How long should a research paper be? How to hit word count requirements? Find out in our guide!

How long should a research paper be? And how to hit the word count


Research papers cover a broad range of academic pieces, including term papers, case studies, scientific publications, capstone projects, and more. They share similar goals and basic structure, but they vary significantly in length, depending on type, school, class, and topic.

So, how long is a research paper? How long should different sections be? Should you measure the length in words or pages?

In this post, we’ll answer these and many other questions, so keep reading.

How long should a research paper be? Requirements by section

Ideally, you want to address your “How long should a research paper be?” question to your instructor who assigned the task. The word count or page requirements should be present within the prompt. 

Note that research paper requirements can come in words or pages. Generally, one page of double-spaced 12 pt font, which is universal to most formatting styles, is between 250 and 300 words. So, if your professor wants 20 pages, the research papers will include around 5,000 words. That’s a rough average we estimate based on studying common answers to “How long is a research paper?” across top US colleges.

If the numbers seem a bit intimidating and evoke an extreme case of writer’s block, let’s use the age-old trick and split the big task into manageable chunks. We’ll go over all the major research paper sections one at a time and look at how long each of them should be.


Many students fail to account for an abstract when calculating the answer to “How long should a research paper be?”. That’s understandable if you’re dealing with an MLA piece that doesn’t have specific abstract requirements. But in all other cases, it’s a critical consideration.

So, how long should the abstract of a research paper be?

APA requirements for writing an abstract specify it should be no longer than 250 words (one page), including the heading and the list of keywords at the bottom. Most professors share the notion that an abstract should be no longer than one page, though it could be shorter.

Each scientific journal has specific research paper abstract requirements that range from 100 to 300 words, depending on the research paper length and other factors.


The short answer to “How long should an introduction be?” is about 5% to 10% of the research paper length. For a 5,000-word project that amounts to between 250 and 500 words (one or two double-spaced 12 pt pages).

A more detailed look at “How long is an introduction?” requires you to have a good idea of the overall research paper outline you plan to use. For example, if you plan to write a research paper introduction that only includes a brief background exploration, a thesis statement, and research objectives, two pages should be more than enough to cover everything. However, if you plan to combine the introduction with the literature review, the first section will be much longer and probably span around 30% of the project. In this case, if your answer for “How long should a research paper be?” is 5,000 words, then your introductory chapter would cover around 1,500 words.


Many students get confused when asking “How long should a thesis statement be for a research paper?” because they expect the thesis to fit within one sentence, as it would in an average essay. For research papers, the answer is more complex.

For one, a research paper may not have a thesis at all. Instead, the introduction could hold research objectives or hypotheses. Whether you choose to postulate a thesis or ask a research question in a research paper, it doesn’t have to be as short as a single sentence. In most cases, a thesis fits within 2% to 5% of the word count threshold. So, for a 5,000-word project, it would cover between 100 and 250 words (up to one page). In most cases, when writing a research paper, a thesis should fit within one or two paragraphs, though you can also use a bulleted or numbered list for your objectives or tasks.

Important: When researching “How long is a research paper thesis?” remember that it’s not a separate section. Its word count goes towards the chapter that holds the thesis, usually an introduction or literature review. So, if your introduction is 500 words long, a thesis can take up around half of that.

Literature review

Like with other parts of the piece, there’s no definitive answer to “How long should a literature review be in a research paper?” General recommendations range from 15% to 30% of the research paper length. So, if your word count limit is 5,000 words, the literature review should span between 750 and 1,500 words (three to six pages). The more theoretical your research paper is, the longer your literature review can be. Experimental and empirical pieces may have shorter reviews. 

As always, if you’re unsure  “How long should a research paper be?” in terms of the literature review, you know the right answer to the question, ask your TA or professor.

Writing tip from SpeedyPaper

Writing tip from SpeedyPaper:
Do not try to extend the research paper word count by filling the literature review with long quotes or summaries of references. Instead, focus on analyzing the source data and synthesizing new hypotheses based on what you learn. This will help you score additional points with your instructors.


Depending on the layout of your piece, the answer to “How long should a conclusion be in a research paper?” varies between 5% and 10%. For instance, if you decide to combine the discussion section with the research paper conclusion or omit the former and outline the limitations and potential of your results within the final chapter, it will be longer. Alternatively, if your research paper conclusion will solely focus on rehashing the research objective and study results, the final section can be shorter.

For a research paper length of 5,000 words, the conclusion should be between 250 and 500 words (one or two pages). This does not include acknowledgments (if you decide to add them) or the reference list. Both are separate sections of research papers, and may not even be included in the general word count by some schools and journals. 

Research paper length by type

As we’ve established at the beginning of this post, “research paper” is a broad generic term that applies to many types of academic and scientific works you may encounter in college, grad school, or a doctoral program. Our calculations apply to a 5,000-word research paper, but you can use the same percentages for projects of different lengths, including:

  • Research proposal — up to 3,000 words (12 pages)
  • Case study — up to 5,000 words (20 pages)
  • Term paper — up to 5,000 words (20 pages)
  • Scientific publication — up to 15,000 words (60 pages)
  • Capstone project — up to 30,000 words (100 pages)
  • Thesis or dissertation — up to 100,000 words (400 pages)

Please note that these are averages based on our quick skim of research paper requirements across major US schools. Your college’s word count demands can be significantly lower or higher. So, we urge you to check in with your academic advisor, professor, or editor to double-check the word count expectations. 

Writing tip from SpeedyPaper

Writing tip from SpeedyPaper:
Set up a Google Sheets or Excel table for different research paper types and add formulas for calculating the average lengths of each of the major sections based on the word count requirements. It will help you see at a glance how long each chapter should be and estimate how much time you will need to dedicate to writing.

How to meet research paper word count requirements: Tricks and strategies

Now that we’ve gone over the answer to “How long should a research paper be?”, let’s see if there are ways to reach the desired word count when you’re falling a bit short. Our expert academic writers shared a few of their favorite strategies:

  1. Use free writing. The brain dump method requires you to put as many ideas into words as possible without caring about proper sentence structure or spelling. You’ll inevitably write more than your research paper requires, but you can trim down the excess during editing. Besides, it’s a helpful trick for beating procrastination and writer’s block.
  2. Mix and match your sources. Instead of using protracted quotes to pad the research paper, provide evidence to support each claim from two or more sources. It will make your arguments seem stronger and earn the professor’s praise.
  3. Include logical transitions. It’s not just about transition phrases (i.e., at the same time, however, additionally, etc.) but also about building connections between individual paragraphs and subsections of the research paper. They’ll make your narrative smoother and pad the word count.
  4. Revise and add to completed parts. Unlike essay writing, research is a protracted and complex process that often involves going back and adjusting things. So don’t be afraid to expand certain sections of the project on your second go-through.

For more ways to make a paper longer, check out our blog post with the best practices and mistakes to avoid. If you still can’t hit the minimum required word count, contact our paper writing service and get professional editing or writing assistance at any stage of the writing process. We can handle urgent tasks and deliver the finished paper within 24 hours!

Writing tip from SpeedyPaper

Writing tip from SpeedyPaper:
Find and activate the word count statistics for the file in your text processor and keep an eye on the total. For example, in Google Docs, press Ctrl+Shift+C and check the "Display word count while typing" box. The number will appear and stay in the lower left-hand corner of the interface.


What factors influence the length requirement of a research paper?

Anything can affect the length of a research paper, from your academic level (undergraduate or graduate) and paper type to the class and topic. Your goal and audience will also influence the research paper’s word count requirements. For instance, if you want your piece to get noticed, you can dive deeper into the subject and hit the maximum word count limit instead of the minimum threshold.

Should I consider the word count or page count when determining paper length?

That depends on your research paper requirements. For example, professors typically assign research papers in pages, which include a title page, abstract, and references. Scientific journals, in turn, prefer to specify the word count requirements to ensure your entry fits editorial policies. One page is usually around 250 to 300 words (double-spaced, 12 pt font).

Can I adjust the length of my research paper during the writing process?

You can increase the research paper word count by expanding your analysis and synthesis, adding examples to support your statements, and generously using transitional phrases to tie the different parts together. At the same time, avoid overusing extensive quotes, repetitions, and rants to artificially extend the research paper length.