I've read a blog post written by Robert Wolff saying that for a philosophy dissertation to be considered good, at least in American universities, it should be between 200 to 250 pages long.

We could respond, of course, that it is not necessarily the number of pages or word count that makes a thesis up to par. If this is so, can you please cite a dissertation wherein a student was able to defend his central claim in less than a hundred pages?

  • 19
    (1) Can you cite the blog post? (2) Is this individual's blog post actually going to impact what universities accept? In other words, why is this worth researching and discussing? (3) Why <100 when the post talks about 200-250? (4) Comment: the fact that someone was able to successfully defend a thesis in <100 pages doesn't mean it would meet some arbitrary criteria for being "good" according to Dr. Wolff (see "no true scotsman" fallacy).
    – eykanal
    Commented Mar 13, 2017 at 14:34
  • 4
    I think that this quote applies s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/05/ce/44/…
    – Matt
    Commented Mar 13, 2017 at 17:06
  • 2
    The statement comes from a 2010 blog post named "How to write a doctoral dissertation in philosophy": "An American dissertation in Philosophy should be about 200 to 250 pages long, and have five or six chapters." Note that Wolff is talking about Philosophy specifically, not about other humanities as it is indicated in the question title. In fact, he explicitly contrasts a Philosophy dissertation with those from Anthropology or History.
    – Schmuddi
    Commented Mar 13, 2017 at 22:03
  • 1
    "If this is so, can you please site a dissertation wherein a student was able to defend his central claim in less than a hundred pages." Some purely technical ways to get there would be using smaller font sizes, smaller page margins, preferencing shorter synonymous words, getting rid of unnecessary particles, really small footnotes. More content oriented approaches could include not repeating yourself or scrutinizing content for if it is really necessary for the central claim. Commented Mar 14, 2017 at 8:44
  • 8
    "A dissertation is either good or long." (German saying.)
    – Daniel
    Commented Mar 14, 2017 at 11:01

3 Answers 3


The University of Minnesota library system maintaining electronic dissertations library contained 2,536 records for Phd students.

The range was incredibly variable (minimum of 21 pages, maximum of 2002), but most dissertations were around 100 to 200 pages.

The average number of pages per topic is : enter image description here

Source: https://beckmw.wordpress.com/2013/04/15/how-long-is-the-average-dissertation/

In fact, it mostly depends on the research area, the university regulation and supervisor research 'style'.

  • 4
    Some areas have more or less entropy in the way that information is transmitted. For example, law tend to be more verbose than maths... Commented Mar 13, 2017 at 20:07
  • 19
    Unfortunately, the graph doesn't list Philosophy, which is what Wolff is talking about exclusively in his post. So, strictly speaking, the observation that the average page numbers vary substantially between disciplines doesn't really answer the question (unless we concede that the OP has misread the blog post by Wolff).
    – Schmuddi
    Commented Mar 13, 2017 at 22:13
  • 11
    2002 pages sure puts things into perspective
    – mbrig
    Commented Mar 13, 2017 at 23:18
  • 16
    @woliveirajr For maths it has been claimed that one sentence is enough!
    – Ben C
    Commented Mar 14, 2017 at 9:36
  • 3
    @mbrig The 2002 pages probably included large tables of data and/or source code of computer programs. Commented Mar 14, 2017 at 13:13

The answer is no, there is no such consensus.

Page number is a very poor indicator of a document's quality unlike what some people seem to believe.

Don't worry about what a blogger says, talk to your adviser about her or his expectations in terms of the depth and length of your thesis, and how your current version stands with them.

Your adviser should know the standards for your institution and has a shared interest in your thesis meeting them.

  • 3
    -1 While your response seems like it ought to be true, I think it avoids answering the question. The asker is looking for proof of the existence of a high-quality short PhD thesis. Actually, they ask for a citation to one, which is a little more than just proof that it exists.
    – Clumsy cat
    Commented Mar 14, 2017 at 12:19
  • @TheoreticalPerson this answer addresses the question in the title. There is no universal standard as to what constitute an acceptable thesis, let alone a good one. So asking for an example is pointless.
    – Cape Code
    Commented Mar 14, 2017 at 13:23
  • 2
    Some people just deal better with a concrete example of X, than an assertion that there are overwhelming reasons why X surely must exist. Where in this case X is, "a short thesis that defends its main claim". Commented Mar 14, 2017 at 13:27
  • 1
    @CapeCode I'm not sure your second point really follows from your first. There may be no standard for a thesis, but there are many interesting observations that might be made from a short thesis that some professor considered "good enough".
    – Clumsy cat
    Commented Mar 14, 2017 at 13:42

The helpful chart supplied by @Krebto tells the story well: dissertations in the humanities are generally longer than those in the science and social sciences. The shortest humanities dissertations on the list are in English, at 220pp. History runs 295. In my experience, Philosophy is in between those two.

None of this says anything about intellectual quality, but it is a good indicator of expectations.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .