What’s the Difference between a Dissertation and a Thesis?

Yelena Skosyrskih

While in many fields, a bachelor’s degree is sufficient to achieve many career goals, some industries and positions require a candidate to hold a post-graduate degree. The ability to conduct research and present information effectively is a big part of getting your master’s degree or doctorate.

Before you graduate from a post-graduate program, you need to provide a thesis or a dissertation. Understanding the core differences between these two documents can help you get closer to getting the degree you need.

Let’s take a closer look at the difference between thesis and dissertation and explore what it entails.

What Is a Thesis?

Before defining a thesis, it’s important to understand that the definition varies depending on the country you are getting your education in. The United States and the United Kingdom have different definitions. So does the European Union.

In the USA, a thesis is an extensive research paper, the goal of which is to demonstrate your ability to conduct independent research and put it into a digestible form. This scholarly document must contain a clear and focused hypothesis. You have to come up with an argument and use existing research to prove it.

The components of a thesis are:

  1. Introduction
  2. Literature Review
  3. Research Methodology
  4. Data Collection
  5. Data Analysis
  6. Results and Findings
  7. Discussion and Interpretation
  8. Conclusion
  9. References
  10. Appendices (if applicable)

The goal of the thesis is to allow you to demonstrate the skills you’ve mastered throughout the program. You will show that you can analyze information critically and present logical arguments.

Theses in the UK and EU

In the United Kingdom and the European Union, the term “thesis” can mean a different document. Instead of being a part of obtaining the master’s degree, it’s part of the doctoral degree program.

In the UK and EU, there is a concept of the “Ph.D. thesis.” You will be submitting it to confirm the skills and knowledge you gained while in the Ph.D. program.

Unlike the master’s thesis in the USA, this Ph.D. thesis would require you to conduct original research and may require several years to be completed. You would be conducting investigations, analyzing data, and presenting your findings in a structured manner. The purpose of this thesis is to confirm your right to receive a Ph.D.

Who Would Write a Thesis?

In the United States, students who are enrolled in master’s programs have to present a thesis. Some bachelor programs may also require you to write an undergraduate thesis. However, this thesis is likely to be less in-depth than the thesis for the master’s program.

In the UK and EU, you would have to write a thesis if you want to earn your doctoral degree. This thesis is similar to the document, which is called the dissertation in the United States.

What Is a Dissertation?

In the United States, a dissertation is a comprehensive research project, that students work on as part of their Ph.D. program. It’s presented to the committee of professionals in the area of your studies. This original piece demonstrates your ability to bring new knowledge to a chosen field.

The components of a dissertation are:

  1. Abstract
  2. Introduction
  3. Literature Review
  4. Research Methodology
  5. Data Collection
  6. Data Analysis
  7. Results and Findings
  8. Discussion and Interpretation
  9. Conclusion
  10. Recommendations
  11. References
  12. Appendices (if applicable)

A dissertation is a scholarly document that requires extensive research. Some students write dissertations for several years. They do it under the guidance of a faculty advisor or several professionals. Similarly to a thesis, the goal of the dissertation is to show your right to earn a Ph.D.

Dissertation in the UK and EU

In the UK and EU, a dissertation is a smaller research project that students usually complete as part of their master’s program. In some cases, undergraduate programs also require a short dissertation. While the scale of this scholarly document is smaller, it still requires original research and analysis.

  • While writing a dissertation in both the U.S. and the UK, you will:
  • Conduct independent research
  • Collect and analyze data
  • Defend your project to a committee

Once you defend your dissertation, you can get the degree you are working for.

Who Would Write a Dissertation?

Depending on the country, you would write a dissertation while studying to earn your master’s or doctoral degree. In some cases, undergraduate programs in the UK and EU also require a small-scale dissertation.

Similarities and Differences Between a Thesis and a Dissertation

The thesis and dissertation appear similar at first. However, they have several differences. Let’s discuss these differences between a thesis and a dissertation in the United States. In the UK, these two concepts are reversed.

Dissertation vs Thesis: Purpose and Scope

The key differences between these two scholarly documents are their purpose and scope. While the purpose of each one of them is to evaluate the person’s ability to think critically, do research, and present findings, the goal is two different degrees.

The thesis usually requires you to demonstrate your ability to use the existing research to back your arguments. Meanwhile, the dissertation requires a significant original contribution to the current body of knowledge.

Thesis vs Dissertation: Scale

While both projects require significant time and effort, the results are different. In most cases, the thesis is shorter than the dissertation. The former is usually between 80 and 100 pages long. Meanwhile, the latter can easily exceed 200 pages. The difference in the size reflects the depth of the research and analysis.

Dissertation vs Thesis: Academic Level

Depending on the country, the academic level at which you will complete your thesis or dissertation is different. In most cases, a thesis is something you do when studying to get a master’s degree. Meanwhile, a dissertation is part of your Ph.D. studies.

In the majority of situations, a dissertation helps you achieve the highest level of academic confirmation.

Dissertation and Thesis: Contribution

Both the dissertation and thesis have to become a contribution to the existing body of knowledge. However, the expectations for their originality are different. A thesis uses the existing research and theories to support an idea. At the same time, a dissertation should provide an original contribution. A dissertation can become the basis of a thesis. However, a thesis can’t help with a dissertation.

Thesis and Dissertation: The Research Process

The research process for the thesis and dissertation are similar. For both of them, you would need to:

  • Conduct a literature review
  • Collect and analyze data
  • Present findings to a committee

However, the depth of the research process for the thesis isn’t as significant as for the dissertation. For the dissertation, you must use advanced research methodologies that you don’t need to master to write a thesis.

Dissertation and Thesis: Defense

Both the thesis and the dissertation require an evaluation and defense. However, these processes can vary. Sometimes, you would only need an advisor to evaluate a thesis. Meanwhile, a dissertation requires a more formal format with several experts in the field conducting an evaluation.

Choosing Between a Dissertation and a Thesis

The choice between a dissertation and a thesis isn’t available to a student. It depends on the type of program you decide to enroll in. If you are studying to get a Ph.D., you will have to write and defend a dissertation. If you are in a master’s program, you have to be prepared to complete a thesis.

Both a dissertation and a thesis are integral parts of reaching higher levels of academic achievement. Faculty and advisors will help you with the process to make sure you earn the respective degree successfully.

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