A Complete Guide To How Long A Dissertation Is In The UK?

how long is a dissertation uk
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The dissertation, a cornerstone of higher education in the United Kingdom, stands as a testament to a student’s scholarly prowess.

It also represents the student’s ability to contribute to their field of study. However, a common question that often arises among students embarking on this academic journey is, “How long should a dissertation be in the UK?”

The answer to this query is not straightforward, as the length of a dissertation can vary considerably depending on numerous factors, including the academic level, the chosen discipline, and the university’s specific guidelines.

In this article, we will delve into the intricacies of dissertation length in the UK, exploring the key determinants and offering insights to help students navigate this essential aspect of their academic pursuits.

We also discuss how long it takes to write a dissertation, what is expected to be on your dissertation, and so much more.

What Is A Dissertation

A dissertation is a significant and unique research undertaking typically mandated as an integral component of a graduate or postgraduate academic program.

It serves as a substantial scholarly endeavor where a student delves into, examines, and communicates findings on a particular subject or research inquiry within their chosen area of study.

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How long Is A dissertation?

The dissertation length varies depending on the academic level and the country’s norms but typically ranges from approximately 10,000 to 12,000 words for undergraduate studies, 15,000 to 25,000 words for master’s-level projects, and can extend to 50,000 words or beyond for Ph.D. dissertations.

How Long Does A Dissertation Take To Write?

The duration required to complete a dissertation varies from person to person and hinges on several factors. One crucial element is the amount of time available each week for dissertation work, as individuals with limited weekly hours will naturally require more time to complete their projects.

Additionally, the research phase can be time-consuming, as without gathering the necessary research data, writing the dissertation becomes impossible. The feedback loop with professors also plays a role, as delays in response or feedback provision can impact the overall writing timeline.

Consequently, while some students manage to complete their dissertation in as little as six months, others may extend their timeline to twelve to eighteen months or more based on their unique circumstances and constraints.

Key characteristics Of A Dissertation Include:

  1. Original Research: Dissertations require students to conduct original research and contribute new knowledge to their field. This involves designing and executing experiments, surveys, data analysis, or other research methods to address a specific research question.
  2. Lengthy and In-Depth: Dissertations are usually much longer and more comprehensive than regular coursework essays or papers. They can range from tens of pages to several hundred pages, depending on the academic level and specific requirements.
  3. Structure and Format: Dissertations typically follow a structured format, including an introduction, literature review, methodology, results, discussion, and conclusion. Proper citation and referencing are essential to acknowledge the sources of information and ideas used in the research.
  4. Independent Work: While students may receive guidance and feedback from advisors or professors, a dissertation is primarily the result of independent research and critical thinking.
  5. Contribution to Knowledge: A well-executed dissertation should make a meaningful contribution to the existing body of knowledge in the chosen field or discipline.

Dissertations are a standard component of master’s and doctoral programs, although the precise structure, requirements, and directives can differ from one educational institution and program to another.

The journey of conducting research, composing, and presenting a dissertation marks a substantial achievement in one’s academic or research path.

It showcases a student’s capacity to participate in advanced scholarly activities and make meaningful contributions to the broader academic community’s knowledge in a specific field of study.

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What Are The Two Types Of Dissertations?

The nature of your dissertation will be contingent on your field of study, and a significant distinction lies in whether it is empirical or non-empirical.

Empirical dissertations entail the collection of data, as seen in fields like psychology, where adhering to professional and ethical guidelines is necessary when gathering information from the public. In natural and life sciences, empirical dissertations might revolve around laboratory research.

Conversely, non-empirical dissertations rely on pre-existing data and arguments from the works of others.

This typically involves extensive research and a thorough examination of existing literature. In this type of dissertation, it’s imperative not only to summarize others’ findings but also to critically evaluate their work and delve into its practical implications.

Why Are You Required To Write A Dissertation? 

  • A dissertation is a core requirement of most university degrees. 
  • The dissertation will enhance your employability. For instance, you will develop transferable skills in interpersonal communication, data collection and analysis, report writing, and effective time management.  
  • While it is demanding, writing a dissertation is your chance to explore, in-depth, a topic that interests you. Therefore, ensuring you choose a topic you are passionate about will make your experience more rewarding and enjoyable! 

How To Write A Dissertation

Writing a dissertation is a complex and demanding task, but it can be manageable if you break it down into smaller, more manageable steps. Here is a general guide on how to write a dissertation:

Choose a Topic

Select a topic that genuinely interests you and aligns with your academic program’s requirements. Ensure it’s specific, researchable, and has sufficient academic literature available.

Research Proposal

Write a research proposal that outlines your research questions, objectives, methodology, and a literature review. This will serve as a blueprint for your dissertation.

Literature Review

Conduct a comprehensive literature review to understand the existing research in your field. Identify gaps in the literature that your dissertation can address.

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Research Methodology

Describe your research methods, including data collection techniques and analysis procedures. Justify why you’ve chosen these methods and discuss any ethical considerations.

Data Collection

If your dissertation involves data collection, carry out your research and gather the necessary data. Ensure that you maintain detailed records of your methods and findings.

Data Analysis

Analyze your data using appropriate statistical or analytical techniques. Present your findings in a clear and organized manner.


Begin your dissertation with an introduction that provides background information, states your research objectives, and outlines the structure of your dissertation.

Main Chapters

Organize the main body of your dissertation into chapters that logically present your research. Each chapter should cover a specific aspect or theme related to your research. Common chapters include a literature review, methodology, results, discussion, and conclusion.

Citations and References

Cite all the sources you’ve used in your dissertation accurately. Follow a specific citation style (e.g., APA, MLA, Chicago) as per your institution’s guidelines.


Interpret your findings and relate them to your research questions and the existing literature. Discuss the implications of your research and any limitations.

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Summarize the main findings and contributions of your research. Explain the significance of your work and suggest avenues for future research.

The rest Includes:

  1. Abstract: Write a concise abstract that provides a brief overview of your dissertation, including the research questions, methods, key findings, and conclusions.
  2. Proofreading and Editing: Carefully proofread and edit your dissertation for grammar, spelling, and coherence. Consider seeking feedback from peers or mentors.
  3. Formatting: Format your dissertation according to your institution’s guidelines. Pay attention to margins, fonts, line spacing, and page numbering.
  4. References and Bibliography: Create a list of all the sources you’ve cited in your dissertation in a consistent format.
  5. Submission and Defense: Submit your dissertation to your advisor or committee for review. Prepare for a dissertation defense if required, where you’ll present and defend your research in front of a panel.
  6. Revisions: Be prepared for revisions based on feedback from your advisor or committee. Make necessary revisions to improve the quality of your dissertation.

Remember that writing a dissertation is a time-consuming process, and it’s essential to manage your time effectively and stay organized throughout the project. Seek guidance and support from your advisor and peers, and don’t hesitate to ask for help when needed.

Supervision Advice

A supervisor will be assigned to you to assist with guidance on how to prepare, produce, and improve your dissertation.  

The supervisor’s role is to: 

  • Assist in the organization of the project in the early stages of preparation 
  • Advise you on the feasibility of what you plan to do 
  • Advise on methods and ethics of your research  

The supervisor is not expected to: 

  • Proofread your work 
  • Provide you with a topic or research question 
  • Direct the research  
  • Ensure that a dissertation is of sufficient quality to pass: this is your responsibility 

To get the best out of your time with your supervisor, you should: 

  • Check formal requirements early 
  • Check arrangements for supervision and how your supervisor likes to work 
  • Organize regular supervision meetings and prepare work for each one 
  • Let your supervisor know how you work best 

Using Dissertation Marking Criteria

Your dissertation, much like your prior evaluations, will be evaluated based on a predefined set of assessment standards. These criteria are made available in your module or course handbook and are accessible through the Blackboard platform.

Assessment criteria are intended to: 

  • Ensure you meet the learning outcomes. 
  • Help you understand how your work is assessed. 
  • Allow tutors to focus their feedback. They will let you know what you are doing well and what needs improvement. 

Dissertation assessment criteria usually specify what the tutor expects in terms of: 

  • Clarity: have you expressed your ideas clearly? 
  • Relevance: does your work fit into/fill a gap in existing research/literature on similar topics? 
  • Originality: does it offer a fresh perspective on a topic? 
  • Meeting course requirements: does it meet the word count/deadlines, for example? 

Before commencing your dissertation, it is crucial to ascertain the expectations placed upon you and understand the grading criteria that will be applied to your work.

Additionally, it is advisable to periodically review your progress, both every few weeks and upon completion, to ensure that you are aligning with the assessment criteria.

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Skills you need to show

No matter what type of dissertation you write, and what topic you choose, you’ll need to demonstrate the following skills:

  • Defining and outlining a research area with a clear question
  • Identifying the leading issues
  • Sourcing the relevant information
  • Assessing its reliability and legitimacy
  • Evaluating the evidence on all sides of a debate
  • Coming to a well-argued conclusion
  • Organizing and presenting the outcomes of your work critically, convincingly, and articulately, following all the guidelines on how to format your essay

Oral examinations (vivas)

For certain higher-level academic qualifications, particularly doctorate degrees like PhDs, it may be necessary to participate in an oral examination commonly referred to as a “viva” in some regions. The term “viva” is derived from Latin, meaning “live voice.”

Typically, the viva process commences with you delivering a brief presentation of your research to a panel of two or three professors. This presentation is followed by an extended period of questioning and discussion, which can extend for as long as two hours.

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The length of a dissertation in the UK can vary significantly depending on several factors, including the level of the degree, the specific academic discipline, and the university’s guidelines.

While there is no fixed word count or page limit for dissertations, students are encouraged to consult their department’s guidelines and work closely with their advisors to ensure that their research is comprehensive, well-structured, and meets the academic standards of their institution.

Regardless of its length, a dissertation represents a significant scholarly achievement, requiring dedication, rigorous research, and critical analysis. It is a testament to a student’s ability to contribute to the body of knowledge in their chosen field and marks a significant milestone in their academic journey.



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