The short answer is ‘it depends’. But of course you didn’t open this link to get that answer, now did you? If you’re looking for some kind of more particular number, I’d love to help you out. Unfortunately, it’s very hard to be more precise. After all, different fields have entirely different expectations. For example, if you’re writing a political science master thesis, then you have to write about 80 to 90 pages. No, you can’t use tricks like pushing in the margins and increasing the letter type to get to that length. Your teachers will notice. In other places, they expect you to write about 20,000 words.
Of course, it can be shorter. For example, my personal thesis only came in at 14,000 words. Yeah, you might think I got a good deal there. The thing is before I could write that thesis I had to conduct multiple lab studies, analyze the data that came from them and report on them in the correct style.
So yeah, ‘it depends’ does stay a very attractive answer. Another good one is ‘look at the specifications made by your professor’. That’s probably a far more useful one!
Will this article actually tell me something I need to know?
Yes, it will. For instead of focusing on how long it will be, you should spend your time focusing on the different sections and seeing how long those will need to be. For example, how long does your abstract need to be? How many words will you need for your introduction? How much space will your conclusion take up? Generally, those will range anywhere from 100 to about 500 words each. More than that and you’re really stretching it (and probably annoying your supervisor).
Once you’ve got those down, then it’s time to list your arguments and divide them by the words you’ve got left over. Perhaps try writing one out. This will give you an idea if this is a realistic number of words to expect to fill with the arguments you have. If it turns out that it’s not realistic, well then you’ll need to go back and read more articles in order to find more arguments to fill the body of your essay with.
Generally, it’s a good idea to gather your arguments before you start writing. In this way, you can foreshadow what you’re going to talk about in your introduction – which both lets you use a few more words and makes it easier for your audience to understand where your essay is going to go.
Another good thing to do is to signpost. This is where you explain how what you have just explained or will explain fits into your overarching argument. In this way, your audience will find it easier to follow along and you’ll be a little closer to fulfilling the word limit that has been imposed.
If you break it up beforehand you’ll not have to waffle on at the end
Too often students will find that they’ve said all they can but that they’re still a thousand words short of where they’re supposed to go. They solve this problem by tagging fluff on the end. Don’t do that. The ending of your thesis is the last thing that your supervisor will remember. They’ll notice if it’s empty fluff. And that will obviously affect your grade. Don’t sell yourself short.
Instead, make sure you know approximately how long your sections need to be beforehand. In that way, you’ll be able to finish strong and if you need to do any padding you can do it all the way through – which will be a whole lot less noticeable.