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Dissertation vs. Thesis: Understanding Differences & Similarities

10 min read

Published on: Nov 3, 2021

Last updated on: Jan 31, 2024

dissertation vs thesis

As a graduate student, you've probably heard the terms "dissertation" and "thesis" being used interchangeably. This creates a lot of confusion among students about what they really mean. 

While they might seem like synonyms, there are actually significant differences between the two. Understanding these differences is important, as it can affect the type of research you conduct. 

This blog will explain the key differences between dissertations and theses. So continue reading to clear up any confusion you may have. 

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Thesis and Dissertations - Definitions

Before we go into the differences between the two, let's start by defining what we mean by "thesis" and "dissertation."

What is a Dissertation? 

A dissertation is a piece of original research that is conducted as a requirement for a doctoral degree. It is also known as a doctoral dissertation.

The purpose of a dissertation is to contribute new knowledge to the academic community by conducting research in a particular field of study. The research is conducted independently by the candidate and is presented in the form of a written report.

Moreover, the research presented in a dissertation is expected to be original, thorough, and well-documented. It is often published as a monograph or a series of articles in scholarly journals.

Research Contribution and Process:

In a dissertation, students may present a new theory or hypothesis, or challenge existing theories in their field. The process traditionally follows doctoral coursework and qualifying exams, culminating in the research and composition of the dissertation. 

However, exceptions exist, with some universities integrating the dissertation process into coursework. This allows students to initiate their research early, potentially expediting their graduation. Such integration offers a unique approach, allowing students to advance their research and fulfill course requirements concurrently.

Expert Tip

Writing a good dissertation is an essential skill for Ph.D. students. Learn more about dissertation writing with our complete guide.

What is a Thesis?

A thesis is also a compulsory research assignment that presents the results of original research conducted by graduate students. A thesis is typically required as partial fulfillment of a master's degree program.

The purpose of a thesis is to demonstrate the student's mastery of a particular subject and their ability to conduct research. A thesis is heavily reliant on literature reviews and uses established research to reach independent conclusions. 

Expert Tip

Want to learn about thesis writing in more detail? Head to our thesis writing guide to get a comprehensive answer.

Definitions Change Based on Your Location

Both the thesis and dissertation are final projects necessary to earn a degree. However, the definitions change based on where you are. The above definitions are true for the US, while it's totally opposite for Europe.

  • In the US, a dissertation is written for a Ph.D. program. While a thesis is written for a master's or graduate.
  • Meanwhile, in Europe, a dissertation is done during a master's or graduate degree. While a thesis is written as a part of a Ph.D.

Now that you know the basic concept, read on to learn more about their differences and similarities.

Differences between Thesis and Dissertations 

The table below summarizes the major dissertation vs thesis difference:





Demonstrates mastery of a specific subject.

Contributes new knowledge to the field.


Narrow and focused research question.

Broader and more extensive investigation.


Generally shorter (80-100 pages).

Longer (150-200+ pages).


Typically includes an introduction, literature review, methodology, results, discussion, and conclusion.

Comprehensive, with additional components like an abstract, acknowledgments, and appendices.

Original Contribution

Contributes to existing knowledge but on a smaller scale.

Introduces new findings or theories to the academic community.

Defense Requirement

May or may not involve an oral defense.

Often requires a formal defense presentation.


Targeted towards an academic committee and possibly peers.

Intended for a broader academic audience, potentially influencing future research.

Common in

Master's programs.

Doctoral programs.

Common Disciplines

Varied, depending on the academic institution.

Common in social sciences, humanities, and sciences.

Research Depth

In-depth analysis of existing literature.

Original research with a thorough literature review.

Use of Existing Knowledge

Demonstrates understanding and application of existing knowledge.

Builds on existing knowledge but aims to expand it.


Less likely to be published.

More likely to be published, contributing to the academic body of literature.

Timing in Academic Career

Usually towards the end of a Master's program.

Generally marks the culmination of a Ph.D. program.

Terminology Globally

Commonly used in the United States.

Commonly used in the United Kingdom and some other countries.

Let's look at each difference in detail.

Degree Requirement

Thesis and dissertations are required for different types of degrees after specific years of studying. 

A dissertation is required for completing a doctoral program, while a thesis is required to complete your graduate school studies. 

In Europe, it's the opposite. You need to write a thesis as a doctoral student and a dissertation for graduate studies.

Thesis Vs Dissertation Length

One of the most obvious differences between dissertations and theses is their length. 

Dissertations are typically longer than theses, often ranging from 100 to 500 pages. Meanwhile, theses are usually shorter, ranging from 30 to 100 pages. 

This is because dissertations are more comprehensive and require more extensive research than theses.


Another key difference between dissertations and theses is the goal or objective. 

The objective of a dissertation is to contribute new knowledge to the academic community. In contrast, theses often focus on synthesizing existing research or analyzing a specific aspect of a topic. 


The purpose of a dissertation is to demonstrate the student's ability to conduct independent research and contribute new knowledge in the field. 

In contrast, the purpose of a thesis is to demonstrate the student's mastery of a particular subject. That is why it is often more focused and narrower in scope than a dissertation.


Another significant difference between dissertations and theses is how they are presented to the academic community.

While both require a written draft, a dissertation includes a defense in front of a scholarly committee. During the dissertation defense, the student presents their research to the committee, followed by a period of questioning and discussion. 

The committee may ask questions about the research methodology, results, and conclusions and may challenge the student's ideas and arguments.

Meanwhile, the thesis may only contain a simple presentation along with a question-and-answer session with the faculty members. It varies depending on the program and institution.

Here's a short video that briefly describes the differences between a thesis and a dissertation:

Differences Between Thesis and Dissertation Across Academic Levels

Students frequently experience confusion when attempting to discern the similarities and differences between theses and dissertations at various academic levels. In this section, we will explore how undergraduate, master's, and PhD theses and dissertations differ.

Dissertation Vs Thesis Undergraduate

At the undergraduate level, a term thesis is a focused independent study demonstrating a student's ability within a specific topic. 

On the other hand, a dissertation suggests a broader research scope, allowing for a more expansive exploration of academic inquiries. The difference lies in the depth and breadth of the research undertaken. But they are the requirement to graduate.

Master's Dissertation Vs Thesis

A master's thesis showcases a student's mastery of a subject through a focused review and synthesis of existing literature.  On the other hand, a master's dissertation involves original research, contributing new knowledge to the academic field. 

The thesis demonstrates understanding, while the dissertation emphasizes the creation of new knowledge.

PhD Thesis Or Dissertation

The main difference between a PhD thesis and a dissertation lies in the level of original contribution to the academic field. A PhD dissertation, crucial for earning PhD degrees, involves extensive research, data collection, and the development of groundbreaking theories.

In contrast, a PhD thesis, while still requiring original research, may focus more on demonstrating the candidate's mastery of a subject through structured analysis. The distinction is in the depth of original contribution, with a dissertation aiming for a substantial advancement in the field.

Similarities Between Dissertation and Thesis

The dissertation and thesis are also similar in some ways. Here are some similarities between thesis and dissertation:


Both the dissertation and thesis contain the following components of research:

  • Title
  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Literature Review
  • Main body
  • Research methods/material
  • Results
  • Discussion
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • Appendix

However, the length and depth of each section may vary depending on the specific requirements and scope of the research.


Students conduct their thesis or dissertation under the guidance and supervision of an academic scholar. The Supervisor (or Advisor) helps and guides them throughout the process of completing their research. 

The supervisor is also responsible for ensuring that research is conducted in an ethical and academically sound manner.

Other Similarities 

Apart from the structure and academic procedure, there are also other similarities, such as:

  • They are both long-form research assignments that are required to earn a degree.
  • Both require students to demonstrate their ability to write and communicate their research effectively, using appropriate academic conventions.
  • Both require a specific and well-defined hypothesis or research questions.
  • Both require students to demonstrate a deep knowledge of their field.
  • Both require students to analyze data and draw conclusions based on their findings.
  • Both require students to demonstrate their ability to think critically and independently.

Dissertation and Thesis Examples 

Here are a few examples of dissertations and theses to give you a better idea of what each entails.

The Bottom Line! 

While the terms "dissertation" and "thesis" are often used interchangeably, there are important differences between the two. 

Dissertations are typically longer, more comprehensive, and require more extensive research than theses. Additionally, the goals and objectives of dissertations and theses differ.

However, they are also similar in some ways. Both dissertations and theses are opportunities to demonstrate your expertise, critical thinking skills, and contribution to your field.

If you're struggling to write your dissertation or thesis, reach out to We offer college essay writing help to ease the academic load of students. 

Our team of experienced and qualified writers can help you write your thesis or dissertation. We provide academic assistance at every step of the writing process: From developing your research question to polishing your final draft. 

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Frequently Asked Questions

Dissertation Vs. Thesis Vs. Capstone: what's the difference?

While a dissertation and thesis involve in-depth research and contribute new knowledge, a capstone typically emphasizes the application of existing knowledge to address a specific problem or challenge, often in a real-world context.

Dissertation Vs. Thesis Vs. Research - How do they differ?

A dissertation and thesis are both long-form research projects, often associated with advanced degrees, aiming to contribute to academic knowledge. A research project is a broader term that encompasses various types of investigations, including those at the undergraduate level.

Dissertation Vs. Thesis Vs. Research Paper - What sets them apart?

While a thesis and dissertation involve extensive independent research and contribute new knowledge, a research paper is typically shorter and focuses on presenting and discussing specific research findings without the comprehensive scope of the former two.

Nova A.


Nova A. (Literature, Marketing)

As a Digital Content Strategist, Nova Allison has eight years of experience in writing both technical and scientific content. With a focus on developing online content plans that engage audiences, Nova strives to write pieces that are not only informative but captivating as well.

As a Digital Content Strategist, Nova Allison has eight years of experience in writing both technical and scientific content. With a focus on developing online content plans that engage audiences, Nova strives to write pieces that are not only informative but captivating as well.

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