How many citations for a Masters thesis?

There isn’t really an exact number of references there should be in a thesis, but the answers vary and depend a lot on a few factors. These factors include

  1. Degree level of your thesis

    The degree level of your thesis can be divided into 3 categories, namely bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral

    • Bachelor’s degree: A bachelor’s level thesis is between 10,000 and 12,000 words. For this type of word count, a minimum of 45-50 references will probably be needed, and a maximum of 100 references will also be a respectable benchmark to add references to.
    • Masters: Masters level thesis has words, starting at 15,000 with a maximum of 25,000 words. For this, 50 to 95 or even 100 references is probably a good benchmark.
    • Ph.D.: a research doctorate. There are up to 50,000 words in a high level thesis or maybe more can be overcome. For this, it is likely that at least 150 references are needed, until 200 or more can be added. This will be a good point of reference.

Main factors affecting the number of references used

Here are some of the many factors that can influence the number of references used:


  • The number of references required for your article will largely depend on the scope of your work. For example, literature and systematic reviews are surveys of existing studies. Thus, their reference lists will be more comprehensive than those of research articles whose main focus is the current findings of the authors. Indeed, if you look at the guidelines for authors of many journals, you will notice that journals have a higher citation cap for review articles than original research articles.
  • The length of your reference list will also depend on the topic of your research paper.

    For example, if you’re writing about a less-studied area (such as a subfield of neuroparasitology), you might find that there aren’t many papers to cite. Similarly, new fields will have fewer published articles to refer to. If you find yourself in this situation, review the references used by relevant current literature and see if you can expand your search, and therefore your list of references, with valuable material from there.
  • Another factor will be the needs of your institution or journal. If you are preparing a dissertation or thesis, check your department’s requirements. Although rare, they may have specific limitations. Most often, journals limit the number of citations due to printing restrictions.
  • It may happen that you do not have access to certain literature which could be a reference. If so, you may want to seek out an institution that can give you access to this literature to review the material, or contact one of the authors directly and request a copy.
  • With more papers published than ever in most fields, reference lists are likely to grow simply because there is more data and discussion of existing data to mention. Track changes in the size of reference lists in publications related to your field.
  • Finally, there is a certain correlation between the length of the article and the number of references.
  • Number of words

    The longer the task, the more references are needed. As a general rule, there should be between 8 and 12 references per 1,000 words. However, this too must be determined in the context of the above considerations.

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