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No matter which field you're studying, you have to submit a thesis or dissertation to complete your graduation or master's degree. Two forms of academic writing are commonly used in graduate-level schools: thesis and dissertations. Students use the terms "thesis vs. dissertation" interchangeably, yet the two have significant differences. The primary difference is in the academic level at which they are requested:

  • Thesis definition: A thesis is written as part of a master's degree program.
  • Dissertation definition: A doctorate program concludes with a dissertation.

However, there are further differences between thesis and dissertation. These two programs differ in length, scope, and other key characteristics. We will explain thesis vs dissertation in this post to assist you in selecting the best type for a given academic program or research question.

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Thesis Vs Dissertation: Difference in Meaning

To learn thesis vs dissertation, you must know their meaning first.
In general, a research paper completed for a Master's degree program is referred to as a "thesis". It shows how well students understand their subject of study and how they can use that information in new ways. Students select a particular theory or topic within their field of study for their Master's paper. The first stage is to do a thorough study of the field's previous research. The goal of this research is to construct a case and use the data collected to back up claims.

What is a dissertation? A dissertation is a research project that contributes to your field of study. Dissertations are longer and more in-depth written assignments required in a doctorate program. They are usually based on original research that students have done and are intended to add new knowledge to the field. 
Overall, the basic difference between dissertation and thesis is the degree level for which they are written and the purpose for which they are prepared.

Thesis vs Dissertation: Core Components

There are multiple features or characteristics that will help you to understand the difference between these two terms. Below, we'll discuss some features through which you can easily identify whether a project is a thesis or dissertation.

Thesis vs Dissertation Core Components

Thesis

  • What is thesis? It is a shorter and more concentrated written work produced as part of a master's degree program.
  • Though it may also involve synthesizing previously published findings and theories, it is typically based on fresh research that students have performed.
  • Aims to demonstrate students' understanding of their subject matter and their capacity to apply newly learned information.
  • Usually, a panel of experts in the field examines it.

Dissertation

  • Lengthy and detailed pieces of writing completed as a requirement for a Ph.D. program.
  • Usually, it entails students conducting primary research to generate original content.
  • The aim of the dissertation is to advance the topic of study by adding new information.
  • Usually examined by a group of professors and other specialists. 

There are several qualities that distinguish a thesis from a dissertation, each with complex nuances, but the ones listed above will serve as a solid starting point.

Here you can explore the examples of dissertation.

What is the basic difference between dissertation and thesis?

To differentiate whether a project is thesis or dissertation you must have the basic knowledge about them. The main difference is the associated degree programs. Master level students write thesis while dissertations are assigned to doctoral level students. Further differences between dissertation and thesis are mentioned below:

  • The purpose of the thesis is to show the understanding of students about their field of study while the Ph.D. paper adds new knowledge to the field.
  • In Ph.D. dissertations, students conduct original research and then individually analyze the results; in a master's thesis, the current literature is synthesized.
  • After the completion of the thesis, a group of specialists from your field of study meets to analyze them. However, a committee of professors from any field of study connected to your research reviews Ph.D. papers.
  • Thesis are usually between 50 and 100 pages long, but they can be longer. However, because doctoral dissertations require a great deal of background material and research, they generally go more than 100 pages.
  • Another major difference between a thesis and a dissertation is that the latter usually calls for an oral defense; after completion, the work is turned in to the committee, and students arrange a time to present it. That's not always necessary for a thesis.

Let's make the thesis vs. dissertation clearer with the help of the table.

Feature Thesis Dissertation
Degree Master Ph.D
Length 50-100 pages 100-400 pages
Research Based on already performed research Based on new and original research
Hypothesis Introduces an argument on a given subject and provides analysis to support it Presents a theory that has to be validated
Data Sources Scholarly books, scientific magazines, previous studies, official statistics, government sources Scholarly books, scientific magazines, surveys, official statistics, government sources, laboratory experiments, interviews

Thesis vs Dissertation: Structural Differences

  • The thesis has a more formal structure than the dissertation. It consists of an introduction, literature review, methodology, outcomes or results, discussion, and conclusion. On the other hand, the structure of Ph.D. papers is similar but has some extra sections, such as case studies or theoretical frameworks.
  • The length of the thesis is 50-100 pages, but the Ph.D. paper consists of 100 to 400 pages.
  • The format of a dissertation and thesis is another distinction. Ph.D. papers and theses might have different formats depending on the university or faculty, although these are typically written in a more formal manner. Writing styles for Ph.D. papers may be more conversational and direct.
  • Another difference is in terms of supporting materials. For instance, while a thesis may include a brief literature review, a dissertation often requires a more extensive examination of existing research, accompanied by an annotated bibliography.

Thesis vs Dissertation: Understanding the Difference Based on Location

In different places like the USA and Europe, people see "dissertation" and "thesis" differently. Because of globalization, we now have many definitions for these terms. This makes it hard to know if a dissertation is the same as a thesis. To understand, let's look at how these words are used in the UK and the USA.

Thesis vs Dissertation UK

In the UK, most students need to write either a Ph.D. thesis or a dissertation. But, the meaning of these words has been influenced by the United States. In the UK, the term "dissertation" has been used for a long time to describe research projects at the end of a Master's degree. However, things changed in the 20th century in the US, and now there's confusion in Britain about what a thesis and a dissertation really are. A doctoral thesis in the UK is a research project for a Ph.D., while dissertations are usually part of a bigger research project for Master's or undergraduate levels.

Dissertation vs Thesis USA

In the USA, the meanings of "thesis" and "dissertation" are different from those in Britain. Here, students write a thesis when they finish a bachelor's or master's degree, and a dissertation is for completing a Ph.D. Researchers in the USA say that since the thesis is longer, it should be linked with a Master's degree, which comes before a Ph.D. 

When comparing a master’s thesis to a dissertation in the US, it shows that a thesis uses existing data, while a dissertation uses new data. More research on Ph.D. dissertations vs theses in America shows that Ph.D. papers are more detailed than theses. In Master’s projects, students' ideas are welcome, but they don't lead the project as much as they would in a doctoral program.

Similarities between thesis and dissertation

One primary question people often have is whether theses and dissertations are the same thing. It's a fair question because they have a lot of similarities:

  • Both a thesis and a dissertation are long, formal papers that need a lot of research and academic writing.
  • They are usually done for advanced degrees like a master's or a PhD.
  • Both involve presenting original research and findings.
  • Ethical practices are important when gathering and organizing research data, and you can't copy from others in either type of work.
  • They're both organized into chapters with an introduction, literature review, methodology, results, and conclusion.
  • Strong analytical skills are needed in the body of the paper to support the conclusions.
  • They both need lots of citations and bibliographies and have to be written in a proper, clear, scholarly style.
  • Before handing in the final version, both types of work should be carefully edited and proofread.
  • They take up a big chunk of a student's time and are a major part of their course.

So, are a thesis and a dissertation exactly the same? No, but they're really similar. They're both complicated and need a lot of effort. That's why many students like getting help from online paper writing services like Nerdpapers for their thesis writing.

Bottom Line

A thesis or dissertation for a Ph.D. is a super important part of getting a doctoral research degree because you have to make something new in your field of study. Sometimes, people get mixed up between a doctoral thesis and a dissertation, so we're here to explain the difference. The main thing that sets them apart is the level of degree and what they're meant for. 

When you're figuring out if it's a thesis or a dissertation, you need to see if the research piece wants you to put together existing info or if it needs you to do a brand new study. Another big difference is how they're checked and how long it takes to finish them, although it definitely takes a lot of effort for both. And here's a cool thing: you can write several theses or dissertations! The number of times you do it depends on how many master’s or Ph.D. courses you take.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the parts of a dissertation?

A dissertation typically consists of several key parts, such as

  • Title page
  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Literature review
  • Method
  • Results
  • Discussion
  • Conclusion

Which is most difficult: a thesis or dissertation?

Dissertations are generally considered harder than thesis. Most people find writing dissertations more challenging because students have to come up with completely new research ideas. This can be tougher than just explaining existing ideas. However, the level of difficulty in writing a thesis or dissertation truly depends on an individual's skills and abilities.

Is a dissertation referred to as a thesis?

Yes, technically, a dissertation can be called a thesis. In the USA, people often use "thesis" and "dissertation" interchangeably for a long research project written by Ph.D. students. But in Britain, it's strictly called a doctoral dissertation. So, whether you call it a thesis or a dissertation depends on where you are.