How Long Does It Take to Write a Dissertation
The obvious short answer is, it varies. But, in general, it depends upon these factors:
- How much time you have to devote to the project on a weekly basis, given your other responsibilities and obligations. You may have a part-time job, famly responsibilities, and you may be a TA during this process. You must devise a schedule for your dissertation work that provides definite times for your work.
- How long your research will take. It is not unusual for implementations of research to take as long as a year (or even more). While you are conducting your research, however, you can certainly be working on your literature review and at least part of your methodology chapter.
- Your advisor and committee will provide feedback and suggestions along the way. How responsive they are and how quickly they provide this will impact your timeline.
In general, and based upon actual data, the answer to how long it takes to write a dissertation is 12-18 months, but perhaps more, depending on the timeline to collect your research data.
So, let’s take a look at this entire process in terms of the average dissertation project from start to finish.
The Research Question and the Proposal
You have probably had many discussions with your advisor regarding your research question. You have picked a topic area of interest and have completed some initial research, in order to narrow that topic area to a specific research question you want to pursue. It has been approved by your advisor and you are now ready to write that proposal for your committee.
The question now becomes, how long does it take to write a dissertation proposal? And again, the answer varies. For some students, this is a longer project, because committees, and individual members, can be very picky. They may send the student back to re-write certain parts before final approval. You will discover that every committee member has individual agendas and pet peeves. These will come out in their assessment of your proposal. Do not be discouraged if you have to re-write – it is common and expected.
The proposal must include a clear statement of the research question and a justification of its importance to the field. The other parts include a short synopsis of the research you have conducted thus far that leads to your research question, a preliminary explanation of your research design, and a timeline for completion.
The Literature Review
The five chapters of your dissertation will of course begin with an introduction. However, this should not be written until the entire piece is finished. It will be much better if you wait.
Here is the thing about the literature review. Many students need to complete it in full before they can really refine their research methodology; others, because of the nature of the research, may refine their methodology and begin the implementation of the project at the same time that they are working on their literature review.
This will be the most tedious and often least interesting of the dissertation project. It will be like a large research paper, and it must contain a synopsis of all research that directly relates to your question. At times, you will read abstracts that appear to be a fit, pull out the actual piece and discover, about halfway through that it will not work for your lit review. This is common, but frustrating. For this reason, students will often contact a writing service that has a Ph.D.’s in their fields and ask if they can, “Write my dissertation lit review.” This is often a decent solution to an otherwise time-consuming task.
Just how long should a literature review be in a dissertation? Again, it varies. You have to include all relevant research studies. Focus on that rather than on length. These can run from 20-30 pages and include from 20-30 resources.
The Design and Methodology Chapter
Here is where you explain to your reader exactly how you have designed your research, why you designed it as you did, and speak to the instruments, if any, that you will be using. The purpose of this chapter is to provide all of the details, so that a future researcher could replicate your research exactly. Having never done so before, many student writers are not sure how to write a dissertation methodology. The best thing to do is to read the methodology sections of other dissertations and follow the format that those researchers have used.
You will need to explain exactly how you chose samplings or the control and experimental groups (if you have them), and exactly the treatment(s) you used or the information your instruments are gathering from your sample population.
Depending upon your institution or department, the data you gathered is either reported in this chapter or the next. Data should always be reported in both prose and graphic forms
The Analysis/Discussion Chapter
This is the “meat” of your dissertation. You will be analyzing that data you collected and determining if your research question was answered and what significance has been the result.
Consider yourself fortunate that you are not doing this 30 years ago, when the statistical workup was all completed by hand – yes, paper and pencil. No software programs to crunch your numbers as there are now.
The biggest issues students have with this chapter are determining which formulae to use and plugging the numbers in correctly, especially if they are not STEM majors. Of all chapters in a dissertation, this is the one for which students most commonly seek help. And hiring a statistician to crunch these numbers is the best way to ensure that it is done correctly.
Again, the analysis must be reported in both graphic and prose forms.
Just how long to write the analysis chapter in a dissertation? It will depend upon individual students’ abilities to craft it on their own or how quickly they can secure the help they need.
Writing the Conclusion Chapter
Most students have had experience writing conclusion for essays and papers. But understanding how to write a conclusion for a dissertation will require a different approach. Most dissertation conclusions are highly organized into specific sections.
First, you must declare that your research question has been answered, how you have shown this, and the contribution you have made to your field of knowledge.
Second, you must identify any constraints or nuisance factors within your research, so that future researchers can account for them as well.
Third, you should point future researchers in directions that will replicate or add to what you have accomplished.
Not Quite Finished – the Introduction and the Abstract
Now you are ready to write that introduction. If you are wondering how long a dissertation introduction should be, understand that it will be your shortest chapter. The goal of the introduction is the same as any that is written for other academic pieces. You can use some of the information from your proposal to write this chapter – introduce your research question, provide a bit of background for choosing it, justify its significance, and give a very brief summary of your research design and methodology. Obviously, you will not give away the analysis and conclusion.
The abstract is composed after all else. This is the piece that others will read to discover exactly what your dissertation is about. You have already read many of them, so you should not have any questions about how long a dissertation abstract should be. It is no longer than one page. Again, you will state your research question and provide a very brief summary of what you did. The goal is for other researchers to determine if your study relates to their research and if your work should be used as a resource. Use other abstracts as model as you write your own.
Just Starting Out? Plan on the Next 12-18 Months for your Time Frame
If you have read other dissertations, you understand how long is a dissertation. Most will be 200 pages, more or less. You have a lot of work ahead of you, but if you commit to a regular schedule of work and get the help you need when you need it, you’ll make it. And the prize, that PH.D., will all be worth it.