thesis or dissertation. Your educational institution may also require them, so be sure to check their specific guidelines.

A glossary or “glossary of terms” is a collection of words pertaining to a specific topic. In your thesis or dissertation, it’s a list of all terms you used that may not immediately be obvious to your reader. Your glossary only needs to include terms that your reader may not be familiar with, and is intended to enhance their understanding of your work.

A glossary is a collection of words pertaining to a specific topic. In your thesis or dissertation, it’s a list of all terms you used that may not immediately be obvious to your reader. In contrast, dictionaries are more general collections of words.

An abbreviation is a shortened version of an existing word, such as Dr. for Doctor. In contrast, an acronym uses the first letter of each word to create a wholly new word, such as UNESCO (an acronym for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization).

As a rule of thumb, write the explanation in full the first time you use an acronym or abbreviation. You can then proceed with the shortened version. However, if the abbreviation is very common (like PC, USA, or DNA), then you can use the abbreviated version from the get-go.

Be sure to add each abbreviation in your list of abbreviations !

If you only used a few abbreviations in your thesis or dissertation , you don’t necessarily need to include a list of abbreviations .

If your abbreviations are numerous, or if you think they won’t be known to your audience, it’s never a bad idea to add one. They can also improve readability, minimizing confusion about abbreviations unfamiliar to your reader.

A list of abbreviations is a list of all the abbreviations that you used in your thesis or dissertation. It should appear at the beginning of your document, with items in alphabetical order, just after your table of contents .

Your list of tables and figures should go directly after your table of contents in your thesis or dissertation.

Lists of figures and tables are often not required, and aren’t particularly common. They specifically aren’t required for APA-Style, though you should be careful to follow their other guidelines for figures and tables .

If you have many figures and tables in your thesis or dissertation, include one may help you stay organized. Your educational institution may require them, so be sure to check their guidelines.

A list of figures and tables compiles all of the figures and tables that you used in your thesis or dissertation and displays them with the page number where they can be found.

The table of contents in a thesis or dissertation always goes between your abstract and your introduction .

You may acknowledge God in your dissertation acknowledgements , but be sure to follow academic convention by also thanking the members of academia, as well as family, colleagues, and friends who helped you.

A literature review is a survey of credible sources on a topic, often used in dissertations , theses, and research papers . Literature reviews give an overview of knowledge on a subject, helping you identify relevant theories and methods, as well as gaps in existing research. Literature reviews are set up similarly to other  academic texts , with an introduction , a main body, and a conclusion .

An  annotated bibliography is a list of  source references that has a short description (called an annotation ) for each of the sources. It is often assigned as part of the research process for a  paper .  

In a thesis or dissertation, the discussion is an in-depth exploration of the results, going into detail about the meaning of your findings and citing relevant sources to put them in context.

The conclusion is more shorter and more general: it concisely answers your main research question and makes recommendations based on your overall findings.

In the discussion , you explore the meaning and relevance of your research results , explaining how they fit with existing research and theory. Discuss:

  • Your  interpretations : what do the results tell us?
  • The  implications : why do the results matter?
  • The  limitation s : what can’t the results tell us?

The results chapter or section simply and objectively reports what you found, without speculating on why you found these results. The discussion interprets the meaning of the results, puts them in context, and explains why they matter.

In qualitative research , results and discussion are sometimes combined. But in quantitative research , it’s considered important to separate the objective results from your interpretation of them.

Results are usually written in the past tense , because they are describing the outcome of completed actions.

The results chapter of a thesis or dissertation presents your research results concisely and objectively.

In quantitative research , for each question or hypothesis , state:

  • The type of analysis used
  • Relevant results in the form of descriptive and inferential statistics
  • Whether or not the alternative hypothesis was supported

In qualitative research , for each question or theme, describe:

  • Recurring patterns
  • Significant or representative individual responses
  • Relevant quotations from the data

Don’t interpret or speculate in the results chapter.

To automatically insert a table of contents in Microsoft Word, follow these steps:

  • Apply heading styles throughout the document.
  • In the references section in the ribbon, locate the Table of Contents group.
  • Click the arrow next to the Table of Contents icon and select Custom Table of Contents.
  • Select which levels of headings you would like to include in the table of contents.

Make sure to update your table of contents if you move text or change headings. To update, simply right click and select Update Field.

All level 1 and 2 headings should be included in your table of contents . That means the titles of your chapters and the main sections within them.

The contents should also include all appendices and the lists of tables and figures, if applicable, as well as your reference list .

Do not include the acknowledgements or abstract in the table of contents.

The abstract appears on its own page in the thesis or dissertation , after the title page and acknowledgements but before the table of contents .

An abstract for a thesis or dissertation is usually around 200–300 words. There’s often a strict word limit, so make sure to check your university’s requirements.

In a thesis or dissertation, the acknowledgements should usually be no longer than one page. There is no minimum length.

The acknowledgements are generally included at the very beginning of your thesis , directly after the title page and before the abstract .

Yes, it’s important to thank your supervisor(s) in the acknowledgements section of your thesis or dissertation .

Even if you feel your supervisor did not contribute greatly to the final product, you must acknowledge them, if only for a very brief thank you. If you do not include your supervisor, it may be seen as a snub.

In the acknowledgements of your thesis or dissertation, you should first thank those who helped you academically or professionally, such as your supervisor, funders, and other academics.

Then you can include personal thanks to friends, family members, or anyone else who supported you during the process.

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Academia Insider

How Long is a Masters Thesis? [Your writing guide]

Writing a Masters thesis can be quite the undertaking. It presents the research findings of your graduate-level masters study. It can be difficult to work out exactly how much you need to write to pass your masters degree because you can generate so much research throughout your course.

The average masters thesis is typically between 50 and 100 pages long. The length of the thesis will vary depending on the discipline and the university requirements but will typically be around 25,000 to 50,000 words in length.

the average length of a masters thesis - 50 - 100 pages long

My Masters thesis in theoretical computational chemistry was 60 pages long. It was quite short for a master’s thesis in chemistry because of the theoretical computational twist. Some organic chemistry Master theses were much longer – in terms of pages – because they relied on a lot of diagrams and schematics to explain their work.

Irrespective of its length, a master’s thesis must demonstrate an individual’s ability to conduct independent research and to effectively express their findings in writing.

It must pass peer-review and is often accompanied with a short oral presentation about the work to an academic committee put together by their advisor.

It must also show that the student has acquired sufficient knowledge about their chosen subject to contribute to existing scholarship in their field. Once you have graduated with your masters you can then consider whether or not a PhD is a good option for your career goals.

How Many Pages Should a Master Thesis Have?

Typically, a master thesis is expected to be anywhere between 100-200 pages long depending on the research field and topic.

In general, most master theses should have at least 30-40 pages of research content (including a literature review) with an additional 10-20 pages for other aspects of academic reports such as acknowledgements, appendices, abstracts, references and schematics or diagrams.

Furthermore, certain schools may require that your master thesis meet additional criteria such as formatting guidelines or word counts in order to be considered complete.

Your supervisor should not let your master’s thesis go to examination if it does not meet the minimum requirements for your specific field. Your academic supervisor will be your biggest asset while writing your master’s thesis.

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

  • How long is a Thesis or dissertation? [the data]
  • Is writing a masters thesis hard? Tips on how to write a thesis
  • How to write a masters thesis in 2 months [Easy steps to start writing]

How is a Masters thesis assessed and examined?

A Masters dissertation is assessed by academics in your department or university and it may also include an external examination by experts in the specific field you are studying.

The thesis will typically require a student to conduct extensive research to answer a research question and come up with an original argument or thesis on the topic.

Once the thesis has been written, the student must submit it to their faculty or university for assessment and examination.

The university will then grade the dissertation based on its content, structure, and accuracy. Most universities require that the dissertation be at least 60 pages in length and be written according to academic standards of writing and style guides.

These academic writing style guides can be very confusing and are often not something people have encountered before. However, reaching out to, and using the services of, a trusted editor will help make the process much easier.

The faculty at the university will then assess the submitted dissertation and provide feedback to help guide the student in making any necessary corrections or revisions before finally submitting it for examination.

Sometimes the examiners will require the thesis to undergo small amendments.

This is quite normal and you will be expected to address each of the criticisms before being admitted to your degree.

Also, many institutions require a public presentation on your Masters research for admission to the degree. This can be relatively nerve racking for young career academics. Nonetheless, presenting your work to a general audience is always good experience and will help prepare you for a PhD if you decide to pursue further research studies.

Effective tips on how to write a thesis successfully

Writing a master’s thesis is not an easy task and many students struggle to complete it with a smile on their faces.

Making sure that you work on your thesis little by little and that you do not get bogged down in the details too quickly is an important step to finishing your thesis without it causing too much mental anguish.

However, writing a thesis is often a very challenging thing no matter what you do. You can check out more about this in my YouTube video below right talk about the unglamorous truths about writing a thesis, whether it Masters, PhD or for peer review.

Small chunks

Work on your thesis in small chunks. Do not think of it as one big thesis but rather as small chapters and subsections within that chapter.

I actually had multiple documents with different chapters and did not combine my thesis until the end. This allowed me to compartmentalise my work and ensure that I was focused on one aspect of the thesis at a time without jumping between many other sections – which would have been a huge distraction.

Get feedback as often as possible

I’ve always been incredibly lucky with my research supervisors. I’ve been able to get feedback about my writing quickly and effectively.

Speak to your research supervisor about what would be an appropriate amount of work for them to mark at any given time.

Some supervisors like small amounts of work – such as a chapter or a subsection, whilst others prefer to have full chapters submitted at a time.

Try to work out the smallest amount of work they be happy to look over as then you can get feedback much quicker.

Also, you can reach out to other supervisors and academics that may be able to give you feedback on your writing. You do not just have two work with your primary supervisor when looking for feedback.

Do what you must to get through

Even though many helpful PhD and thesis writing blogs and videos talk about making yourself as productive as possible, the truth is sometimes you have to do whatever you can to get through.

For example, I used to eat a lot of chocolate and drink a lot of energy drinks to try to focus myself while writing up my thesis.

I only did this for a short period of time and it certainly wasn’t sustainable. But, when you have got a tight deadline sometimes you just have to do whatever you can to get through your writer’s block.

Protect your flow

Protect your flow as much as possible. Getting into a flow state can be achieved regularly if you change your environment to make sure that you are able to focus effectively.

For example, I like to completely turn off my mobile phone and email or other computer notifications so that I can focus for at least one hour on writing my thesis.

You may also find white noise helpful if you are in a particularly noisy environment such as a shared office.

If you find yourself becoming distracted – remove that distraction as best you can. Protecting your flow and working for one-hour blocks will really help you finish on time.

Wrapping up

This article has been through everything you need to know about the length of a Masters thesis and how to write your thesis effectively.

The length of a Masters thesis is very much dependent on the field of study and the University’s requirements for your course. Nonetheless, they are typically between 50 and 200 pages long and are examined by experts in the field and other academics before you are admitted into the degree.

There may also be a short presentation that is given to the public or academics in your department.

master's thesis minimum word count

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.

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master's thesis minimum word count

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master's thesis minimum word count

Word Limits in Master’s Dissertations

Word Limits

Word Limits in Master’s Dissertations. A frequent question from Master’s students when doing their project dissertations is how many words am I aiming for? What is the word count? This blog will explore Word Count limits for dissertations, and also includes some tips for using word count in WORD. This will also be useful for bachelor’s final year projects when students are asking “How long is the final year project required to be?”

Here is a short video clip on the subject.

Bachelors Final Year Project Word Count

This is often the first time a student has to set their own question for an assignment, and a typical bachelors final year project may be 6,000 – 10,000 words. Many of the following tips may also apply at bachelor’s level.

Masters Final Year Project Word Count

How long is a Master’s dissertation? Essentially the project is again a student setting their own question, but this time at a Master’s level, so it requires more critical evaluation, and a demonstration of mastery in their research area. Therefore, the word limit may be up to 20,000 words, but do check with your institution for exact limits.

Approach the course/module coordinator for the dissertation rather than your project supervisor, as although the project supervisor may be the technical expert in your subject, they may not however understand the module/project requirements.

How is the Word Count Calculated?

Usually from the start of chapter 1 to the end of the Conclusion/Further Work/Recommendations chapter. This means it excludes the abstract, table of contents, list of figures, acknowledgements, declaration of originality at the beginning, and also excludes the references, bibliography and appendices at the end to of the document, but please do check with your institution.

MBA, MSc, or MA qualification?

I wrote a separate blog on the differences between these qualifications here .

MBA students are encouraged to deliver short, concise business documents. Therefore the limit for an MBA might be just 12,000 words in total (including everything in some cases – check with your institution). It is often very difficult to cover everything is so few words.

An MSc dissertation should be displaying the student as a technical expert in a deep and technical area. The dissertation may be solving a problem. A minimum of 12,000 words might be required, and an advised maximum of 16,000 words. I find it easy for some students to write too much, and remind them to refer back to their objectives – is what they are writing contributing to meeting the research aims and objectives? If not, take it out!

An MA in Social Science, Education, History or English, may include much more debate and written in an essay writing style. Therefore, the word count may be higher, perhaps 20,000 – 25,000 words.

Check with your institution and find out if there are penalties for being more than 10% over, or under word count.

Tips for Word Count in Word

These tips are for the PC application of MS WORD.

  • Firstly, ‘turn it on’ if it isn’t there, by right clicking in status bar.
  • Select just a portion of text to count just the selection.
  • Use the “Review” Tab and click “Word Count” as an alternative method.
  • Look for the details on characters, lines, paragraphs, and pages, by right clicking on the word count in the status bar.
  • Use the navigation pane to select sections automatically (by right-clicking), and then count the words in each section. This is useful for excluding or subtracting sections from the total word count.

Word Count

With submission of paper copies, nobody is really going to check your word count by counting each word. However, there may be a more subjective comment such as – “It’s only 55 pages” or “there were over 200 pages with few diagrams, and no real structure”.

With the recent move to the submission of electronic copies, your word count is there for everybody to see, so pay attention to the limits and penalties that your institution operates.

Check with your institution regarding exact limits, tolerance bands, and penalties. My view is as long as it is easy to read, well structured, has good headings, plenty of diagrams, tables, and bullet points, then I’m not too worried about long dissertations. However short Master’s MSc dissertations are always an area for concern!

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  • FindAMasters
  • Researching and Writing a Masters Dissertation

Written by Mark Bennett

All Masters programmes include some form of extended individual project. Research-focussed programmes, such as an MRes , may include multiple independent research components. Taught courses usually culminate with a substantial research task, referred to as the Masters dissertation or thesis.

This article talks about how long a Masters dissertation is and the structure it follows.Before you get started on your dissertation, you'll usually need to write a proposal. Read our full guide to Masters dissertation proposals for more information on what this should include!

Masters dissertation - key facts
Length 15,000 - 20,000 words
Structure

Abstract (300 words)

Introduction (1,000 words)

Literature review (1,000 words)

Research methodology (1,500 words)

Results

Discussion (12,000 words)

Conclusion (1,500 words)

References/Bibliography

Appendices

Supervision Yes, you’ll be paired with an academic from your own university
Assessment External examiner along with additional members of faculty. There is not usually a viva at Masters level.

On this page

What’s the difference between a masters dissertation and an undergraduate dissertation.

The Masters thesis is a bridge between undergraduate study and higher level postgraduate degrees such as the PhD .

A postgraduate dissertation may not look that different to its undergraduate equivalent. You’ll likely have to produce a longer piece of work but the foundations remain the same.

After all, one of the purposes of an undergraduate dissertation or final year project is to prepare you for more in-depth research work as a postgraduate. That said, there are some important differences between the two levels.

So, how long is a Masters dissertation? A Masters dissertation will be longer than the undergraduate equivalent – usually it’ll be somewhere between 15,000 and 20,000 words, but this can vary widely between courses, institutions and countries.

To answer your overall research question comprehensively, you’ll be expected to identify and examine specific areas of your topic. This can be like producing a series of shorter pieces of work, similar to those required by individual modules. However, there’s the additional requirement that they collectively support a broader set of conclusions.

This more involved Masters dissertation structure will:

  • Give you the scope to investigate your subject in greater detail than is possible at undergraduate level
  • Challenge you to be effective at organising your work so that its individual components function as stages in a coherent and persuasive overall argument
  • Allow you to develop and hone a suitable research methodology (for example, choosing between qualitative and quantitative methods)

If the individual topics within your overall project require you to access separate sources or datasets, this may also have an impact on your research process.

As a postgraduate, you’ll be expected to establish and assert your own critical voice as a member of the academic community associated with your field .

During your Masters thesis you’ll need to show that you are not just capable of analysing and critiquing original data or primary source material. You should also demonstrate awareness of the existing body of scholarship relating to your topic .

So, if you’ll excuse the pun, a ‘Masters’ degree really is about achieving ‘mastery’ of your particular specialism and the dissertation is where you’ll demonstrate this: showing off the scholarly expertise and research skills that you’ve developed across your programme.

What’s the difference between a dissertation and a thesis?

A dissertation is a long piece of (usually) written work on the same topic. A thesis is a little more specific: it usually means something that presents an original argument based on the interpretation of data, statistics or content.

So, a thesis is almost always presented as a dissertation, but not all dissertations present a thesis.

Masters dissertation structure

As you can probably imagine, no two dissertations follow the exact same structure, especially given the differences found between Masters programmes from university to university and country to country .

That said, there are several key components that make up the structure of a typical Masters dissertation

How long is a Masters dissertation?

Most dissertations will typically be between 15,000 and 20,000 words long, although this can vary significantly depending on the nature of the programme.

You should also check with your university exactly which sections of the dissertation count towards the final word count (the abstract, bibliography and appendices won’t usually be included in the total).

Usually around 300 words long, the abstract is meant to be a concise summary of your dissertation. It should briefly cover the question(s) you aim to answer, your primary argument and your conclusion.

Introduction

The purpose of the introduction is to provide context for the rest of the dissertation, setting out your aims and the scope of what you want to achieve with your research. The introduction should give a clear overview of the dissertation’s chapters and will usually be around 1,000 words long.

Literature review

This part of the dissertation should examine the scholarship that has already been published in your field, presenting various arguments and counter-arguments while situating your own research within this wider body of work.

You should analyse and evaluate other publications and explain how your dissertation will contribute to the existing literature in your subject area. The literature review sometimes forms part of the introduction or follows immediately on from it. Most literature reviews are up to 1,000 words long.

Research methodology

Not all dissertations will require a section covering research methodology (Arts and Humanities dissertations won’t normally undertake the kind of research that involves a set methodology). However, if you are using a particular method to collect information for your dissertation, you should make sure to explain the rationale behind your choice of methodology. The word count for this part of the dissertation is usually around the 1,500 mark.

Those in the Arts and Humanities will usually outline their theoretical perspectives and approaches as part of the introduction, rather than requiring a detailed explanation of the methodology for their data collection and analysis.

Results / findings

If your research involves some form of survey or experiment, this is where you’ll present the results of your work. Depending on the nature of the study, this might be in the form of graphs, tables or charts – or even just a written description of what the research entailed and what the findings were.

This section forms the bulk of your dissertation and should be carefully structured using a series of related chapters (and sub-chapters). There should be a logical progression from one chapter to the next, with each part building on the arguments of its predecessor.

It can be helpful to think of your Masters dissertation as a series of closely interlinked essays, rather than one overwhelming paper. The size of this section will depend on the overall word count for your dissertation. However, to give you a rough idea for a 15,000-word dissertation, the discussion part will generally be about 12,000 words long.

Here you should draw together the threads of the previous discussion chapters and make your final concluding statements, drawing on evidence and arguments that you’ve already explored over the course of the dissertation. Explain the significance of your findings and point towards directions that future research could follow. This section of the Masters thesis will be around 1,500 words long.

References / bibliography

While planning and writing your dissertation, you should keep an extensive, organised record of any papers, sources or books you’ve quoted (or referred to). This will be a lot easier than leaving all of it until the end and struggling to work out where a particular quotation is from!

Appendices won’t be necessary in many dissertations, but you may need to include supplementary material to support your argument. This could be interview transcripts or questionnaires. If including such content within the body of the dissertation won’t be feasible – i.e. there wouldn’t be enough space or it would break the flow of your writing – you should consult with your supervisor and consider attaching it in an appendix.

It’s worth bearing in mind that these sections won’t always be discretely labelled in every dissertation. For example, everything up to ‘discussion’ might be covered in introductory chapter (rather than as distinct sections). If you’re unsure about the structure of your Masters dissertation, your supervisor will be able to help you map it out.

How does supervision work for a Masters dissertation?

As a Masters student at the dissertation stage you’ll usually be matched with an academic within your institution who will be tasked with guiding your work. This might be someone who has already taught you, or it may be another scholar whose research interests and expertise align well with what you want to do. You may be able to request a particular supervisor, but taught postgraduates are more likely to be assigned them by their department.

Specific arrangements with your supervisor will vary depending on your institution and subject area. They will usually meet with you at the beginning of the dissertation period to discuss your project and agree a suitable schedule for its undertaking. This timetable will probably set dates for:

  • Subsequent discussions and progress checks
  • The submission of draft chapters or sections
  • Feedback appointments

Though your supervisor is there to help and advise you, it is important to remember that your dissertation is a personal research project with associated expectations of you as an independent scholar.

As a rule of thumb, you can expect your supervisor to read each part of your dissertation once at the draft stage and to offer feedback. Most will not have time to look at lots of subsequent revisions, but may respond favourably to polite requests for exceptions (provided their own workload permits it).

Inundating your supervisor with emails or multiple iterations of draft material is best avoided; they will have their own research to manage (as well as other supervision assignments) and will be able to offer better quality feedback if you stick to an agreed schedule.

How is a Masters dissertation assessed and examined?

On most courses your dissertation will be assessed by an external examiner (as well as additional members of faculty within your university who haven’t been responsible for supervising you), but these will read and critique the work you submit without personally questioning and testing you on it.

Though this examination process is not as challenging as the oral defence or ‘ viva voce ’ required for a PhD thesis, the grading of your Masters dissertation is still a fundamental component of your degree.

On some programmes the result awarded to a student’s dissertation may determine the upper grade-band that can be awarded to their degree.

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master's thesis minimum word count

How To Reduce Word Count In Your Dissertation, Thesis Or Academics Assignments

(without losing those precious marks).

If you follow some of the advice on this blog, chances are one of your biggest challenges is keeping your academic writing projects within the specified word count limits. It’s a good problem to have (at least compared to having not enough to say), and in this post, I’ll discuss 4 steps to reduce word count without risking losing marks.

how to reduce word count in a dissertation

First things first – write to think.

Before I get started, it’s worth making an important point regarding writing in general. There are essentially two ways to think about the process of writing :

  • Writing as the outcome of thinking – in other words, you think deeply first, construct your argument, and then simply transfer it to paper by way of writing. You do little revising.
  • Writing as a form of thinking – in other words, writing helps you flesh out your thinking and develop your arguments. Writing is an iterative process, wherein you might revise numerous times and even rewrite altogether, but this all contributes to a better quality of thinking.

Which side of the fence do you sit on? I’m an avid advocate of the latter perspective and approach – and I’m not alone. Numerous books and journal articles have covered the topic of “writing as thinking”. If the idea interests you, have a look at Henning’s “Finding your way in academic writing.”

In short, putting pen to paper as early as possible (i.e. before you feel “ready”) and then revising as your thoughts develop (as a result of writing) is an excellent way to improve the overall quality of your arguments and academic work. To do this, you cannot constantly fret over word count (at least not while you’re writing). Instead, you need to let the words flow onto paper, and then sort the wheat from the chaff at a later stage. Sure, you need some constraints, but forcing yourself to apply X model within 350 words is going to stifle your flow and limit your depth. Rather let your thoughts flow onto paper, and then trim them down once your thinking is fully fleshed out.

master's thesis minimum word count

What does this have to do with reducing your word count? It means that word count reduction (particularly, the techniques I’ll cover below) is something you do once you’ve wrapped up your writing, not while you write . Accordingly, all the steps I’ll propose here are to be applied after the fact.

Right, let’s get into it. Follow these 4 steps (in this order) to strategically reduce your word count without losing the “meat” of your assignment/dissertation.

Step 1: Audit for purely descriptive content.

Broadly speaking, content can fall into one of two categories – descriptive or analytical.  Simply put, descriptive content eludes to the “what”, whereas analytical content describes the impact and consequence of the event/factor/situation – in other words, the “so what”. The table below highlights some of the differences between the two:

Descriptive vs analytical writing

Ideally, you should try to keep your discussion analytical, rather than descriptive ( read more about this here ). There’s always be a need for some descriptive content, but ideally, this should be limited to only that content which forms the foundation for analytical content. Therefore, the first step of word count reduction is to audit for descriptive content which does not lead to analytical content . In other words, content which is purely descriptive, and is not required to get to the “so what?” content.

Read through your dissertation/thesis/assignment and trim out all content that doesn’t make the analytical cut , or doesn’t form a foundation for analysis. This is your first target – be aggressive with your trimming. Descriptive writing is pure fat and will not earn you marks – kill it!

Step 2: Audit for content which does not contribute towards answering your research question(s).

One of the reasons that it’s so important to set unambiguous research questions in your introduction is that this practice allows you to ringfence the focus of your work. In other words, it helps you to narrow the discussion to only that which is most relevant.

That said, as you write, you will invariably produce a fair deal of content that does not contribute towards your research questions . You’ll naturally digress into an interesting but irrelevant discussion about A, B and C – this might be very intellectually satisfying, but it doesn’t contribute to answering your research question. Therefore, this sort of content is your next target. Re-read your document from start to finish through the lens of your research questions or objectives. That which does not in some way contribute to answering the research question(s) or achieving the objective(s) must go .

Step 3: Audit for overly-detailed section summaries.

A good piece of academic writing should always feature summary paragraphs that link the end of one section/chapter to the beginning of the next. They should do this by summarising the key points of the former to the direction and purpose of the latter. For example:

“In this section, the analysis revealed that the key contributors to the issue included A, B and C. Accordingly, these factors will be analysed in the next chapter.”

By stating this link very clearly, you help the reader (marker) to understand your argument (which is, after all, completely new to them), which in turn helps you earn marks. Therefore, these summary sections are important. However, they can become wordy and repetitive, and you should, therefore, audit them.

Make sure that they are summarising only the absolute highlights of your argument and providing a clear, well-justified link to the next section. Don’t restate your entire chapter. The example above is what you should aim for, namely:

  • Key observations/insights/highlights – followed by
  • Logical link to next section

If you are extremely over word count, you may even consider removing these sections altogether. After all, it is better to remove summary content than core content. This should, however, be an absolute last resort as doing so can seriously reduce the overall flow of your document and blur the “golden thread” of your argument(s).

Step 4: Audit for wordy, bloated discussion.

This is the easiest of the four steps, and typically what most students look for when trying to reduce word count – but it usually has a comparatively minor impact. Therefore, I’m positioning it as the last step.

Naturally, your dissertation, thesis or assignment document will contain sections which are just plain wordy. This is a result of “writing as thinking” (whether you agree with the approach or not!). Therefore, the last step is to audit for sentences and paragraphs which are just plain wordy and rewrite them more concisely.

How to write concisely

Some common trimming opportunities:

  • Adjectives and adverbs – although these are sometimes necessary when developing your arguments, they are often just bloat contributors. Additionally, they can create an emotive, subjective tone, which is typically not encouraged in academic writing (where objectivity is essential).
  • The word “that” – oftentimes, a sentence can communicate the same point without the inclusion of the word “that”. Use Word’s find function (Ctrl+F) to search for “that” and check where it can be omitted.
  • Spaces around mathematical operators – if you’re copying numbers from Excel, chances are there are spaces between mathematical operators which can be removed. For example, p < 0.05 (3 words) can be reduced to p<0.05 (1 word).
  • Abbreviate/acronymise repetitive phrases/names – if you’re repeatedly referring to a person(s) or organisation(s) that have multi-word names, create acronyms for them and replace all instances with the acronymised version. For example, “Blue Basket Enterprises” (3 words) can be replaced with “BBE” (1 word). Make sure you introduce the acronym early in the document and consider presenting a list of abbreviations. A word of warning – don’t overuse this tactic, as too many acronyms can make it difficult for the reader to understand what’s going on!

Wrapping up.

There you have it – four steps to reduce your word count without losing your core arguments. To recap, you need to:

  • Audit for descriptive (rather than analytical) content.
  • Audit for content which doesn’t link to the research question(s)/aim(s).
  • Audit for overly detailed section summaries.
  • Audit for general wordiness and bloat.

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A complete guide to writing a master’s thesis

Speak right now to our live team of english staff.

If you’re reading this because you have been accepted onto a master’s programme that requires you to write a thesis – congratulations! This is a very exciting time in your life.

Hopefully what we’re about to tell you doesn’t come as too much of a surprise – as part of your master’s course you are going to be spending a considerable amount of time working on a single written submission. In fact, your master’s thesis may be the longest and most detailed piece of writing that you have ever been asked to complete.

With that in mind, getting some guidance before you begin is an important first step.

As you progress through your degree, you may have questions on exactly how to write a master’s thesis and are thus looking to obtain some thesis writing tips to help you on your way.

This post is designed to provide you with a comprehensive guide to writing a master’s thesis in the UK context. It will help you not just now, but will also be something you can refer back to throughout the duration of your master’s studies. If you haven’t already, we strongly recommend bookmarking this post so can you find it easily when you inevitably have questions during the thesis writing process.

In this post, we’ll clue you in to some strategies best suited to master’s students trying to complete a thesis. We’ll focus on what to expect at each stage, including creating a working plan, doing your reading, undertaking research, writing your master’s thesis, editing it, and leaving time to finish and proofread.

Hopefully, by the time you have finished reading, you will have the confidence and motivation to get going on a path that will lead to ultimate success in your thesis writing.

Start with a plan (and stick to it)

OK, we realise we may be teaching your grandma how to suck eggs here – starting with a plan is the obvious first step in any piece of academic writing.

And yet, as good as everyone’s intentions may be when students start writing a master’s thesis, circumstances (nearly) always arise that make sticking to the plan much more challenging.

So, first tip: when writing your thesis, make sure that your plan is flexible , and allows time for dealing with unexpected circumstances.

Next, reconsider your research proposal. It is likely you had to write one before you were accepted onto your master’s programme. If this was your first time producing a research proposal, you may read it back now and find it’s a little over-ambitious in its claims about what you planned to do. It’s a common trap to fall into, so don’t despair! Book some time with your research supervisor to determine whether your research proposal is actually realistic for your master’s thesis. If you claimed that you were going to do qualitative interviews of 200 participants across the UK, and you only have a year to complete your master’s, you might want to rethink your project and scale it to something that is achievable and not setting you up for failure.

Another tip on supervisors: make sure that you ask them questions about their expectations throughout the thesis writing process. Will they want to see drafts of your chapters as they’re written? If the answer is yes, finding out these dates will help you to develop a plan to achieve this without scrambling at the last minute.

Another tip for planning how to write your master’s thesis is to set yourself a goal of doing a little bit each day. Framing your thesis in your mind as a long-term project with a deadline very far away in the future will only encourage you to put off writing it. Then ‘far away in the future’ will all of a sudden be ‘next month’ and major panic will set in, and the lack of time at your disposal will make for rushed, compromised writing.

Set yourself milestones: a realistic plan for writing certain chapters by certain dates. Then within these milestones, commit to writing an amount of words per day, or per week. Then be disciplined and stick to your plan. Avoiding procrastination isn’t easy, but will very much work in your favour in the long run.

A final tip when devising your plan: it is easy to go back and delete words that you do not need during the editing process. Conversely, having to add thousands of words at the last minute will be stressful and sometimes impossible. Plan to start writing early, and budget for, say, 1000-2000 words every day. Not only will you then reach the full word count of your master’s thesis quickly, but you’ll leave yourself plenty of time to edit it, remove sections that aren’t working, and add more words that strengthen the overall assignment, all long before the deadline arrives.

Do your reading

The trick here is to find a balance between reading enough and not spending too much time doing so. There is so much reading to do and it can be easy to drift off topic.

Doing your reading and producing the final literature review are important components of a master’s thesis, but if you spend too much time reading there won’t be ample time for the data collection process and the writing up phase.

Here are some steps you can take to ensure that your reading process is both effective and efficient.

Step 1 – Understand your research questions

The first step in the reading phase of your master’s thesis is knowing what research questions you are trying to answer. Hopefully you have identified these questions with your supervisor before you started to work on your thesis. If you do not have a clear research question, your reading strategies will be severely hindered.

There are certain databases that are going to be more relevant to your area of study. Getting research from these databases is going to streamline the writing process for you to ensure that your project is focused within the context that it needs to be. A research librarian can likely help you focus this search, making the process significantly easier.

Step 2 – Make reading easier

There are several challenges associated with reading. First, it is easy to get distracted, especially if your reading material is lengthy and complex. So you want to keep your reading blocks short and sweet. ‘Chunk’ your reading. Spend 20 to 25 minutes reading without distraction (it hurts we know, but putting your phone on flight mode and leaving it in another room will ultimately help) and then take a 5 to 10 minute break (on your phone, if you must!) before starting up again.

Furthermore, whilst there is a lot of reading to do, it is unrealistic to spend your whole day doing it. Earmark just a portion of the day for reading, then make sure that you have other things that you can do with the rest of your time (like completing your ethics forms, or starting to create your research instruments). By dividing up your time, you are going to be able to keep your focus for longer, making you more productive and efficient overall.

Step 3 – Take good notes

It’s always worth remembering the forgetting curve – ah that’s a paradox if we ever saw one. The forgetting curve is the amount of information you will forget as time passes. It can be quite steep, and after a month passes you likely won’t remember much about what you have previously read. This could lead to disaster when writing up your literature review, so make sure that you take good, thorough notes throughout the reading process.

A good idea is to build out an excel spreadsheet or other list that documents your reading in a detailed and organised manner. You can keep track of key information, such as:

  • Location of research
  • Sample size
  • Research methods
  • Main findings

Not only will this help slow the curve of your inevitable forgetfulness, but crucially, it will also make referring back to your reading much easier when you move on to writing your overall literature review.

A note to remember: not everything that you read will end up in your literature review. The purpose of reading is to make sure that you, as a researcher, understand how your project is positioned within your area of study. The literature review explains this to the reader but in much simpler terms. So to reiterate, the reading process is for your own benefit, not solely to find studies to include in your literature review.

Do your research

Even if you did research as part of your undergraduate work, research for a master’s thesis is a whole different story. As an undergraduate, your project was likely quite small or it was significantly guided by a faculty member; as a master’s student, this is typically your first opportunity to do research on a topic that you have chosen to pursue. While this is an exciting step, it also means that you are accountable for your actions.

Your research type and tools

The first step in the research process is deciding on what type of research you will do. Is it going to be qualitative or quantitative? Maybe it will be a combination of the two. You have likely documented this in your research proposal, but your answer to this question will have implications about how you will organise and analyse your data once it is collected.

Regardless of what route you choose, you will need software to help you manage your data. Many universities have free data management software tools available, and if that is the case for your institution then use them –tools available otherwise can rack up quite a hefty bill.

The most common tools are SPSS, which deals primarily with quantitative data, or NVivo which focuses more on qualitative measures. There are numerous other software packages available, and your supervisor may have suggestions about which management tool is most suitable for your project.

Planning ahead for better outcomes

The second step in the process is to think about timing and distribution. If you are planning a qualitative study, perhaps using interviews, remember that you will need to transcribe all of the words that are contained in the interview. While some programmes allow speech-to-text translation, it is not always accurate. The process of transcription takes considerable time, and therefore, as a researcher, you should consider how many participants you are looking to have in your project.

While a quantitative project may not have the same level of detail in the data input process, there are likely to be more participants and a wider range of outcomes. As a researcher, you must recruit these participants and ensure that they meet the criteria for inclusion. Finding people who are willing to participate in this type of project (often volunteering their time for free) can be challenging, and so as a researcher, it can be useful to have a minimum number of participants that you believe (based on past research) will give you findings that can be reliable and valid within your context.

It is also worth mentioning that you will likely end up with a lot of data, much more than can actually be presented in your master’s thesis.

One of the challenging pieces of the research process is deciding which findings make the cut for your thesis and which get saved for a later date. While your data are probably very interesting to you, it is important that you do not overwhelm the reader or deviate from the research questions that you set out to answer.

To sum up, the process of actually carrying out research and distilling it for the writing part of your thesis takes time. You need to carefully plan your research steps to ensure not only that you cover everything you intend to, but that you also do it in good time, leaving yourself ample space in your schedule to write up your thesis.

Write your Master’s thesis: the right structure

It’s helpful to start here by going over the structure of a master’s thesis. The precise way that different master’s theses are structured is largely going to depend on the discipline area. But most of the time, empirical dissertations follow a format including:

  • Table of contents
  • List of tables/figures
  • Introduction
  • Literature review
  • Methodology

Before you start writing

Before you start to write, draft an outline of your approach to each section including the word count you expect to have (total word counts also vary by discipline).

Within each section you should also include all the major subheadings that you plan to include in the final version.

Before writing any of the sections, meet with your supervisor to ensure that your outline generally conforms to their expectations. Supervisors are the experts in the field and have likely seen many master’s theses, so they will be able to tell you if you are on the right track.

Beginning to write

It’s worth noting here that the order in which you write all the sections of your master’s thesis can vary depending on your process and preferences.

Once you have a detailed outline, there is no rule that says you have to start with the introduction and end with the conclusion. While the reader will inevitably read your thesis this way, you are free to write the ‘easy’ sections first and then move on to ones that you find more challenging.

For many students, beginning with the methodology chapter makes the most sense, as this allows the project to be framed around the steps that you, as a researcher, will take. The methodology usually includes:

  • The research question(s).
  • Any hypotheses that you might have.
  • Your theoretical framework, and the methods that you will use to collect your data.
  • Often, but not always, it includes ethical considerations, especially if you are working with human participants.

For many writers, the methodology chapter is written prior to the collection of data, whereas other chapters may be written after the data have been collected and analysed.

The same can be said for writing the literature review . For some writers, the literature review begins to take shape early in the project, but others choose to leave the writing until after data collection has occurred.

Both strategies have value. Writing the literature review early can give a researcher a clear indication of what data already exists and how this could relate to the potential project. The downside is that if the findings from the current project do not match the historical findings from the literature, the whole chapter may need to be revised to better align with the current findings.

Leaving the literature review until after the data collection means a bigger gap between when the reading was actually done for the project and the writing up period, meaning that the sources may need to be consulted repeatedly. In addition, leaving all the writing to the end of the project may seem tedious for some writers.

Another element that you will need to consider is how to present your findings . For some researchers, combining the findings and discussion sections makes logical sense, whereas for others, this presentation makes the chapter unwieldy and difficult to read.

Staying on track

There is no universal approach to writing a master’s thesis, but there are a lot of people out there who are willing to help you along the way. You will put yourself in a really good place if you seek advice at multiple stages in the process and from multiple different sources.

Your university library is going to be a useful source for research and reference, whereas your supervisor can give more discipline-specific advice on writing. Your university will likely have a writing centre too that can offer suggestions on how to improve your writing and make sure that you are staying on track. Making appointments at your writing centre can also help with accountability, as you will have to actually complete parts of your writing in order to discuss them with others.

writing a master's thesis

Finishing and proofreading

When you write those last few words of your conclusion and you have made it to the end of your thesis (hopefully in one piece – you, not the thesis), there may be a sense of finality. It’s a huge feat you’ve just overcome and for that, you deserve a pat on the back.

But finishing writing your master’s thesis is a little like reaching Camp 4 on an Everest summit trek. Without wanting to sound too ominous, there is still a considerable amount of work to do – chiefly, putting the finishing touches on your thesis through editing and proofreading .

Hopefully, during the process of writing your thesis, you sent drafts to your supervisor for review. These drafts may have included individual chapters or various sections within the data set that required clarification. Your supervisor would have provided feedback on these drafts either through written or verbal comments. It is essential that you keep track of these comments, as they will become crucial for the final stages prior to submission.

There are two ways that you can approach the editing of your master’s thesis. Both have value and it depends on how you view the process of writing. These are:

  • Individually edit sections as they are returned from the supervisor.
  • Edit at the very end, so that the editing can be consistent across sections.

With the first strategy, the editing process is broken up into manageable chunks, but at the end you will have to go back and re-edit sections to improve the clarity and flow.

With the second strategy, you may be able to achieve better flow, but the number of edits at the end may seem overwhelming and take up considerable time.

These challenges bring us back to the importance of a timeline. Leaving several weeks for the editing process is necessary because editing can take longer than you think . Also, once you have made these necessary edits, you will need to go through and proofread your document to make sure that the fine details are consistent across chapters. This includes things like making sure acronyms are clearly defined, tables are appropriately numbered/titled, that punctuation and syntax are accurate, and that formatting and alignment is consistent.

Something you may find challenging during the finishing process is knowing when to stop. With writing there are always changes that can be made – ideas or sentences that can be written just a little bit better or slightly more clearly. You could spend years (really!) refining your work – writing and rewriting sections to make them exactly how you want them – but the simple fact is: you do not have time for that.

Use the time that you do have for editing your thesis to the best of your ability, but also be willing to say “this is good enough” and submit your work.

Handing something in that you have worked diligently on for a long time is a truly satisfying feeling, so try to cherish that moment when it comes.

Also, it goes without saying but is always worth the reminder: the expert editors we have on board here at Oxbridge Editing can not only relieve a phenomenal amount of effort in this final hurdle of your assignment, but, thanks to their experience and skill, they will also ensure your thesis is flawless and truly ready for submission. You can find out more about thesis editing here .

Final words

Hopefully, by reading this post you have identified some tips for writing your master’s thesis that you can apply in your own context.

While the finished product will vary by discipline, the strategies listed above can apply across a wide range of contexts.

Above all else: start early and stick to the plan.

There are many examples of master’s dissertations that you can refer to for guidance so that you can identify the appropriate thesis structure for your project. By doing a little bit each day and by keeping track of your reading, you can ensure that you remain organised and efficient with your work.

Remember that writing your master’s thesis is your first opportunity to demonstrate to the academic community that you are a proficient scholar in your field. A UK master’s dissertation is no easy task, but there are lots of people and resources available to help you. Take guidance from your supervisor and use the facilities that exist on your university campus, including the writing centre and the library.

Best of luck!

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  • Thesis and Examination: The Code of Practice

Preparing a thesis

Guidance on writing your thesis and the support available.

English language requirements

Theses should normally be written in English. In exceptional circumstances, a student may request permission from their Faculty to present a thesis that is written in another language where there is a clear academic justification for doing so, eg. where the language is directly linked to the research project, or where there is a clear benefit to the impact and dissemination of the research.

Likewise, the oral examination should normally be conducted in English, except in cases where there are pedagogic reasons for it to be held in another language, or where there is a formal agreement in place that requires the viva to be conducted in another language. Permission should be sought from the appropriate faculty for a viva to be conducted in a language other than English.

Guidance on writing the thesis

The main source of advice and guidance for students beginning to write their thesis is the supervisory team. Students should discuss the proposed structure of the thesis with their supervisor at an early stage in their research programme, together with the schedule for its production, and the role of the supervisor in checking drafts. Supervisors should be prepared to advise on such matters as undertaking a literature review, referencing and formatting the thesis, and on what should or should not be included in the thesis, including any supplementary or non-standard material.

Additional support is also available via the English Language Teaching Centre (ELTC), which offers academic writing and thesis writing courses. In addition, the University offers a Thesis Mentoring programme  to help students to manage better the process of writing their thesis.

Students may also find it helpful to consult theses from the same subject discipline that are available in institutional repositories such as White Rose Etheses Online or via the British Library’s EThOS service.

Students who intend to include in their thesis any material owned by another person should consider the copyright implications at an early stage and should not leave this until the final stages of completing the thesis. The correct use of third-party copyright material and the avoidance of unfair means are taken very seriously by the University. Attendance at a copyright training session offered by the Library is strongly recommended.

Students should take care to ensure that the identification of any third-party individuals within their thesis (e.g. participants in the research), is only done with the informed consent of those individuals, and in recognition of any potential risks that this may present to them. This is especially important because an electronic copy of the thesis will normally be made publicly available via the White Rose Etheses Online repository.

Use of copyright material

Guidance on good practices in authorship is set out in the GRIP policy expectations.

Good practices in authorship

Acceptable support in writing the thesis

It is acceptable for a student to receive the following support in writing the thesis from the supervisory team (that is additional to the advice and/or information outlined above), if the supervisory team has considered that this support is necessary:

  • Where the meaning of the text is not clear the student should be asked to re-write the text in question in order to clarify the meaning.
  • If the meaning of the text is unclear, the supervisory team can provide support in correcting grammar and sentence construction to clarify its meaning. If a student requires significant support with written English above what is considered to be correcting grammar and sentence construction, the supervisory team will, at the earliest opportunity, request that the student obtains remedial tuition support from the University’s English Language Teaching Centre.
  • The supervisory team cannot rewrite text that changes the meaning of the text (ghost writing/ghost authorship in a thesis is unacceptable).
  • The supervisory team can provide guidance on the structure, content and expression of writing.
  • The supervisory team can proofread the text.
  • Anyone else who may be employed or engaged to proofread the text is only permitted to change spelling and grammar and must not be able to change the content of the thesis.

The Confirmation Review and the oral examination are the key progression milestones for testing whether a thesis is a student's own work.

Requests for an extension to a student’s time limit for the student to improve their standard of written English in the thesis will not be approved. Students who require additional language support should be signposted to appropriate sources of help at an early stage in their degree to avoid such an occurrence.

Yellow Sticker scheme for disabled students

The University runs a sticker scheme for students who have an impairment that can affect aspects of their written communication. This applies to all students, including PGRs submitting a thesis for examination.

Yellow Sticker scheme

The University does not have any regulatory requirements governing the length of theses, but most faculties have established guidelines:

  • Arts and Humanities: 40,000 words (MPhil); 75,000 words (PhD)
  • Health: 40,000 words (MPhil); 75,000 words (PhD, MD)
  • Science: 40,000 words (MPhil); 80,000 words (PhD)
  • Social Sciences: 40,000 words (MPhil); 75,000-100,000 words (PhD)

The above word counts exclude footnotes, bibliography and appendices. Where there are no guidelines, students should consult the supervisor as to the length of thesis appropriate to the particular topic of research.

Related information

Contact the Research Degree Support Team

Thesis submission

Use of unfair means in the assessment process

How Long is a Masters Thesis?

Editor’s note: this article, published in 2018, makes reference to a previous edition of the AUT Postgraduate Handbook that is now out of date. The most recent edition can be downloaded here (student login required).

Earlier this week we looked at the length of a ‘typical’ doctoral thesis in different fields. (If you haven’t read the post, spoiler alert: there’s a lot of variation but the median is around 200 pages / 7-8 chapters). Today, we’re doing the same for Masters theses.

If you’re starting a research Masters degree this year, you’ll probably have the figure “40,000” in your head. That’s the word count that is often thrown around as a goal for a traditional Masters research thesis. However, there is quite a lot of flexibility around that number. According to the AUT Postgraduate Handbook (p.97), a Masters thesis is “normally” between 20,000 – 40,000 words, with an upper limit of 60,000. Different guidelines apply for a Masters with a practice-led component.

But because there are so many types of Masters degrees (taught, research, taught with research, by thesis, or practice-led with an exegesis), there is a huge amount of variety in the types of Masters theses. Some are worth 60 points, and might be shorter; some are worth 120 points, and might be longer. Even disregarding the formalities of points values and word counts, it’s perfectly normal for there to be variation in the length and structure of Masters theses – simply because each research project is different!

OK, so none of this actually answers the question: how much should I write? Sorry.

The realistic-but-frustratingly-vague answer is this: you should write a suitable amount, within university restrictions, to clearly and concisely communicate your research findings (or, in the case of an exegesis, to clarify the academic value and context of the creative work).

Enough vagueness! Want to know how long actual Masters theses are? Of course you do.

I sampled the last 30 Masters theses available in AUT’s Tuwhera open access research repository. Overall, the median length was 91 pages (excluding bibliography and appendices), and the median number of chapters was 6.

Here’s how that broke down by field (note that these were the fields represented in the sample, so apologies if your specific discipline is not included):

Median # chapters Median page length
Art & Design 5 64
Business 6 85
Computer Science 6 96
Education 6 91
Health 7 108
Humanities 6 97
Science 4 75

These are only medians, and the true range of thesis lengths is much wider than these figures might lead you to believe. There were some theses in the sample over 200 pages in length; some under 60 pages. The number of chapters varied from 3 to 10.

So the bad news is that there’s no magic number of words, pages, or chapters to write. But the good news is that you have a lot of freedom. You needn’t be completely shackled by institutional rules or limits; you can, within reason, write up your research in a way that makes sense for your project specifically.

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Thesis word count and format

Three months ago you considered whether you required a restriction to the access of your thesis, and you submitted your ‘Approval of Research Degree Thesis Title’ form. You’ve now finished writing up your thesis and it’s time to submit. We require your thesis to be presented and formatted in a certain way, so it’s important you read through the requirements below, before submitting your thesis. Find out more about thesis submission policy  (.pdf)

The completed thesis should be saved in PDF format. Once saved, please review the file to ensure all pages are displayed correctly.

Page layout

  • Double line spacing should be used for everything except quotations, footnotes, captions to plates etc.
  • It is desirable to leave 2.5cm margins at the top and bottom of the page.
  • The best position for the page number is at the top right 1.3cm below the top edge.
  • The fonts of Arial or Times New Roman should be used throughout the main body of the thesis, in the size of no less than 12 and no greater than 14

Illustrations (Graphs, diagrams, plates, computer printout etc.)

Illustrations embedded within the thesis should be formatted, numbered and titled accordingly:

a) Illustration upright - Caption at the bottom, Illustration number immediately above the

Illustration.

b) Illustration sideways - Caption at right-hand side with Illustration number above it.

Numbers for graphs, diagrams and maps are best located in the bottom right hand corner.

For further advice, please consult your supervisor.

Word counts

The following word counts are the maximum permitted for each level of award*:

Award Word count 
 PhD**  80,000
 Professional Doctorate  40,000
 MD  65,000
 MPhil  50,000
 MA/MSC by Dissertation  30,000

What's excluded from the word count

*In all cases above, the word count includes quotations but excludes appendices, tables (including tables of contents), figures, abstract, references, acknowledgements, bibliography and footnotes (as long as the latter do not contain substantive argument). Please note these are word limits, not targets.

Specific requirements

For degrees which involve Practice as Research (PaR), no less than 50% of the research output should be the written thesis. The written thesis for PaR degrees may be comprised of a range of written elements including, but not limited to, a critical review, a portfolio, and/or a statement on theoretical discourse or methodology.

**In cases of practice-based PhD’s or MPhil’s these suggested word counts may be different. It is normally expected that the written component would comprise no less than 50% of the overall output.

Each copy of the thesis should contain a summary or abstract not exceeding 300 words.

As an example, see how the  layout of your title page (.pdf) should be.

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master's thesis minimum word count

  • How Long Is a PhD Thesis?
  • Doing a PhD

It’s no secret that one of the most challenging aspects of a PhD degree is the volume of work that goes into writing your thesis . So this raises the question, exactly how long is a thesis?

Unfortunately, there’s no one size fits all answer to this question. However, from the analysis of over 100 PhD theses, the average thesis length is between 80,000 and 100,000 words. A further analysis of 1000 PhD thesis shows the average number of pages to be 204 . In reality, the actual word count for each PhD thesis will depend on the specific subject and the university it is being hosted by. This is because universities set their own word length requirements, with most found to be opting for around 100,000.

To find out more about how these word limits differ between universities, how the average word count from STEM thesis differ from non-STEM thesis and a more detailed breakdown from the analysis of over 1000 PhDs, carry on reading the below.

Word Count Differences Between Universities

For any PhD student writing a thesis, they will find that their document will be subject to a word limit set by their university. In nearly all cases, the limit only concerns the maximum number of words and doesn’t place any restrictions on the minimum word limit. The reason for this is that the student will be expected to write their thesis with the aim of clearly explaining their research, and so it is up to the student to determine what he deems appropriate.

Saying this, it is well accepted amongst PhD students and supervisors that the absence of a lower limit doesn’t suggest that a thesis can be ‘light’. Your thesis will focus on several years worth of original research and explore new ideas, theories or concepts. Besides this, your thesis will need to cover a wide range of topics such as your literature review, research methodology, results and conclusion. Therefore, your examiners will expect the length of your thesis to be proportional to convey all this information to a sufficient level.

Selecting a handful of universities at random, they state the following thesis word limits on their website:

  • University of Edinburgh: 100,000
  • University of Exeter: 100,000
  • University of Leister: 80,000
  • University of Bath: 80,000
  • University of Warwick: 70,000

The above universities set upper word limits that apply across the board, however, some universities, such as the University of Birmingham and the University of Sheffield, set different word limits for different departments. For example, the University of Sheffield adopts these limits:

  • Arts & Humanities: 75,000
  • Medicine, Dentistry & Health: 75,000
  • Science: 80,000
  • Social Sciences: 75,000-100,000

Although there’s a range of limit, it’s safe to say that the majority fall within the 80,000 to 100,000 bracket.

Word Count Based on Data from past Theses

A poll of 149 postdocs.

In mid-2019, Dr Eva Lantsoght, a published author, academic blogger and Structural Engineering Professor, conducted a poll which asked postgraduate doctoral students to share the length of their final thesis. 149 PostDoc students responded to the survey, with the majority reporting a length falling within the ‘80,000 – 120,000 words’ bracket as seen below.

DiscoverPhDs_How-long-is-a-PhD-Thesis_Poll

Analysis of 1000 PhD Theses

Over a three-year time period, Dr Ian Brailsford, a then Postgraduate Learning Adviser at the University of Auckland, analysed 1000 doctoral thesis submitted to his university’s library. The PhD theses which formed the basis of his analysis were produced between 2008 to 2017 and showed:

  • Average number of pages = 204
  • Median number of pages = 198
  • Average number of chapters = 7.6

We should note that the above metrics only cover the content falling within the main body of the thesis. This includes the introduction, literature review, methods section, results chapter, discussions and conclusions. All other sections, such as the title page, abstract, table of contents, acknowledgements, bibliography and appendices were omitted from the count.

Although it’s impossible to draw the exact word count from the number of pages alone, by using the universities recommended format of 12pt Times New Roman and 1.5 lines spacing, and assuming 10% of the main body are figures and footnotes, this equates to an average main body of 52,000 words.

STEM vs Non-STEM

As part of Dr Ian Brailsford’s analysis, he also compared the length of STEM doctorate theses to non-STEM theses. He found that STEM theses tended to be shorter. In fact, he found STEM theses to have a medium page length of 159 whilst non-STEM theses had a medium of around 223 pages. This is a 40% increase in average length!

Can You Exceed the Word Count?

Whilst most universities will allow you to go over the word count if you need to, it comes with the caveat that you must have a very strong reason for needing to do so. Besides this, your supervisor will also need to support your request. This is to acknowledge that they have reviewed your situation and agree that exceeding the word limit will be absolutely necessary to avoid detriment unnecessary detriment to your work.

This means that whilst it is possible to submit a thesis over 100,000 words or more, it’s unlikely that your research project will need to.

How Does This Compare to a Masters Dissertation?

The average Masters dissertation length is approximately 20,000 words whilst a thesis is 4 to 5 times this length at approximately 80,000 – 100,000.

The key reason for this difference is because of the level of knowledge they convey. A Master’s dissertation focuses on concluding from existing knowledge whilst a PhD thesis focuses on drawing a conclusion from new knowledge. As a result, the thesis is significantly longer as the new knowledge needs to be well documented so it can be verified, disseminated and used to shape future research.

Finding a PhD has never been this easy – search for a PhD by keyword, location or academic area of interest.

Related Reading

Unfortunately, the completion of your thesis doesn’t mark the end of your degree just yet. Once you submit your thesis, it’s time to start preparing for your viva – the all-to-fun thesis defence interview! To help you prepare for this, we’ve produced a helpful guide which you can read here: The Complete Guide to PhD Vivas.

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COMMENTS

  1. Is there a standard word limit/ page limit for a Masters thesis?

    PhD/D.Eng Thesis: 70 000 to 100 000 words. There's a lot of variation but the median is around 200 pages / 7-8 chapters. A Masters's thesis is "normally" between 20,000 - 40,000 words ...

  2. Why does a masters thesis need to be 50+ pages? Especially if the same

    However, an MSc thesis is typically 50-100 pages long. A paper is (in a dense journal format) typically 8-12 pages long. Let's make a generous estimate for 20 pages in the thesis layout. So either your thesis is very thin, or the journal is very generous, both of which seems unlikely. I'm currently finishing my master thesis.

  3. Formatting Your Dissertation

    There is no maximum word count for the abstract. Pagination: Pages should be assigned a number except for the Thesis Acceptance Certificate. Preliminary pages (abstract, table of contents, list of tables, graphs, illustrations, and preface) should use small Roman numerals (i, ii, iii, iv, v, etc.).

  4. Word limits and requirements of your Degree Committee

    A minimum word length exists for PhD theses: 70,000 words (50,000 for MLitt theses) ... Any English translations and associated linguistic glosses will be excluded from the word count. ... Applications should be made in good time before the date on which a candidate proposes to submit the thesis, made to the Graduate Committee. A candidate must ...

  5. How long is a dissertation?

    An undergraduate dissertation is typically 8,000-15,000 words. A master's dissertation is typically 12,000-50,000 words. A PhD thesis is typically book-length: 70,000-100,000 words. However, none of these are strict guidelines - your word count may be lower or higher than the numbers stated here. Always check the guidelines provided ...

  6. How Long is a Masters Thesis? [Your writing guide]

    The average masters thesis is typically between 50 and 100 pages long. The length of the thesis will vary depending on the discipline and the university requirements but will typically be around 25,000 to 50,000 words in length. My Masters thesis in theoretical computational chemistry was 60 pages long. It was quite short for a master's ...

  7. PDF What is a Master's Thesis?

    Keep an idea file where you jot down potential research ideas. Be on the look out for new data that might help provide new insights into a topic, or for past research that might be productively replicated in other circumstances. In order to write a master's thesis you must find a faculty member who is willing to be your thesis advisor.

  8. Word Limits in Master's Dissertations

    An MA in Social Science, Education, History or English, may include much more debate and written in an essay writing style. Therefore, the word count may be higher, perhaps 20,000 - 25,000 words. Check with your institution and find out if there are penalties for being more than 10% over, or under word count. Tips for Word Count in Word

  9. Your Guide to Writing a Successful Masters Dissertation

    It can be helpful to think of your Masters dissertation as a series of closely interlinked essays, rather than one overwhelming paper. The size of this section will depend on the overall word count for your dissertation. However, to give you a rough idea for a 15,000-word dissertation, the discussion part will generally be about 12,000 words long.

  10. PDF FGSR Minimum Thesis Formatting Requirements

    text double-spaced, to ensure readability. A strict maximum word count of 700 words applies, regardless of whether the abstract is for a master's or a doctoral degree (many abstracts are 300-500 words). ☐ 3. Preface If you need assistance on writing the preface, ask your supervisor.

  11. PDF Guidelines for Presentation of Masters and Phd Dissertations/Theses by

    3 Length of thesis and dissertation by word count Table 1 provides a guide of the length of a thesis or dissertation by word count excluding preliminary pages and annexes. Table 1: Thesis length by word count Sections PhD Masters Minimum Maximum Minimum Maximum Introduction 2700 2700 2000 2000

  12. How To Reduce Word Count In A Dissertation/Thesis

    Use Word's find function (Ctrl+F) to search for "that" and check where it can be omitted. Spaces around mathematical operators - if you're copying numbers from Excel, chances are there are spaces between mathematical operators which can be removed. For example, p < 0.05 (3 words) can be reduced to p<0.05 (1 word).

  13. What is the minimum number of words for your thesis in your ...

    For my masters (languages), the minimum was 16,000 and the maximum 24,000. For my PhD (languages), my minimum is 80,000 and my maximum is 100,000. It's fairly standard for my discipline I think, though I might be wrong! In my first year I'm expected to write ~20k words for a literature review, so I suppose that's helpful in some respects ...

  14. A complete guide to writing a master's thesis

    Write your Master's thesis: the right structure. It's helpful to start here by going over the structure of a master's thesis. The precise way that different master's theses are structured is largely going to depend on the discipline area. But most of the time, empirical dissertations follow a format including: Abstract; Table of contents

  15. Preparing a thesis

    Science: 40,000 words (MPhil); 80,000 words (PhD) Social Sciences: 40,000 words (MPhil); 75,000-100,000 words (PhD) The above word counts exclude footnotes, bibliography and appendices. Where there are no guidelines, students should consult the supervisor as to the length of thesis appropriate to the particular topic of research.

  16. PDF Guidance on Thesis Word Count

    Creative Writing: The thesis is between 80,000-150,000 words in total: 60,00090,000 words - of creative writing and 20,000-60,000 words of critical writing. Please be aware this is merely a suggested breakdown and the exact balance will be decided between the student and the supervisory team. For an MPhil thesis an equivalent breakdown is ...

  17. How Long is a Masters Thesis?

    That's the word count that is often thrown around as a goal for a traditional Masters research thesis. However, there is quite a lot of flexibility around that number. According to the AUT Postgraduate Handbook (p.97), a Masters thesis is "normally" between 20,000 - 40,000 words, with an upper limit of 60,000. Different guidelines apply ...

  18. Thesis word count and format

    It is desirable to leave 2.5cm margins at the top and bottom of the page. The best position for the page number is at the top right 1.3cm below the top edge. The fonts of Arial or Times New Roman should be used throughout the main body of the thesis, in the size of no less than 12 and no greater than 14.

  19. PDF Research Dissertation Guidelines

    Word limit. Your research dissertation should be around 10,000 words. There is an absolute maximum of 12,000 words. This includes everything apart from figure legends, tables, appendices and references. The marker will stop reading after 12,000 words, and anything after that will not be marked (except for your reference list).

  20. PDF Minimum and Maximum Word Limit (Faculty Meeting 13.9.2019)

    Item Research Project (Coursework) Dissertation (Mixed Mode) Thesis (Research) Minimum Maximum Minimum Maximum Minimum Maximum Master10,000 30,000 14,000 40,000 18,000 60,000. PhD- - - - 30,000 100,000 The word count is calculated for the main text only from the first chapter through the final chapter (excluding any attachments, references ...

  21. How Long Is a PhD Thesis?

    However, from the analysis of over 100 PhD theses, the average thesis length is between 80,000 and 100,000 words. A further analysis of 1000 PhD thesis shows the average number of pages to be 204. In reality, the actual word count for each PhD thesis will depend on the specific subject and the university it is being hosted by.

  22. PDF Dissertation Word Count Requirements for the Degree of MPhil

    College of Social Sciences Graduate School in advance of submitting their thesis for examination. Where the dissertation word count is 10% lower or higher than the expected requirements (27,000 words or 44,000 words) the Co. lege can allow this on a discretionary basis and you will not be required to make a formal req. t. Please contact the ...