Differences between Theses and Dissertations

Although these terms have often been used interchangeably, in reality they do indeed have their differences. In order to better understand the differences, we will first examine the similarities. Both a thesis and a dissertation:

  • Involve a great deal of writing
  • Are the result of copious amounts of research
  • Usually required in the attainment of an academic degree
  • Are associated with higher education
  • They are both “crowning” papers which signify the completion of either the Master’s or Doctor’s degree.
  • They are considered to be the ultimate writing achievement of a person’s academic level of education.

Most universities throughout the world consider these two words to describe a very different kind of academic paper. Interestingly, some parts of Europe consider a dissertation to be part of a Master’s degree program and a thesis to be part of a Doctorate degree whereas the opposite is true in the United States. This definitely causes some confusion, especially for students who study abroad on either end of the spectrum.

For the most part, the following differences between a thesis and a dissertation are agreed upon no matter where you’re from or where you attend school.

  • A thesis assumes original research is done by the author, whereas a dissertation analyzes research already in existence and draws conclusions from it.
  • In a thesis, the author may add existing literature to the literature he has generated from his own research, but in a dissertation all literature uses is in existence already.
  • The thesis contains a hypothesis.
  • For writing a dissertation, you must have in depth knowledge of current research and recent discoveries.
  • For a dissertation, you must basically formulate a new conclusion based on old research.
  • For a thesis, you must conduct original (new) research.
  • Scholarships are usually tied to thesis work.

The Masters’ degree

If it sounds confusing, you’re not alone. The best way to differentiate between the two is simply to be aware of which one is required for your academic degree and stick to the guidelines you are given. Then you don’t have to worry about choosing the right definition; just go with what the requirement is for your program.

Whichever you have to write, the statement for your thesis or dissertation is the key foundation to the entire document. Choosing your statement wisely will help you take the right track for your research, whether doing your own research or analyzing others’.