Earning any type of doctoral degree is a long process, and English doctoral degrees are no different. A survey of individuals with doctoral degrees in English found that over half of the respondents took over nine years to complete their degree. Forty-four percent took between five and nine years, and only 5 percent finished in three to five years. These numbers don't take into account the required undergraduate degree.

The Nine Year Route

During the first two years of the graduate program, choose specialties and coursework in different areas of interest. Get teaching experience during years three to four through teaching assistant positions. By the third or fourth year, develop original dissertation topic ideas in your specialty area. Years four through six are spent conducting research and teaching. The remaining years should be spent on your dissertation research completion, writing and oral exams.

The Five to Nine Year Route

In order to finish your doctoral degree faster than nearly half of your cohort, you should develop a dissertation topic earlier. This means spending your first two years taking pertinent courses in the area of interest and choosing the sub-field fairly quickly. Preliminary research should be completed in the first three years and the dissertation topic chosen around year three. This leaves the remaining years to complete the research, write and submit the dissertation to faculty.

The Three to Five Year Route

This route is not for the faint of heart, and remember that only a small percentage are able to finish in this amount of time. For this schedule to work, a dissertation topic is chosen as early as possible. Work with faculty in the first year to refine your dissertation topic. Start research by year two, leaving your remaining year or years to complete your research and write at the same time.

Getting Ahead During Undergrad

Shortening the amount of time required is possible for those who start early. First, get a bachelor's degree in English, literature, or a particular area related to literary studies. During this time, develop knowledge in a sub-field or conduct research. This specialization is attractive to graduate programs, and students can build on this expertise during the development of a dissertation focus, which may speed up the achievement of a doctoral degree.