On R is My Friend, as a way to procrastinate on his own dissertation, beckmw took a look at dissertation length via the digital archives at the University of Minnesota.
I’ve selected the top fifty majors with the highest number of dissertations and created boxplots to show relative distributions. Not many differences are observed among the majors, although some exceptions are apparent. Economics, mathematics, and biostatistics had the lowest median page lengths, whereas anthropology, history, and political science had the highest median page lengths. This distinction makes sense given the nature of the disciplines.
I was on the long end of the statistics distribution, around 180 pages. Probably because I had a lot of pictures.
As I was working on my dissertation, people often asked me how many pages I had written and how many pages I had left to write. I never had a good answer, because there’s no page limit or required page count. It’s just whenever you (and your adviser) feel like there’s enough to get a point across. Sometimes that takes 50 pages. Other times it takes 200.
So for those who get that dreaded page-count question, you can wave your finger at this chart and tell people you’re somewhere in the distribution.
If you’re visiting Dissertation-Editor.com, chances are that you’re beginning, working on, or finishing your dissertation. One of the difficulties of the dissertation writing process is how isolating it can be. No matter what stage of the process you find yourself in at the moment, the solitary nature of working on a dissertation may lead you to question how your work compares to the dissertations of others.
Dissertation Length Varies
A few years ago, PhD candidate Marcus Beck distracted himself by conducting some research—unrelated to his dissertation—in order to answer some nagging questions he had about the average dissertation. Beck created a computer program that went through his university’s electronic thesis/dissertation database and compiled information on dissertation length.
The graphic above is a representation of what he found. Unsurprisingly, quantitative disciplines like mathematics had the shortest dissertations, some clocking in at fewer than 50 pages. Humanities and social sciences, such as history or anthropology, were much longer, with some dissertations consisting of 400 pages or more.
Dissertation Page Count Probably Doesn’t Measure Much
Aside from the fact that Beck did the research as merely a diversion and sampled information that is obviously unrepresentative of dissertations in general, Beck identified some other important caveats to notice. In the blog post where Beck publicized his data, he makes sure to note that many dissertations are filled with “lots of white space,” such as one-sided pages and double-spacing. Furthermore, the author of a dissertation can fill appendices with any relevant content that she or he wants. Beck estimates that all told, the actual written portion of a dissertation can sometimes account for less than 50% of the total page count. And, of course, quality is always going to be more important than quantity.
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