Dissertation vs Thesis

Time to write your research project?

Is it a dissertation or a thesis? This is a question asked by most scholars.

Note that more often than not, scholars and instructors use these terms interchangeably.

Nonetheless, the two are different and distinctive research undertakings.

Dissertation vs thesis! What are the actual differences?

Do you how to write a dissertation? How to write a thesis?

What is a dissertation?

The discussion on dissertation vs thesis cannot unfold without defining the two terms.

So, what is a dissertation?

In the U.S., dissertation is a research project that is a requirement for a doctorate degree.

The project is highly involving since it is lengthy and demands solid researching, data analysis, and writing skills.

One of the most important aspects of a dissertation is its originality.

It must present original research.

Besides testing the student’s writing skills, the dissertation has to add something new to the existing body of knowledge in a field.

This can be done by:

  1. Presenting new hypothesis or theories
  2. Presenting research disapproving a theory previously presented
  3. Tackling a new angle to shift existing research to a new direction

In sciences, dissertations are empirical- where they draw on the primary data collected by the student.

For less scientific fields such as philosophy or literature, dissertations are non-empirical.

Non-empirical dissertations replace original research with analyses, interpretations, innovation new ideas, and perspectives.

What is a Thesis?

What does a thesis entail?

What is the difference between dissertation vs thesis?

In the U.S., a thesis is also a lengthy research paper that is usually a requirement for master’s, and sometimes bachelor’s degree students.

Note that different universities and degrees may have different thesis and graduation requirements.

These projects are written at the end of a course as culminating projects.

Accordingly, students have to complete them to graduate.

Dissertation vs Thesis


The differences between dissertation vs thesis can be described on the basis of a number of factors, including:

  1. The degree program requiring the project
  2. Region
  3. Scope
  4. Defense

1. The program requiring the project

      Note that both dissertation and thesis projects are requirements for graduation.

      Primarily, thesis is a graduating requirement for a master’s program.

      On the other hand, dissertations are requirements for doctoral students.

      In this case, for example, while a master of education degree program will require a thesis project, a doctor of psychology will demand a dissertation.

      2. Region

      Region is another factor that marks the difference between a dissertation vs thesis.

      The way different regions name their graduation research projects is another reason why the terms dissertation and thesis can be used interchangeably.

      While dissertation is for the doctoral program in the U.S., it is for the master’s and sometimes the bachelor’s degrees in the UK and Europe.

      In the UK and Europe, it is the opposite – thesis is the doctoral program research project and the dissertation is for master’s and bachelor’s degree programs.

      3. Scope/ length

      Scope is also a key difference between dissertation vs thesis.

      As it would be expected, a bachelor’s and master’s degree research project is usually shorter than doctoral one.

      In this case, where the thesis is the bachelor’s or master’s degree project, the expected length would be between 40 and 80 pages.

      Differently, the dissertation would be between 100 and 300 pages.

      The scope and length are reversed when the application of the terms to the degree program change.

      4. Defense

      This difference between dissertation vs thesis is straightforward.

      When the project is for a doctoral degree, the student is required to present an oral defense.

      Bachelor’s and master’s degree projects do not require an oral defense.

      Once the doctoral dissertation is submitted to the relevant committee, students will be required to schedule for an oral presentation to defend their work.

      During presentation, questions are asked and challenges posed.

      It is the duty of the student to justify the methodology used and interpret the findings arrived at.

      5. Academic requirements

      Academic requirements in terms of content marks another difference between dissertation vs thesis.

      For both projects, there are areas a student should put more emphasis on.

      Accordingly, a doctoral dissertation has a clear hypothesis, a detailed methodology, a rigorous data analysis section, and critical discussions section.

      Differently, a master’s or bachelor’s thesis usually comprises a thorough literature review, a methodology, data analysis, and conclusions section.


      A dissertation and thesis share some similarities too.

      These similarities are in areas such as:

      1. Research requirements
      2. Skills and expertise
      3. Supervision
      4. Point of contact
      5. Graduation requirement

      1. Research requirements

        Both research projects have similar research requirements.

        Writing a dissertation or thesis is a research intensive endeavor that requires completion of a lengthy paper sometimes producing original work.

        2. Skills and expertise

        Skills and expertise required are also a common attributes in dissertation and thesis projects.

        Both projects demand a wide array of skills, including:

        1. Extensive knowledge and expertise in a subject area
        2. How to defend an academic argument
        3. Critical thinking and analytical reasoning
        4. Ability to commit time to a long project
        5. Ability to edit and re-edit based on feedback from experts and colleagues

        3. Supervision

        Supervision is key in both projects.

        Both dissertations and theses projects require expert supervision.

        Supervision is done by committees that guide the student through the research and writing process.

        These committees usually comprise faculty members and experts in the study area of focus.

        4. Point of contact

        The student maintains one point of contact when writing a dissertation or thesis.

        Usually, the committees have a chair.

        This chair is the student’s point of contact.

        The student has to ensure that the chair is always involved in the whole writing process.

        Whether it is finding a topic or presenting arguments, the chair significantly shapes the direction of the research project.

        5. Graduation requirement

        Both dissertation and thesis are requirements for graduation.

        They are considered capstone projects, and students have to complete them to graduate.

        How long is a Dissertation?

        The length of a dissertation is an issue that most students contend with.

        It is also an aspect that marks a key difference between dissertation vs thesis.

        So, how long is a dissertation?

        Ideally, the length of a dissertation may vary from one field or institution to another.

        Some fields may require more elaboration and details than others.

        That noted, in the U.S., most dissertations range between 100 and 300 pages.  

        How long is a Thesis?

        As well, students are not always sure about the length of a thesis.

        So, how long is a thesis in the U.S.?

        As earlier noted, a thesis is shorter than a dissertation.

        In most cases, the length of a standard thesis may range between 40 and 80 pages.

        Dissertation Defense

        This is one of the critical differences between dissertation vs thesis.

        It marks a very important moment for a graduate student.

        What does dissertation defense require a student to do?

        In simple terms, a student should cogently and clearly explain the research they have conducted and how it fits with other works of scholarship in the field being explored.

        The purpose of the dissertation defense is:

        1.  Acts a platform for the recognition and presentation of completed doctoral work
        2. Provides the opportunity for dissertation’s discussion and formal evaluation

        Note that dissertation defense should be done in collaboration with the dissertation committee.

        A team of expert writers from different fields and disciplines.

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