How long does it take to write a PhD dissertation?

Writing GuidesDissertation
May 1, 2019

Towards the end of your PhD, you are expected to write a dissertation corresponding to your field of study. Your dissertation is similar to the thesis you wrote in for your undergraduate degree. However, the dissertation is expected to have more depth. It is much longer than a thesis, often ranging from 25 to 30 pages, with longer works reaching 100 pages. Dissertations often direct the research trajectory of doctorate researchers.

Deciding how long your dissertation should be

In plain terms, a dissertation is a massively long and detailed research paper . Most universities prescribe a minimum number of pages. It’s a given, then, that you must meet it. However, the actual length of your dissertation (whether you should simply meet the minimum or go beyond) depends on the complexity of your topic and data collected. To give you a rough idea, a quantitative research can be shorter—in essence, can be at the minimum number of pages. However, a qualitative dissertation is definitely longer since it has more details that cannot be explained in table form.

How long does it take to write a dissertation?

The dissertation writing process is long and tedious. Universities typically allot a year or so for the dissertation. Depending on the depth and special requirements, other dissertations can take more than a year. But these are rare cases. You can avoid prolonging your dissertation by planning it thoroughly.

Here are the steps to writing an amazing dissertation and how long each will take:

Stage 1 — Choosing a topic

Most doctorate students already have a topic that they have been working on from their Masteral studies, and don’t need to look further. If you’re one of these students, what you need to do instead is to dig deeper into your topic. Whether you have a topic or not, you still need to conduct research in your field. Catch up on the latest conversations in your field. Is there anything else that has not been explored in the area you have been working on? Another question worth considering is: is your topic still worth writing a dissertation on?

Ideally, you will spend one month  researching and figuring out what topic to write about. But you do not have to do it alone. You can ask your thesis adviser their thoughts on your potential topics. Perhaps they can even help you find the right direction for your thesis. 

Do not skimp on the time you spend on choosing a topic. Remember that you will be committing to this topic for more than a year, possibly even for the rest of your life. The last week for this stage should be spent on narrowing down and finalizing your research question or your hypothesis. 

Stage 2 — Preparing the Proposal

The next one month after you have finalized your topic is all about writing the dissertation proposal. The dissertation proposal is not written only for the professor or even the university. It is sometimes also submitted to organizations or funding agencies so you can get funding or permits for your research. Funding is crucial especially for research that require extensive data gathering. Novelty, feasibility, and significance are some of the things that funding agencies evaluate through the dissertation proposal. 

The dissertation proposal can make or break your dissertation. You can not just sit down for a few hours and write whatever comes to mind. You need to plan your proposal and go through multiple drafts, and editing stages to make sure it can answer potential questions. If this is your first time writing a dissertation proposal, you might want to consider asking for some help from someone more experienced. They can make sure that your dissertation proposal is convincing enough and has all these parts:

  • Research question
  • Justification
  • Objectives
  • Research design
  • Timeline

Writing the proposal and submitting it may take a month, but getting the approval of your committee and the institutional review board may take a few more weeks. So, sit back for a while, do some preliminary research while you wait for the approval.

Stage 3 — Conducting the Research

Actual research for a dissertation takes about five to six months , or even more if your dissertation is longer. There are two parts to the research process: research and data collection.


It is important to conduct research first so you can establish theories, hypotheses, research design, and methodology for your data collection. Read up further on literature related to your topic, and take notes in preparation for your Literature Review and bibliography. This is also the time when you design the survey, should there be one. This endeavor can take one to two months (depending on how much you procrastinate).

Data collection 

The data collection is probably the most fun part for many students because it allows them to visit other locations and meet new people. It can be tiresome, too, though. Getting enough people to volunteer for a study or answer a survey requires the researcher to spend long hours persuading strangers. 

Data collection can take three to four months or longer , depending on the size or extent of your study. Typically, you will need to conduct a pilot study. The pilot study reveals how effective your research design is, as well as other loopholes that might affect actual data gathering. The pilot study is done with a small sample, and can be accomplished in 2 weeks. Another week can be allotted for adjustments in the research design before you proceed with the actual research.

The remaining two to three months is allotted to the actual research should include data encoding and data analysis. Before you proceed with writing your dissertation, you should have a conclusion from your results.

Learn how to write the methodology chapter or section of your dissertation here.

Stage 4 — Writing the Thesis/Dissertation

Actual writing takes five to six months . Although this is only the first stage of the writing process, it takes time. In order to write a good paper, one must follow the steps and conventions for writing an academic paper. This process alone can take weeks. The dissertation writing process is all about piecing together the research, the data, and results from the research process. Then, add your analysis of the data and recommendations. 

The reason this takes five to six months is because a dissertation is much longer than a regular research paper. Additionally, writing a dissertation chapter requires you to go through 2 or even 4 drafts before you submit it. Therefore, each chapter of the dissertation can take more than two weeks up to a month to write.

Writing the dissertation itself may not sound like a tedious task, but it is a burdensome task. Academic writing conventions have numerous rules to consider, in addition to grammatical rules. It is normal for new doctoral candidates to worry about their writing abilities. That is precisely why we have all these writing tips to help you improve your writing.

Stage 4.5 — Getting feedback

Professors usually ask students to write the chapters one by one. On each submission, the professor has the opportunity to give feedback so the student can revise it. This process can take a few days to a week after submission. It is worth noting that thesis advisers often schedule weekly consultations with their PhD students to address any problems with the research or simply to check up on their progress. It is important for PhD students to take these consultations into account in their schedule. If you know how to talk with a teacher well, you can make the most of the consultation, and in turn, get the best results for your dissertation.

As you will see in Stage 5, your committee will also give you feedback for the final revision.

Stage 5 — Preparing for the defense

A student typically has 2 to 3 weeks to prepare to present their dissertation to the committee. This is also known as the defense. 

While preparing for your presentation, it is important to keep in mind that the committee has read your dissertation. So, there is no need to go through every detail—focus only on the important parts. 

Two to three weeks is plenty of time to prepare your presentation and rehearse before the defense. Avoid procrastinating and prepare your presentation only on the night before the big day. Presentations are intricate and often also need to be revised, so it is best to start preparing at least two weeks before. Do not dive into the presentation head on either; plan it out first. Create an outline, detail your main points, then go on to the visual aids. Once you are done with the presentation, go through it, and revise where needed. 

Take the extra mile and rehearse your presentation. It’s important that you know exactly what your presentation contains and what you will say so you do not use fillers or stutter too much. You can prepare a script if you wish, as long as you don’t read it during the defense. You can also opt for index cards to remind you what to say. 

After this defense, your committee will give you their critiques and other comments that will help you improve the quality of your dissertation. Make sure to listen carefully and take down notes.

Stage 6 — Revising the Dissertation

As mentioned earlier, you will get to revise the chapters of your dissertations after you submit them. However, before the final submission, you will be given one final opportunity to revise your entire dissertation. The committee will read your dissertation and give you their feedback and other critiques—address these in the final month. 

Take a few days away from your dissertation before proceeding to revise it. This will give you a fresh eye for editing and making sure your dissertation is coherent, clear, and well-referenced. Don’t let poor writing jeopardize a quality study. Keep in mind that your dissertation is the first of your legacy as an expert in your field, so spend as much of this week revising and perfecting your dissertation.

Tip: while other students look for dissertation writing service  online in stage 4 where they write the dissertation, but you can actually also enlist the help of a professional for this stage. A professional writer offering an affordable dissertation writing service  has a fresh eye and can spot any incoherence or grammatical errors in your dissertation.

How long does it take to write a dissertation

How long does it take to write a qualitative dissertation?

Qualitative research takes a little longer than quantitative research because it is more subjective. Analysis of the data requires more arduous effort as you need to go over the data over and over again, to note themes and variations. It is also more prone to bias, so you have to be extra careful with your analysis.

The estimated timeline is based on quantitative research dissertations, however, with some minor adjustments, it can also be applied to qualitative dissertations. Only the research and writing part will take longer for qualitative research. Qualitative research can take up to six to seven months. Qualitative research may require more participants in order to ensure credibility due to its subjective nature. Thus, gathering enough participants can take longer than in a quantitative research. Furthermore, participants may be more hesitant to join qualitative researches because they require more time and effort. Once this obstacle is overcome, there’s the challenge of interpreting results. Unlike quantitative research where the data can be input into SPSS or can be analyzed using statistics, qualitative research requires more analysis and theoretical application. You will need to find patterns and build a narrative to explain your results. Naturally, writing a narrative also takes longer. These are just some factors that make the writing process for a qualitative dissertation longer.

We hope this does not discourage you from taking on a qualitative research. Different topics require different types of research methods. Do not force a qualitative research topic into a quantitative research just because the latter is shorter. Shorter does not always mean easier, especially when you are using the wrong method. Apart from that, you will be compromising the quality and credibility of your dissertation. So, make sure to use the correct type of research for your topic.

More in-depth study guides on how to write your dissertation in a better way

We have other guides on dissertation writing, specifically:

You have worked hard on your doctorate degree, and with your upcoming dissertation, you are close to getting it. One can say that writing a dissertation is your last hurrah before becoming a doctor/doctorate. So, give your dissertation your best and some more. Who knows, your dissertation may even be published in one of the respected journals in your field. As we have said earlier, your dissertation can direct the trajectory of your career in the field you have chosen. This is not just a research paper; this dissertation is the work of your life.

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