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Understanding The Key Differences Between Dissertation vs. Thesis

by shreyasi datta
Last Updated on: January 4, 2024

If you are pursuing a higher degree, you have probably come across the terms “dissertation” and “thesis.” These two words are often used interchangeably, but they actually have distinct meanings and purposes. In this article, we will delve into the world of academic writing and disclose the difference between a dissertation and a thesis.

Dissertation: Definition & Purpose

A dissertation is a comprehensive research project that serves as the final requirement for a doctoral degree. It is an extensive piece of academic writing that shows how well a student can conduct original research and contribute new knowledge to their field of study. The primary purpose of a dissertation is to demonstrate the student’s ability to master research methodologies, critical analysis, and scholarly writing.

One of the main goals of a dissertation is to fill a gap in the existing body of knowledge. It requires an extensive literature review to identify the research gap and formulate research questions or hypotheses. As a result, writing a dissertation typically involves collecting and analyzing data, drawing conclusions, and making recommendations for future research or practice. It is a culmination of years of study and most of the times represents a significant contribution to the academic community.

The Purpose and Goals of a Thesis   

On the other hand, a thesis is a research project that is required in order to receive a master’s degree. While it shares some similarities with a dissertation, the scope of a thesis is usually lesser. The main purpose of a thesis is to demonstrate a student’s ability to apply research skills and knowledge acquired during their graduate program.

A thesis usually focuses on a specific topic within a broader field of study. It usually begins with a thought-provoking intellectual question that is relevant to one’s chosen field of study. Thesis also aims to answer research questions or test hypotheses using a systematic approach. Like a dissertation, a thesis requires a literature review, data collection, analysis, and the presentation of findings. However, the level of originality and contribution to the field may be less extensive compared to a dissertation.

Differences Between Dissertation vs Thesis  

Since both thesis and dissertation are research projects, they are sometimes used interchangeably. But this is wrong because thesis and dissertation are two different types of academic research project. And there are several differences between the two.

First and foremost, a thesis is submitted at the end of a master’s program, whereas a dissertation is presented to earn a Ph.D. Therefore a thesis is typically written by master’s students. It is usually shorter than a dissertation and is based on existing research. A thesis mainly allows students to showcase their knowledge and expertise within the subject matter they have been studying.

On the other hand, a dissertation is a lengthy piece of written work that includes original research or expanded research on a new or existing topic. Doctoral students usually write it. The doctoral student gets to choose what they want to explore and write about within their field of study.

main difference between a thesis and a dissertation

Another main difference between a thesis and a dissertation is that the former is a collection of findings based on existing research. It provide the students with an opportunity to show that the researcher is well-informed. And has knowledge about the research topic learned in the study program. On the other hand, a dissertation provides an opportunity for the researcher to contribute new and original theories and information to the existing literature in the research field.

A master’s thesis is around 100 pages in length. A Ph.D. dissertation on the other hand is 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 mentioned above should be three times the length of a master’s thesis.

In conclusion, the thesis is a presentation of learned and existing information. While the purpose of a dissertation is to develop a unique concept and defend it based on theoretical and practical results.

Similarities Between a Dissertation vs Thesis   

Although there are several differences between a dissertation and a thesis, they also share some similarities. Both forms of scholarly written pieces must address specific research questions relevant to one’s chosen subject matter.

Accordingly, both dissertation and thesis require students to engage in extensive research with the help of appropriate research methodologies. Both the scholarly pieces of writing follow a formal structure that includes an introduction, literature review, methodology, results, discussion, and conclusion.

Furthermore, students should have good academic writing skills while writing a thesis as well as a dissertation. They also need to follow ethical practices while compiling research data. Plagiarism is not an option while writing either of the two research projects.

After completing both thesis and dissertation, students need to edit critically and thoroughly proofread their written work before final submission.

Finally, both a thesis and a dissertation are considered final projects and are required to graduate from respective programs. Hence, those who are writing a thesis or dissertation need to have acute knowledge of their chosen subject matter.

Now that you know the differences, similarities and purpose of dissertation vs. thesis; you will be able to decide what you need to do and when to do it to progress further in the field of academia.


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