Glasses resting on an open book

In the academic world, students are often required to complete a research project such as a thesis or a dissertation in order to earn their degree. Depending on your field of study, you might need to submit—and then defend—a thesis or a dissertation before you can graduate.

Although these two academic research projects might seem interchangeable, there are key differences between the two. And understanding these differences is essential for both students and their academic institution.

Thesis and dissertation: definitions 

A thesis is a formal paper that presents original research and findings on a particular topic. It is typically submitted as part of the requirements for a master’s degree, although some doctoral programs may also require a thesis. A thesis is usually shorter in length than a dissertation and focuses more on original research and findings.

Conversely, a dissertation is a longer, more comprehensive piece of research that is written as part of the requirements for a doctoral degree. Dissertations are usually around 100 to 300 pages in length—and they require a great deal of original research and analysis. Unlike a thesis, a dissertation is not just focused on presenting findings but also on offering new insights and contributions to the field. In fact, the requirements of each project are folded into their definitions.

What defines a thesis? 

A thesis is often a requirement for a master’s degree. While it’s usually shorter and more focused than a dissertation, your thesis will be expected to demonstrate your mastery of the subject and your ability to conduct original research. On top of that, you’ll have to analyze your findings—and present an organized, thoughtful argument! Thesis projects typically involve the collection and analysis of data, as well as the presentation of the findings.

What defines a dissertation? 

On the other hand, a dissertation is a longer piece of research that is written as part of the requirements for a doctoral degree. Students pursuing their PhD might need to submit a dissertation in order to graduate.

Similar to a thesis, a dissertation must demonstrate the student’s mastery of their chosen research subject. Additionally, a dissertation must show the student’s ability to conduct original research and their ability to contribute new insights and knowledge to the field. Dissertations usually involve a great deal of research, data collection, and analysis and are typically 100 to 300 pages in length. In other words, these are major projects that take a lot of time to complete!

Thesis vs dissertation: a comparison 

Perhaps the biggest differences between a thesis and a dissertation are the length and scope of each project. Theses are shorter, laser-focused pieces of research that are typically submitted as part of a master’s degree. Conversely, dissertations are longer, more comprehensive pieces of research that are submitted as part of a doctoral degree.

Another key difference between the two projects is the level of original research and analysis that is expected and required of the student. Theses are expected to demonstrate the student’s ability to conduct original research and present their findings; dissertations are expected to not only present findings but also to offer new insights and contributions to the field.

In terms of the academic requirements, the difference between a thesis and a dissertation is largely based on the level of the degree being pursued. Master’s programs typically require a thesis, while doctoral programs require a dissertation. The specific requirements and expectations for each project will vary depending on the institution and academic field. In other words, the higher your degree, the more intensive your research project. Perhaps that’s why the dissertation is the longer of these two academic research projects.

What is the difference in length between the two? 

Length is one of the most noticeable differences between a thesis and a dissertation. A thesis is typically shorter than a dissertation, with an average length of around 50 pages. On the other hand, a dissertation is a much longer piece of work, typically around 100–200 pages in length.

However, length isn’t the only difference between these two academic research projects. The purpose can be largely different too!

What is the difference in purpose between the two? 

The purpose of a thesis and a dissertation will vary according to your field of study. However, here’s a look at the main purpose of each:

  • A thesis summarizes the student’s research findings. It must demonstrate the student’s understanding of the subject and their ability to apply what they’ve learned in a practical way.
  • A dissertation shows the student’s ability to conduct independent and original research. It’s a comprehensive piece of work that is meant to contribute new knowledge and insights to their field.

In other words, a thesis researches a topic, and a dissertation might add a new research source because it helps position you as a thought leader.

Completing your thesis or dissertation is a huge accomplishment. However you’re not done when you turn in your paper. You’ll need to defend your research before you can earn that degree.

How is the defense different between the two? 

The defense of a thesis and a dissertation is another difference between the two projects; however, it’s common for both projects to have an oral dissertation. In a thesis defense, the student is usually required to present their research and findings to a committee of professors within the institution. After the presentation, the committee will ask the student questions about their research and their findings. If the student demonstrates their mastery of the subject, there’s a good chance they’ll pass with flying colors!

Dissertation defense is more intensive—and more intimidating for the student. Your institution might assemble a committee of professors, peers, and other experts in your field. The committee will ask difficult questions to ensure that you not only have a firm grasp of the topic but have a well-developed argument with evidence to support your dissertation’s conclusion.

Regardless of whether you’re defending a thesis or a dissertation, you’ll probably have the moral support of your academic advisor in the room with you. A student’s advisor is with them every step of the way throughout the project, so it’s helpful and comforting when they attend the defense!

Perfect your dissertation or thesis with professional proofreading 

The academic world is fun—but it’s also extremely challenging! As you write your thesis or dissertation, you might need a little professional assistance to proofread it. You’ve poured your heart and soul into this project, so make sure it’s perfectly proofread and ready for your defense committee!

Elite Editing offers proofreading services for students, businesses, and individuals. Visit our website to learn more!

One thought on “Dissertation vs. Thesis: Comparing the Two Academic Projects

  1. Justin Allen says:

    Thanks for sharing the beautiful blog. I will consider this blog when I do my thesis writing.

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