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Dissertation vs Thesis: The Differences that Matter

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As a graduate student, you will have many different types of challenging coursework and assignments. However, the biggest project that you’ll work on when earning your master’s or doctoral degree will be your thesis or dissertation. The differences between a dissertation vs thesis are plenty. That’s because each of these pieces of writing happen at different times in one’s educational journey.

 

Let’s break down what a dissertation and thesis are so that you have a strong handle on what’s expected. For both a thesis and a dissertation, there is an obvious fluency and understanding of the subject one studies.

 

Let’s take a look at their similarities and differences.

 

 

UoPeople student on laptop typing on Google Docs
Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

 

 

What is a Dissertation?

When you enter a doctoral program to earn a PhD, you will learn a lot about how to conduct your own research. At the culmination of your degree program, you’ll produce a dissertation.

 

A dissertation is a lengthy piece of written work that includes original research or expanded research on a new or existing topic. As the doctoral student, you get to choose what you want to explore and write about within your field of study.

 

 

What is a Thesis?

A thesis is also a scholarly piece of writing, but it is for those who are graduating from a master’s program. A thesis allows students to showcase their knowledge and expertise within the subject matter they have been studying.

 

 

Main Differences Between a Thesis vs. Dissertation

The biggest difference between a thesis and a dissertation is that a thesis is based on existing research.

 

On the other hand, a dissertation will more than likely require the doctoral student to conduct their own research and then perform analysis. The other big difference is that a thesis is for master’s students and the dissertation is for PhD students.

 

 

Structural Differences Between a Thesis and a Dissertation

Structurally, the two pieces of written analysis have many differences.

  • A thesis is at least 100 pages in length
  • A dissertation is 2-3x that in length
  • A thesis expands upon and analyzes existing research
  • A dissertation’s content is mostly attributed to the student as the author

 

Research Content and Oral Presentation

Once completed, some programs require students to orally present their thesis and dissertation to a panel of faculty members.

 

Typically, a dissertation oral presentation can take several hours. On the other hand, a thesis only takes about an hour to present and answer questions.

 

Let’s look at how the two scholarly works are similar and different:

 

Similarities:

  • Each is considered a final project and required to graduate
  • Both require immense understanding of the material
  • Written skills are key to complete both
  • Neither can be plagiarized
  • Both are used to defend an argument
  • Both require analytical skills
  • You will have to draft, rewrite, and edit both pieces of writing
  • For both, it is useful to have another person look over before submission
  • Both papers are given deadlines

Differences:

  • A dissertation is longer than a thesis
  • A dissertation requires new research
  • A dissertation requires a hypothesis that is then proven
  • A thesis chooses a stance on an existing idea and defends it with analysis
  • A dissertation has a longer oral presentation component

 

The Differences in Context: Location Matters

The United States

 

In the US, everything that was previously listed is how schools differentiate between a thesis and a dissertation. A thesis is performed by master’s students, and a dissertation is written by PhD candidates.

 

 

Europe

 

In Europe, the distinction between a thesis and dissertation becomes a little more cloudy. That’s because PhD programs may require a doctoral thesis to graduate. Then, as a part of a broader post-graduate research project, students may complete a dissertation.

 

 

Annotated book for researching and writing a thesis
Photo by Russ Ward on Unsplash

 

 

The Purpose Behind Written Research

Each piece of writing is an opportunity for a student to demonstrate his or her ability to think critically, express their opinions in writing, and present their findings in front of their department.

 

Graduate degrees take a lot of time, energy, and hard work to complete. When it comes to writing such lengthy and informative pieces, there is a lot of time management that is involved. The purpose of both a thesis and a dissertation are written proof that you understand and have mastered the subject matter of your degree.

 

 

Degree Types

A doctoral degree, or PhD, is the highest degree that one can earn. In most cases, students follow the following path to achieve this level of education: Earn a bachelor’s degree, then a master’s, and then a PhD. While not every job title requires this deep educational knowledge, the salaries that come along with each level of higher education increase accordingly.

 

 

Earning Your Degree

Whether you are currently a prospective student considering earning your higher education degree or a student enrolled in a master’s or doctoral program, you know the benefits of education.

 

However, for some, earning a traditional degree on-campus doesn’t make sense. This could be because of the financial challenges, familial obligations, accessibility, or any other number of reasons.

 

For students who are seeking their higher education degrees but need a flexible, affordable, and quality alternative to traditional college, take a look at the programs that the University of the People has to offer.

 

University of the People is an entirely online, US accredited and tuition-free institution dedicated to higher education. You can earn your Master’s in Business Administration or your Master’s in Education. Not to mention, there are a handful of associate’s and bachelor’s degree programs to choose from as well.

 

If you want to learn more, get in touch with us!

 

 

The Bottom Line

Regardless of where and when you earn your master’s or doctoral degree, you will likely have to complete a thesis or dissertation. The main difference between a thesis and dissertation is the level at which you complete them. A thesis is for a master’s degree, and a dissertation is for a doctoral degree.

 

Don’t be overwhelmed by the prospect of having to research and write so much. Your educational journey has prepared you with the right time management skills and writing skills to make this feat achievable!