Dissertation vs Thesis: Differences and Similarities

the difference between thesis and dissertation

Getting a graduate degree, whether it is a master or a doctoral degree is highly challenging. These degrees are all comprised of advanced courses and expect students to be constantly engaged with the material. Both a master’s and a doctoral program mean that the student is on his or her way to become an expert in the field.

In order to succeed in these advanced degrees, students need to complete all coursework by doing the readings, projects, and the necessary research. Whereas a Bachelor’s Degree only goes over subjects of interest in a more superficial manner, still giving students time to commit to a field, students doing a master’s and doctoral degrees take one field of study and explore it in depth.

Besides the necessary courses that are required for a graduate degree most programs also involve the completion of an advanced piece of work in research, either a thesis or a dissertation. Thesis or dissertations are the final pieces of work that students submit before graduation and they encompass all the skills and knowledge that has been accumulated during the years of study for the degree.

Most people use the words thesis and dissertation interchangeably, meaning that one could substitute the other and they are the same. There are so many academic terms now that it is easy to confuse them. However, there are similarities and differences in both the thesis and the dissertation, and this article will explore them.

What Are A Thesis And A Dissertation?

The thesis and dissertation are both academic papers which focus on the field of study of the student. They are both research focused and explore a topic in depth, bringing together all concepts, theories, and practical applications which have been acquired during the years that a student has been in graduate school, whether it is a master’s or a doctoral (PhD) program.

Similarities Of Dissertation and Thesis

The terms of thesis and dissertation are used as if they were the same, and there are quite a few similarities between them. These include the fact that both projects are for graduate students and not for undergraduate students. In addition, they are both lengthy papers, often surpassing hundreds of pages depending on the field of study and whether they are more theoretical or practical.

Completing thesis or dissertation

Also, both projects require some sort of guidance to complete. That is why mentors or advisers are assigned to students to help them along the way and give them advice on how to proceed. The advisers or mentors comment on the student’s research plans, writing, collection of data and so on. At the end, they are mentioned in the final project as main contributors besides the author or student.

Since the thesis and dissertation are required for students to be allowed to graduate, those who undertake to do these projects must get a passing grade. This passing grade is usually considered to be a B or above. Due to the mentorship and effort that students give to complete either a thesis or a dissertation, they usually get good grades.

In case a student does not get a passing grade, many universities have policies on letting students redo or rewrite their thesis or dissertation. However, there are limits on the number of times students are allowed to redo their research projects. These limits depend on the university which is awarding the degree.

Moreover, both the dissertation and the thesis have similar structures that students need to write.

These are:

  • Introduction
  • Literary Review
  • Main body
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • Appendix

Even though these parts have the same names, their contents will be quite different.

Thesis or dissertation defense

After students complete their dissertations or thesis projects they are required to present them. Most universities require oral presentations or as they are called thesis or dissertation defenses. This means that students will present and defend their work and arguments in front of a panel of professors, mentors, industry experts, peers, as well as family members. The audience will ask questions at the end to test whether the student has done good work and to see how valid the project is. At the end, the professors will evaluate the research project and will grade them.

Whether you choose a thesis or a dissertation depends on a few factors, however through completing one or the other you will be doing the following:

  • Developing a sound research proposal
  • Exploring a specific research question of your interest in depth
  • Identifying the necessary resources for your research
  • Analyzing and reviewing relevant literature
  • Choosing and applying the appropriate research methodology for your research question
  • Analyzing, interpreting, and reporting the data and findings
  • Identifying lessons learned or implications of your research for a wider scope

Differences Between Thesis And Dissertation

A thesis and a dissertation despite being used interchangeably, also have many differences in various aspects. Below we will give details on the 5 main differences of a thesis and dissertation.

Country differences in definition

Because different countries or continents in general have different educational systems, the definitions of various academic terms will also not be the same. This stands for the dissertation vs thesis concepts, more specifically the differences are in Europe and the United States.

Europe

In Europe, a thesis is a requirement to graduate from a doctoral or PhD program. It is a large body of original research that the student does over several years, which also contains references and relations to existing research that has been done by other people.

The dissertation on the other hand is a smaller research project that is done to complete a Master’s program. It does not necessarily need to have original research, but the student must take a view and back it up with arguments collected from existing research in the form of literature review.

The United States

In the United States, the definitions of a thesis and dissertation are completely opposite. The thesis in this case is the research project necessary for graduating from a master’s degree program, while the dissertation is done for doctoral degrees.

So the thesis will contain the arguments developed mostly from existing research, while the dissertation will be complete when the student picks a topic which has not been explored yet and dedicates years to researching it and prove or disprove a hypothesis.

In this article, we will explore the difference between thesis and dissertation from the U.S perspective and definitions.

Type of Degree

The dissertation vs thesis difference is in what they are used for. The dissertation will be used to get the terminal degree or the highest qualification possible in different fields such as the doctoral or PhD degree.

On the other hand, the thesis is used to mark the end of a master’s degree, so students will get their second cycle qualifications or education after their Bachelor’s Degree by presenting their thesis.

There are also cases when a thesis or dissertation is not required and this depends on the type of program or institution that the student is completing their degree in. This mostly occurs with master’s degrees rather than PhD programs. Some masters programs will give students a choice between doing their thesis or completing an additional course.

It is recommended that if students aim to continue their education and get a PhD qualification that they choose to complete the thesis instead of the course. That is because completing a thesis will add to your research experience and PhD programs will be more likely to accept you if you have already published some form of research.

It is also better to do the thesis if you plan to get a PhD since the dissertation requires more extensive work than the thesis, so you will already have a basic understanding of the effort and work it takes to complete it.

Data Collection

Another difference between thesis and dissertation is the way in which students go through the data collection process.

Since the dissertation is the original research for which students graduate from a PhD, it mostly uses primary data such as:

  • Questionnaires or surveys
  • Interviews
  • Focus Groups
  • Any other form of data collected by the student

The thesis which does not necessarily require primary data collection, relies more on secondary data such as:

  • Books
  • Articles
  • Survey reports
  • Existing studies
  • Government or official statistics, etc.

The dissertation focuses on primary data, but uses secondary sources to back arguments and provide evidence for or against a certain hypothesis. The thesis on the other hand may or may not contain primary data, and it all depends on the student’s choice.

Purpose of study

The purpose of each of the research projects is different.

A thesis is mostly the usage of secondary sources to demonstrate to your professors and peers that you have gained enough information and skills in your field of interest. The thesis starts with a proposition and then the student analyzes and makes a case for their point of view.

The purpose of the dissertation is completely different from the thesis. The dissertation is done in order to contribute to the advancement of your field through discovering new knowledge based on research. Those who do a dissertation try to discover new concepts and theories which have not been researched enough before. They have a hypothesis and use quantitative and qualitative primary data to prove or disprove it.

Length of project

Lastly, another difference between the thesis and dissertation is in their length.

Because the dissertation is original research, it can be as long as 400 pages so it will basically be a book on your topic of interest.

The thesis though relies on secondary sources and does not go as in depth into the subject as the dissertation, so its length is minimum 100 pages, but it is not necessarily a whole book about a subject.

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