What is the Optimal Length of a Research Paper?

author By Mary Boies

Writing research papers on various research topics and ideas is almost mandatory for high school, college, and university students. Even though the process of writing is intensive, most people wonder about the ideal length of a research paper.

It gets even scarier when an instructor or professor gives the assignment prompt/instructions but does not specify the length of the term paper or research paper.

You are here because you want to know the ideal research paper length. We know that research papers are complicated assignments since they come after in-depth research, and you must present original ideas. It is a paper loaded with analytical, creative, and critical thinking. You must synthesize the findings from the literature as you explore a research paper topic. All factors are held constant; many factors and parameters influence the length of a research paper, which we explore in-depth in this post.

While we will answer your questions on how long a research paper should be, we care enough to let you know that we offer research paper writing services. You can take advantage of our expert research paper helpers and get yourself an original, well-researched, edited, proofread, and polished term/research paper.

The Ideal Length of a Standard Research Paper

While there is no standard length for a research paper, the ideal and optimal length for a short research paper is around five pages. A paper that is above ten pages is a long research paper. A comprehensive or standard research paper is about 4000-6000 words long, but it is also common to find long papers with 10000 words.

The length of a research paper depends on the topic and assignment instructions. In most cases, an instructor will always specify the exact pages or a range of expected pages to write your research paper or term paper to attain the complete grading. Many factors, such as the complexity of the subject, the subject or field of study, or the topic under consideration, also influence the length of the paper.

If you are writing the research paper in IMRAD format, ensure that your paper has adequate headings and subheadings that relate to the topic and the respective sections. Below is what to include if you are writing a scientific research paper:

This format or structure of a research paper applies to papers from 7 pages onwards. For shorter research papers, they follow the essay format mostly.

What Determines the Length of a Research Paper?

To effectively decide and determine the proper length of a research paper, we must first understand the factors that control the length. Briefly, the subject, research topic, scope, requirements, and spacing determine how long your research paper will be.

  1.  Subject. If you are writing a research paper on a complicated subject or field of study, such as nursing, biology, geography, or aviation, you are likely to write a longer research paper than the less complex subjects.
  2.  Topic. The research topic you select also determines the length of a research paper. You will likely write a long research paper if the topic is too demanding or complicated. Simple research paper topics will only need a few pages of research paper to explore exhaustively.
  3.  Instructions. As indicated before, the instructions from the instructor or professor will also determine the length of your research paper. If your professor gives you a range, you are better off doing the average and meeting its word count or going to the upper limit. For example, you can be required to write a 10-12-page research paper on a topic. In this case, you can write 11 pages or do the full 12 pages without exceeding the upper limit. Ensure that you read the instructions and clarify with your instructor whether they have a preferred length before you begin your research paper. If you are writing a research paper to be submitted to a journal, ensure that you meet the journal's minimum and maximum length specifications.
  4.  Spacing. A single or double-spaced research paper will have different lengths. A single-spaced research paper is about 550-600 words per page, while a double-spaced page is about 275-300. Ensure that you check the instructions to determine the preferred spacing. If no spacing is specified, then use the standard double-spaced spacing for the paper.
  5. Length of each part. A research paper entails original research based on a specific topic. If you have a longer methodology, literature review, discussions, and conclusion sections of your paper. Again, ask your instructor or professor for directions if you are unsure.

With all these factors held constant, you can estimate the length of your research paper if it is not on a complex topic. That way, you can outline the various sections and address the issues in the instructions. Ensure that you balance your paragraphs to have a comprehensive paper covering all aspects of the instructions.

The Typical Length of Every Part of a Research Paper

Knowing how long the different parts or paragraphs of a research paper should be will help you organize your paper for a balanced flow of ideas. We must state that even though there is no rule as to how many words to include in any part of the research paper or a term paper, ensuring a balance of words in the body section will help you organize ideas, address the main points, and support the main arguments.

Like essays, the research paper introduction should account for 10% of the total word count. Usually, the introductions of a research paper are not long because it condenses the entire paper, giving the readers a synopsis of what to expect as they read your paper at length. If you are writing a 6-page double-spaced research paper, which is about 1650 words, the introduction should be 165-170. Such an introduction paragraph length accommodates the opening statements (hooks/attention grabbers), background information, problem statement, purpose statement, a signpost of how the paper is organized, and every tiny detail that an introduction should entail.

The body of the research paper accounts for 80% of the word count shared between the methodology, results/findings and discussion, and conclusion and recommendations. You should balance your paragraphs well so that they meet the word count.

As the name suggests, the literature review explores what other authors have written or reported about your topic. The rationale states the methods used to collect and analyze data, including the rationale for choosing the method, which should be well-cited using updated in-text citations. The results and findings section is where you explain your findings, and you can compare them with what other authors have reported and acknowledge the similarity or differences. Here, you fortify your arguments using the findings you represented in the literature review.

Finally, the ideal conclusion length of a research paper depends on how long the research paper is. If you have a short research paper, the conclusion will be shorter, and vice versa. Majorly the conclusion accounts for 10-15% of the entire word count, just like the introduction. A few sentences to a wholesome paragraph will do for a reasonable research paper conclusion. The conclusion contains a conclusion starter or sentence, a restatement of the thesis, a summary of the main points, and a closing statement.

There is no restriction on the length of the reference page because you should list all the sources in your research paper or term paper alphabetically as per APA, MLA, Chicago, or Harvard guidelines.

For a detailed guide on what to include in each section, our detailed research paper writing guide can come in handy. Learn to develop every part of your research or term paper like a pro.

Before you Exit …

If you began reading while wondering how long your research paper should be, you are now aware of everything, including how many words to include in different parts of a research paper. Writing a research paper is a complex endeavor, but if you know the basics, you are good to go.

Before you exit this page, please read these related pages.


In our many years of service to clients who want us to write their research papers, we have encountered various questions whose answers we provide as a summary below:

How long is an academic journal article?

Most articles that are published in academic journals are roughly 4000-7000 words in length with a 1.5-word spacing. It should be a comprehensive research paper that reports the findings of quantitative, qualitative, or mixed methods research findings. If you want to publish your research paper in a journal, ensure that it is eight pages or more for it to be a scholarly journal article.

Can you publish a research paper in a journal?

Yes, you can publish a scientific research paper in a journal. You should select the journal you want to publish in, determine the audience, check the requirements, and then align and format your research paper. Following the IMRAD format and editing/proofreading, the paper well before submitting it for peer review and publishing is essential.

How to format a research paper?

You can format a research paper or term paper in any of the academic formatting styles, including Chicago, MLA, APA, Harvard, Turabian, AMA, Bluebook, or ASA. Each formatting and citation style has its principles for in-text citations, cover pages, headers and footers, reference lists, and appendices.

What is the length of the literature review of a research paper?

Like a dissertation or thesis, a research paper's literature review should be a few pages long. It can be 15-10% of the word count you have slotted for the body of the research paper, and it should not exceed 20% of the entire project's length. A 10-15-page research paper should have 2-3 pages of literature review.

Is a research paper the same as a term paper?

Yes, a term paper and a research paper are the same; what differs is when each is turned in. a term paper is a research paper that is turned in for assessment or marking at the end of the school semester. It takes time to write a term paper, while a research paper has a short deadline and can be submitted at any time within the semester. A term paper targets to evaluate your knowledge about the entire course, while a research paper focuses on a specific subject. A term paper requires a lot of research, time, and technical writing expertise.

How long is a graduate research paper?

The length of a graduate-level academic research paper will vary between programs. However, expect to write longer papers for your grad school. Most master's degree programs will require 12-20 pages of research papers. Ensure you inquire with your program coordinator and professor about the appropriate length before commencing your research paper. The research papers can extend to 50 pages, depending on your department's preference. Some universities prefer short research papers for the graduate level, mainly between 6-9 pages long.

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