Differences Between a Thesis and a Dissertation
If you are pursuing a graduate degree (a master’s or a doctorate degree), you will probably need to write a thesis and/or a dissertation. These two terms are used interchangeably by some people. Others, however, point out that while there are some similarities between the two, there are also some important differences you should probably be aware of before you start.
In the United States, a thesis is usually associated with a master’s program and a dissertation with a Ph.D. program. Typically, a dissertation is considerably longer and more complex when compared to a thesis. Also, not all master’s programs require a thesis; some give a non-thesis option (which can be chosen if you don’t plan to continue with a doctorate). On the other hand, Ph.D. degrees would usually require you to produce a dissertation to mark the end of your studies.
A Difference in Purpose
Both a thesis and a dissertation are formal papers and follow a similar structure (introduction, literature review, body, conclusion, bibliography). Beyond structure, however, they often have a different purpose. A thesis is usually written as part of a research project, during which a student gains technical skills and expertise as part of the process. It shows that you are familiar with your field of study and can think critically. A student usually needs to select a topic, review research that has already been done in connection with the topic and analyzes it in a critical manner.
In contrast, a dissertation presents original research and brings a novel contribution to the field of study. A dissertation should include a significant amount of your own ideas, insights and findings. It is supposed to represent you as an independent scholar. Some universities, however, do require their master’s students, too, to conduct original research as a part of their theses. Therefore, the distinction is not always that clear. As mentioned earlier, it is usually expected that a dissertation is more voluminous than a thesis. A dissertation generally exceeds one hundred pages.
Cultural and Institutional Differences
Explanations of the differences between a thesis and a dissertation can vary between places and universities. Unfortunately, there does not seem to be a clear consensus. In some European countries, for example, universities define the differences between a thesis and a dissertation almost in an opposite way to the way these terms are viewed in the United States: a thesis is associated with a doctorate (a doctoral thesis), and a dissertation is generally considered to be a part of any graduate research project. Since differences also exist between universities and graduate programs, it might be a good idea to check with your institution and your advisor if you are confused, so you can be clear how to refer to your work (e.g. in written communication).
What a thesis and a dissertation have in common is that they both require hard work. You need to ensure that either one of these academic endeavors are written and presented with enough proficiency to showcase your knowledge beyond a doubt and get you that degree!