Word Limits in Master’s Dissertations

Word Limits in Master’s Dissertations. A frequent question from Master’s students when doing their project dissertations is how many words am I aiming for? What is the word count? This blog will explore Word Count limits for dissertations, and also includes some tips for using word count in WORD. This will also be useful for bachelor’s final year projects when students are asking “How long is the final year project required to be?”

Here is a short video clip on the subject.

Bachelors Final Year Project Word Count

This is often the first time a student has to set their own question for an assignment, and a typical bachelors final year project may be 6,000 – 10,000 words. Many of the following tips may also apply at bachelor’s level.

Masters Final Year Project Word Count

How long is a Master’s dissertation? Essentially the project is again a student setting their own question, but this time at a Master’s level, so it requires more critical evaluation, and a demonstration of mastery in their research area. Therefore, the word limit may be up to 20,000 words, but do check with your institution for exact limits.

Approach the course/module coordinator for the dissertation rather than your project supervisor, as although the project supervisor may be the technical expert in your subject, they may not however understand the module/project requirements.

How is the Word Count Calculated?

Usually from the start of chapter 1 to the end of the Conclusion/Further Work/Recommendations chapter. This means it excludes the abstract, table of contents, list of figures, acknowledgements, declaration of originality at the beginning, and also excludes the references, bibliography and appendices at the end to of the document, but please do check with your institution.

MBA, MSc, or MA qualification?

I wrote a separate blog on the differences between these qualifications here.

MBA students are encouraged to deliver short, concise business documents. Therefore the limit for an MBA might be just 12,000 words in total (including everything in some cases – check with your institution). It is often very difficult to cover everything is so few words.

An MSc dissertation should be displaying the student as a technical expert in a deep and technical area. The dissertation may be solving a problem. A minimum of 12,000 words might be required, and an advised maximum of 16,000 words. I find it easy for some students to write too much, and remind them to refer back to their objectives – is what they are writing contributing to meeting the research aims and objectives? If not, take it out!

An MA in Social Science, Education, History or English, may include much more debate and written in an essay writing style. Therefore, the word count may be higher, perhaps 20,000 – 25,000 words.

Check with your institution and find out if there are penalties for being more than 10% over, or under word count.

Tips for Word Count in Word

These tips are for the PC application of MS WORD.

  • Firstly, ‘turn it on’ if it isn’t there, by right clicking in status bar.
  • Select just a portion of text to count just the selection.
  • Use the “Review” Tab and click “Word Count” as an alternative method.
  • Look for the details on characters, lines, paragraphs, and pages, by right clicking on the word count in the status bar.
  • Use the navigation pane to select sections automatically (by right-clicking), and then count the words in each section. This is useful for excluding or subtracting sections from the total word count.
Word Count

Word Count

With submission of paper copies, nobody is really going to check your word count by counting each word. However, there may be a more subjective comment such as – “It’s only 55 pages” or “there were over 200 pages with few diagrams, and no real structure”.

With the recent move to the submission of electronic copies, your word count is there for everybody to see, so pay attention to the limits and penalties that your institution operates.

Check with your institution regarding exact limits, tolerance bands, and penalties. My view is as long as it is easy to read, well structured, has good headings, plenty of diagrams, tables, and bullet points, then I’m not too worried about long dissertations. However short Master’s MSc dissertations are always an area for concern!

Posted On: 16th September 2017

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