How Long Is a Research Paper? Answering the Popular Question

Contrary to common essays, research papers are rarely (if at all) limited to a specific word count. This freedom often inspires many questions for students among them: how long should a research paper be? How should I split the word count within various sections of my paper?

If you are struggling with these questions, you’ve come to the right place. This guide will tackle various matters surrounding the length of a paper, helping you consider how deeply you ought to discuss various chapters. 

How long is a research paper?

There is no ideal word count for a research paper. The length of a research paper is determined by the complexity of the topic, the broadness of the research, and the availability of materials on your topic. The average research paper length ranges from 4000-8000 words. 

If your faculty has not recommended any specific word count, we recommend that you peruse papers that were submitted in previous years. This will give you a gist of the ideal range and help you determine how your paper compares with the common submissions.  

Outline format for research paper

Ideally, your word count should be fairly spread throughout your chapters to develop arguments within your paper. However, some sections in your paper may require more information to develop and support various claims.

Before we discuss the research paper structure, it is key to highlight the sections that add to your final word tally. When calculating your word count, consider the abstract, literature review, introduction, methodology, results, discussion, and conclusion.

Sections like the title page, references, and appendices are not considered as part of your paper’s word count as they are not developing your arguments. The research paper length is divided into various chapters:

  • Abstract: 300-500 words
  • Literature review: 15%-20%
  • Introduction: 10%-15%
  • Methodology: 10%-15%
  • Results: 25%-30%
  • Discussion: 25%-30%
  • Conclusion: 10%-15%

Although this is the average word distribution for a research paper you should not be compelled to format your paper to fit these estimates. You should write your paper with the aim to exhaust various knowledge gaps within a topic. 

How long should an introduction be

The introduction of a research paper should carry between 15% to 20% of the total word count. this allows you to discuss the background information and establish the research objectives you’ll investigate within your paper. 

How long should a paragraph be in a research paper?

Like all forms of writing, a long paragraph can be tedious to read and thus compromise the readability of your paper. On average, paragraphs comprise four sentences. These are enough to introduce your idea, support it with evidence, relate it to your thesis, and transition to the next paragraph. 

Preferably, limit your paragraph to short, precise sentences that clearly outline your ideas. This will allow you to tackle a wide range of ideas without turning in a ridiculously worded paper. 

How long should a conclusion be

A conclusion of a research paper should be long enough to focus on various solutions to the research questions tackled in your introduction. The conclusion may also recommend the applications of your work or suggest necessary studies to clarify objectives that haven’t been properly investigated within the paper. 

The average length of a research paper's conclusion should range between 10% to 15% of the length of a paper. Like the body, keep this part short and precise and refrain from introducing ideas that you had not tackled within your paper. 

How to lengthen a research paper

Sometimes, you may notice that your research paper falls below the recommended word count. if this is the case, there is no need to resolve to devious ways like increasing your font size and adding the spacing in a bid to increase your page count. 

Some of the tips to increase your word count without compromising the quality of your paper is: 

  • Develop a reverse outline to determine how various ideas have been exhausted. After gauging the completeness of your paper, add more bits in sections where an idea was not exhausted. You may also consider breaking some ideas into two unique paragraphs and increasing arguments to support each new idea.
  • Analyse counterarguments and acknowledge them in your paper while highlighting how your research has disproved these claims. 
  • Spell out numbers that you had expressed as digits.
  • Extend various contraptions within your paper. This is great as contraptions are generally frowned upon in academic writing.
  • Replace specific nouns with full names in various instances within your paper.

How to shorten a research paper

Similar to a paper shy of the word count, an exaggeratedly long paper may be frowned upon by the faculty committee. When fixing a long paper:

  • Cut off flowery language and ensure that each sentence is precise in explaining an idea within your work.
  • Express various numbers in digits.
  • Eliminate various arguments that are not crucial to your research questions.
  • Settle for hyphenated words where possible.
  • Write your paper using the active voice.