What Is the Difference Between Thesis and Dissertation?

What Is the Difference Between Thesis and Dissertation?

A thesis or dissertation is usually required for graduate degrees. Often, these terms are used interchangeably without anyone citing the subtle differences between them. For instance, while writing a thesis, you could get asked how your dissertation is coming along in school.

But what exactly do we mean when we talk about a dissertation or a thesis? And does the term you adopt have any lasting effects on what you end up writing?

This article helps by examining the major differences between a thesis and a dissertation and everything in between.

Dissertation vs. thesis

Let’s start with the genesis of these words. The term dissertation was derived from the Latin words ‘dissertare’, which explains a discussion process, and ‘disserere’, which means to analyze and discuss. In comparison, the term thesis is from a Latin word that means “to place a proposition”.

Depending on where a degree is awarded, the terms thesis and dissertation can adopt different meanings. For instance, the definition of a thesis in the U.S is nearly the inverse of that in Europe.

Because a thesis is usually shorter than a dissertation, it came to be seen as a preliminary degree on the path to a Master’s degree. In comparison, a dissertation is an authentic research project done to obtain a doctorate. These are the adopted definitions in the U.S.

Generally, a thesis is a scholarly piece of research that has been well-written. It is provided by students who have completed a master’s degree program.

In Europe, the definition of these terms takes a new turn. For instance, they refer to a dissertation as part of a broader research completed during an undergraduate or postgraduate degree. On the other hand, a thesis here is an original research project conducted to obtain a PhD.

What is the purpose of a thesis and dissertation?

For starters, it allows students to demonstrate their knowledge and experience in the subject matter they have been learning. It is also to apply their study expertise to real-world applications fully.

On the other hand, a dissertation is a longer piece of scholarly work that accounts for your research process during a doctoral program. A PhD is awarded to a graduate after presenting and defending their dissertation. The purpose of dissertation is often to test the research capabilities students have developed in their study period.

It contains all information about the PhD candidate’s original or continued research on a recent or existing subject matter. Also, its assessment is used to determine a final grade. However, the length of dissertation compared to a thesis is a prevailing distinction between both terms.

Doctoral thesis vs. dissertation: exploring the differences

Looking back to our mention of the term disparities in Europe and America, we can explore a doctoral thesis vs a dissertation.

In the U.S, a thesis is usually for a doctoral or a master’s degree, while a dissertation is for a master’s or a bachelor’s degree with honors. In other parts of the world, like North America and some other countries, a thesis is used for a master’s degree and a dissertation for a doctoral degree.

What is a doctoral dissertation? It is simply a dissertation done at the doctorate level. Unlike a dissertation for master’s, it is an extensive level of research, presentation, and defense done by graduates in pursuit of a PhD.

On the other hand, if you’ve wondered “what is a doctoral thesis”, you should understand that it’s a thesis written at the doctorate level. These terms appear in different locations worldwide that either use a dissertation or a thesis for a PhD pursuit.

However, by a more considerable consensus, a thesis is at a Master’s level, and a dissertation is for a PhD study.

Difference between thesis and dissertation: how they differ

A significant difference between a thesis and a dissertation is completion time. As previously stated, a thesis is generally presented at the end of a master’s program. In comparison, a dissertation is submitted to acquire a PhD.

Another significant difference stems from their definitions. A thesis is a collection of research that reveals the researcher is up to date and knowledgeable about the research topic done during the study program. A dissertation, however, allows the researcher to add recent theories and information to the existing literature in the research field.

Also, a thesis is an official and detailed presentation of previously learned information. Meanwhile, a dissertation functions to create a peculiar concept and defend it using practical and theoretical results.

Lastly, a master’s degree dissertation is about a hundred pages in length, while a PhD dissertation is way longer with a background and research information section. Ideally, dissertations are up to thrice the length of theses.


In the end, it doesn’t matter which term you rely on because both refer to serious academic works that demonstrate what you have researched and understood. You’ll be fine as long as you refer to your institution and department for direction.

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