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Thesis and Dissertation: The differences

When a student is about to commence his graduation, he gets all curious and wants to be all prepared for what is to come his way in the upcoming years. He starts reading about the modules and course works involved in the successful completion of his chosen degree program on time. While researching all these requirements, a student is likely to come across multiple terms like comprehensive paper, thesis, and dissertation. Now the question arises that what exactly do these terms entail.

In order to graduate, a student has to take a comprehensive paper which is called a thesis or a dissertation. The words ‘thesis’ and ‘dissertation’ are often used as synonyms leading to robust confusion in the academic sector. The aim of both, a thesis and a dissertation, is to provide students with opportunities to conduct research in their area of interest and contribute valuable knowledge in the same.

By writing a thesis or dissertation a student tends to attain skills like

  • Selecting the right topic from the multiple choices available to him.
  • Developing an appropriate research proposal and research question.
  • Effectively reviewing the relevant literature.
  • Choosing and applying the correct methodology to conduct the research.
  • Representing and interpreting the results to explore the wider implications of the project.

Characteristics of a dissertation and a thesis

  • Should be an original piece of work that is significant, clear, creative, elegant, persuasive, insightful, and thoughtful.
  • Should be written in an interesting, organized, and systematic manner.
  • Should be able to connect multiple elements (research question, methodology, data analysis, and conclusion) flawlessly.
  • Should represent independent and mature thinking of a student.
  • Asks new queries or addresses important questions or issues.
  • Should represent a strong point of view in an authoritative and confident voice.
  • Arguments and claims should be logical, rigorous, and focused.
  • Significant results.
  • Should be of interest to the student himself and contributes towards a change in the ideology of the society.
  • Clearly demonstrates the importance of the selected topic.
  • Involves a large amount of comprehensive literature review.
  • Data should be rich and prevailing.
  • The conclusion should bring the entire writing piece together.
  • Should be plausible technically and practically.
  • Should be of social, academic, and practical relevance.
  • Should be manageable within the allotted timeframe and budget.

Both the papers are similar in structure as they include an introduction, literature review, main body, conclusion, and reference list. Thus, it’s important to dig deeper into the topic and analyze how the two differ from each other.

The dictionary definitions for the two papers are as follows


Merriam Webster: A dissertation embodying results of original research and especially substantiating a specific view. A proposition stated or put forward for consideration, especially one to be discussed and proved or to be maintained against objections.


Merriam Webster: An extended usually written treatment of a subject. A written essay, treatise, or thesis, especially one written by a candidate for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.

The major difference highlighted from the above-mentioned definitions is that the thesis is submitted by the students who are completing their master's degree whereas the dissertation is an essential part of a scholar's doctoral program. However, in previous references and studies, many master's theses have been called as dissertations.

The key factors for differentiation between the two are


The purpose of a thesis is to highlight and explore a new area of research. It allows a student to showcase his skills and knowledge about the selected study area. It justifies the knowledge you've gained throughout your degree discipline. On the other hand, the purpose of a dissertation is to introduce new knowledge and theories in an existing research area. A dissertation allows a scholar to expand the area of study with his valuable contributions.

Word Count

In terms of word count, a thesis often ranges to somewhere around 100 pages whereas, a dissertation is lengthier and could cover around 200 pages. This is because of the difference in the amount of evidence required to support the claims.


Planning and finishing a thesis requires extensive research and data collection. Primary data is the main ground for this paper. A dissertation, on the other hand, focuses majorly on the secondary data for execution and completion of the process. The information gathered and recorded from the secondary data should be unique and valuable. It should have enough proof to back the claims made by the scholar.

All in all, it can be said that the thesis has a broader scope as compared to the dissertation because the topic has never been explored before.

Data Collection

There are two ways of data collection, primary and secondary. Primary data is collected via sources like surveys, interviews, observations, etc. whereas secondary data is obtained from sources like achieved papers, books, journals, previous research studies, etc. A student working on a thesis is more likely to use primary sources of data while a dissertation scholar relies on the secondary data to complete his research successfully.

Because of the nature of the data collection methods, a thesis writer has to present his ways of collecting information to an ethics committee whereas a dissertation writer has to provide proper citations and references to prove the authenticity of his work.

Depth of knowledge

One of the major differences between a dissertation and a thesis is the depth of knowledge you attain while writing the paper. A thesis is more closely linked to the research project completed during a bachelor's program. You are expected to provide your own analysis of the discoveries made while writing the paper. It defines your level of critical and analytical thinking along with your area of interest. However, while writing a dissertation, you are expected to use the research of others as a guide and come up with a gap you can fill up in that study.


A dissertation writer is allowed more time to conduct and finalize his research work as compared to a shorter time span allotted to write a thesis.

Greek Derivation

The word thesis is derived from the Greek word "proposition" while the dissertation is derived from the Greek word "discussion".

It can be easily said that there are more similarities between a dissertation and a thesis than differences. It is not the structure, format, or style which differentiates the two as many universities have the same pattern for both. Both are the means of completing a degree program and play an important role in academic life.

The differences between a thesis and a dissertation depend largely upon the institutions the work is being presented to. There may be many as the university can have completely different guidelines for the two or there may be none as the university has the same rules for both the papers. Most of the institutions have strict guidelines and vast requirements for a dissertation writer as compared to a thesis writer. The guidelines also vary according to the type of program you're enrolled in.

Tips for producing impactful thesis/dissertation

Writing a thesis or dissertation benefits both an individual’s educational as well as professional life. The process might be tedious but it will definitely be fruitful in the end. He will be required to read numerous books and other materials while writing these comprehensive papers, which will enhance his knowledge in the area of interest. The rewards of writing a thesis or dissertation are not limited to a master’s degree or final grade in the university. A student can also opt for better career prospects and competitiveness in the working sector.

Writing a thesis or dissertation can be stressful for many students and they might give up on the projects in the early stages itself. But in order to enjoy the merits of writing these papers they need to hang in there and follow these steps.

Begin as early as they can. Do not procrastinate on either of the research projects. They are extensive and long papers that will take a considerable amount of time to complete.

Work on them frequently. It is important to consistently work on your thesis or dissertation as this will prevent any stressful all-nighters.

Prepare the first draft. Do not bother too much about the quality in the first draft of either of the comprehensive papers. Let it flow freely and naturally. It is just a baseline for your major project, and can always be refined.

Be in touch with your advisor. Do not think too highly of yourself and seek the guidance and help of your advisor or professor to oversee the thesis or dissertation project.

Edit the final draft. A student should always edit the final draft of the paper for accuracy and clarity in terms of grammar and spellings. Read each line closely and carefully.

It is important to have a clear understanding of the difference and similarities between the two comprehensive papers to avoid complications at the academic front. Students should consult their institutions or visit their websites to know what is expected of them. With proper planning and execution, a thesis or dissertation can add great value to a student’s future.

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