Thesis vs. Dissertation


A graduate degree generally requires completing either a thesis or a dissertation. The incorrect usage of thesis and dissertation is not new to the academic world. In Shakespeare’s day, a candidate for a master’s degree would write a thesis, an original paper in which he maintained a certain proposition. Whereas, completion of a doctoral program requires submission and defense of dissertation. He would read his thesis to his committee, after which he sat in silence while two faculty members gave point by point refutations of everything he said. The focus here was on the student’s ideas and his ability to arrange and express them clearly. If a student wished to advance further in academia he could pursue a dissertation. This was more of a literature review. He would read widely in a particular area and write up his findings, discussing the various authorities and their opinions. The point was to demonstrate that he was well versed in the literature of the field. While the confusion between the two terms is understandable, we shall tackle the dissertation vs. thesis topic in this article and provide unambiguous insights on it.

Dissertation vs. Thesis: Meaning

A thesis is a critically written scholarly piece of research work. Typically, it is submitted by students graduating from a master’s program. The purpose of a thesis is to allow students to showcase their knowledge and expertise within the subject matter they have been studying as part of the program.

A dissertation is a comparatively lengthier piece of scholarly writing that accounts your research work throughout the doctoral program. A researcher earns the PhD after submitting and defending his/her dissertation. It includes all information about the original research or expanded research on a new or existing topic conducted by the PhD candidate.

Dissertation vs. Thesis: Differences

  1. The primary difference between a thesis and dissertation is the time of when they are completed. As mentioned earlier, a thesis is presented at the culmination of a master’s program, whereas, as dissertation is presented to earn a PhD.
  2. A thesis is a compilation of research ensuring that the researcher is well informed and has knowledge about the research topic learnt in the study program. On the other hand, a dissertation provides an opportunity to the researcher to contribute new theories and information to the existing literature in the research field.
  3. A thesis is presentation of learnt and existing information, while the purpose of a dissertation is to develop unique concept and defend it with the basis of theoretical and practical results.
  4. A master’s thesis is approximately 100 pages in length. However, a PhD dissertation should be much longer than a thesis and must include background and research information. A dissertation must include your research proposal, grant proposal, literature review, ideation of research topic, and every other minute detail about your research. Ideally, a dissertation inclusive of all details as mentioned above, should be three times the length of a master’s thesis.

Dissertation vs. Thesis: Similarities

  1. Both a thesis and a dissertation are considered as a final project and required to graduate respective programs.
  2. Thesis and dissertation both require deep and accurate understanding of the research problem.
  3. Both forms of scholarly written pieces must address specific research questions.
  4. Academic writing skills are imperative for thesis as well as dissertation.
  5. Ethical practices must be followed while collating and documenting research data.
  6. Plagiarism is not accepted in either.
  7. Both require analytical skills to support the findings.
  8. Thesis and dissertation, both require intense editing and critical proof reading before final submission.

Dissertation vs. Thesis: Europe

In Europe the original distinction between a thesis and a dissertation has been largely retained. A doctoral thesis is a focused piece of original research which is performed in order to obtain a PhD. A dissertation is part of a broader post-graduate research project.

Related: Hi there! Finished writing your thesis? Grab a cup of coffee and visit our PhD Café now!

However, the thesis has evolved since original research nowadays requires plenty of background research. So, a thesis will contain extensive citations and references to earlier work, although the focus remains on the original work that comes out of it.

Dissertation vs. Thesis: USA

In the United States, the definition of a thesis is almost the opposite of that in Europe. Because a thesis is shorter than a dissertation it gradually came to mean a preliminary degree on the way to a doctorate. A thesis is now performed to earn a Master’s degree. In scientific fields, a master’s candidate takes advanced coursework and gains hands-on experience in a research project but does not direct the project to the same extent that he would in a doctoral program. In a master’s project the student’s ideas are welcomed and expected but the focus is on obtaining technical expertise, not doing original research. Engineering students commonly obtain Master’s degrees and seldom go on to get PhDs. In other fields such as Chemistry, the opposite is true, with a Master’s degree no longer being required as the first step for a doctorate. Almost everyone I know who received a Master’s degree in Chemistry got one because they dropped out of graduate school and wrote their truncated research as a Master’s project.

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In a Nutshell

Needless to say, the dissertation vs. thesis facts are real. Therefore, using one term instead of another is not acceptable as an academic. One must remember the purpose of each and use them accordingly. However, one is not undermined by the other. Whether you are writing a thesis or a dissertation, both must be done with same seriousness. Bothe require critical technical and soft skills. Improving your time management and academic writing skills plays a major role in acing both forms of scholarly writing.

How do you decipher dissertation vs. thesis? Should the interchanged usage of these terms be acceptable? How is your approach to writing a thesis different from that of a dissertation? What are the other differences associated with thesis and dissertation? Let us now in the comments section below! You can also visit our Q&A forum for frequently asked questions related to different aspects of research writing and publishing answered by our team that comprises subject-matter experts, eminent researchers, and publication experts.