Dissertation vs Thesis | Similarities, And Differences

As part of the fulfillment of a graduate degree, students are required to either submit a thesis or a dissertation and there is a difference between the two. However, more than often, students wrongly use the words dissertation and thesis interchangeably in error.

Some graduate students are often confused, they don’t know which to use, whether dissertation or thesis. While the two may seem similar, they are features that differentiate one from the other. Both papers may be similar for the fact that they both contain an introduction, a literature review section, a body, a conclusion part, a bibliography, and an appendix. Besides these, there are no other similarities between the two.

The essence of this Dissertation vs Thesis article is to help identify the differences between Dissertation and thesis. However, before we jump into understanding the differences between the two, let’s first of all look at the definition of the two.

What is a Dissertation?

A dissertation has about ten thousand to twenty thousand words and is defined as an extended writing piece that is determined by the department or selected by the student himself. In most cases, dissertations are written in chapters with headings and sub-headings. Sometimes, dissertations are numbered the same way reports are numbered. The purpose of a  dissertation is to answer a particular research question. The question can either be on an empirical study or a literal study.

While the core purpose of a dissertation is to answer questions, the process of answering this question is regarded as more essential than the actual findings themselves. Even if at the end of your dissertation, your data turn out unusable, you can still score a good point so long as there is evidence that you have studied the research process and can analyze it, and have a clear understanding of why it was difficult for you to answer the question as successfully as you ought to have done.

What is a Thesis?

“A thesis is an idea or theory that is expressed as a statement and is discussed logically. A thesis is a long piece of writing based on your ideas and research that you do as part of a university degree, especially a higher degree such as a Ph.D.” (Collins Online Dictionary 2021)

When it comes to college expository writing, thesis is one of the most essential concepts. Every thesis has a thesis sentence, a summation of your ideas, arguments, and viewpoints into one sentence known as the thesis statement.

The thesis statement is important not only to the audience but also to you the writer. The thesis statement helps your audience to understand the reason for your thesis. It is also important for you as the writer to know the kind of support, argument, and evidence you will put forward in the paper. It can also help you to understand the logical structure and direction of the paper. Therefore, you should understand the concept of a thesis before you begin working on one.

Thesis Vs Dissertation—The Shakespearean Era (1564-1616)

The era covering from 1564-1616 is often referred to as the Shakespearean era. In those days, it was customary for master’s degree students to submit a thesis, which is an original paper. In that paper, the student propounds an idea and maintains it through the paper.

The student will read his paper to the committee and then sit in silence while two faculty members contest everything he says point by point. The emphasis on a thesis is the ability of the student to put forward his ideas clearly and his ability to logically present them before an audience.

Students who wished to pursue a higher degree in academics will more or less pursue a dissertation in those days. A dissertation is more like a literature review.

The student will carry out in-depth studies in a particular field and then present his findings in writing, presenting the different views of various authorities in that field of study. The main reason for a dissertation was to prove that a  student has vast knowledge in the field which he/she is writing about.

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The Concept of Thesis Vs Dissertation in Europe

The original differences between dissertation and thesis have been largely maintained in Europe. A doctoral thesis is an original research work that is focused on a  specific topic done to obtain a Ph.D. In Europe, a dissertation is part of a bigger research project for your postgraduate degree.

However, the case is a bit different when you talk about the thesis. Today, the thesis involves a lot of background research, citations, and references to similar works in the field. Nonetheless, the focus remains on the originality of the work that comes out of the research.

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Thesis Vs Dissertation in the United States

In the United States, the reverse of Europe’s definition of a thesis is the case. A thesis is usually shorter than a dissertation, therefore, its original meaning was gradually lost. In the United States today, a thesis is referred to as a primary degree in pursuance of a doctorate program. A thesis is now a requirement for a  Master’s Degree program.

In the field of sciences, a candidate for a master’s degree will take advanced courses and gain first-hand experience in a research project. However, the candidate will not direct the project to the same degree that he would when pursuing a doctor’s program.

In a master’s program, the student can make their contributions to the work, however, the focus is more on the student’s ability to obtain technical skills and not working on original research.

In the United States, many engineering students usually obtain a master’s degree and rarely proceed to obtain a Ph.D. However, for other fields like chemistry, it is easier for students to drop out of school and write a shortened research as a project for a master’s degree.

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Similarities Between a Dissertation and a Thesis

Whether you are writing a dissertation or thesis, there are commonalities you need to keep in mind. The key similarities between a thesis and a dissertation are in the structure of both works. Both the thesis and dissertation contain a  title, an abstract, an introduction, literature review, a body, research methodology, results, discussion, recommendations(s), bibliography, and appendix. Other similarities include the following:   

  • Both dissertation and thesis require extensive work and should be taken seriously.
  • Both thesis and dissertation work with a time duration.
  • Whether you are working on a dissertation or thesis, there must be a topic of research.
  • Both dissertation and thesis require a proposal before drafting the final copy of the work that expresses the future benefit of the document.
  • Both thesis and dissertation are prerequisites to a certain degree program.
  • Care should be taken to avoid plagiarism and infringing on Copyright when writing either thesis or dissertation.

Differences Between A Dissertation And A Thesis

  • A thesis is a prerequisite to a master’s degree while a dissertation is for candidates hoping to obtain a Doctorate Degree.
  • One of the key differences between a thesis and a dissertation is that a thesis is done at the end of a program while a dissertation is done in the process of pursuing a doctorate.
  • A thesis is proximately 100 pages long while a dissertation is generally longer due to extensive research requirements.  
  • A  thesis is an original research writing that focuses on the original work that comes out of the research. On the other hand, the dissertation relies on existing research works for information.
  • A dissertation requires more in-depth research work than a thesis.
  • In a thesis, a statement is made, which forms the basis of an argument. The candidate thus explains the points in the statement to support the argument. On the other hand,  a  dissertation requires a hypothesis.
  • In terms of difficulty, a dissertation is more difficult and requires more work than a thesis.

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How To Effectively Write A Dissertation

The structure of a dissertation may vary according to your field of study. However, it generally follows a pattern and is divided into four to five chapters, which include the introduction and conclusion chapters. The typical dissertation follows the structure below:

  1. The introduction chapter to your topic
  2. The literature review  that analyses the significant sources of information
  3. The methodology chapter. Here the candidate explains his/her research methodology
  4. The summary of your research results
  5. A discussion chapter that examines the results of your research and their consequences
  6. The conclusion chapter that explains the contribution of your research work to academics or society  
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In the field of humanities, the structure of a dissertation is usually a long essay. The candidate builds an argument by evaluating the primary and Secondary sources of information. The standard, therefore, may differ from the structure above. The chapters may fall around different case studies or themes.

Other essential elements of a dissertation are the title page, acknowledgment, the abstract, table of contents, and your list of references. While the above standard may apply in most cases, you might still need to consult your department for further clarifications. Some departments provide students with a unique structure for their dissertation, which may have some minor adjustments from the original structure.  

How To Write A Thesis

The structure of a thesis is very similar to that of a dissertation. A thesis has a title page. The contents of the title page include the subtitle, the author of the thesis, the institution, the department, the date of delivery of the thesis, the names of the research mentors and advisors, the names of their institutions, and their email addresses. Other parts of the thesis include:

The Abstract page, which explains the importance of the paper in one line. The abstract page also provides a summary of the main results of the work. the summary is more preferably explained numerically with error limits. The quality of a good abstract is that it is concise, quantitative, and easy to read. Abstracts do not contain citations, they should be explicit and should not exceed 2 paragraphs. Ensure to use numbers where appropriate in your thesis. A  good abstract typically answers the following questions concerning your research:

  • What is your research about?
  • Why did you carry out the research?
  • How did you carry out the research?
  • What is the result of your research?
  • Why is your research significant?

The other pages are: 

  1. The table of content contains all the headings and subheadings in your paper. To differentiate the headings from the subheadings, the standard way is to indent the subheadings. If there are tables and figures in your work, list them with a short title in the table of contents.
  2. The Introduction. It is essential to know the body of your work before you can write a good introduction for it. The introduction should be interesting and motivating enough to make your audience want to read further. The next paragraph in your introduction should also refer to other researches in the past and also explain why you believe that more work is required in the field. The introduction of your thesis should concentrate more on the thesis question.
  3. The Methodology section: this section enables your readers to access your resources materials and help enhance the believability of your work. It provides the key information that will enable other researchers to replicate your work if the need arises.  It also provides techniques, a description of your method of analysis, references to specific software used for the work, etc.
  4. The Results section is where you state your actual observations from your research. You also provide information on the range of variations in the result section. If there are any negative results, you will also have to mention them in the result section. Avoid the temptation of interpreting your results in the result section. Save that part for the discussion section. Ensure you provide enough details in your result section to enable others to draw their interpretations and provide their explanations.
  5. The Dissuasion section is where you discuss your observations and provide answers for them. Point out the prevalent patterns in your observations (temporal and spatial variations). Tell your readers in what areas your results are related and the areas to generalize your pattern. Let your audience know if there are any exceptions to the generalization of your results. Also, explain the mechanism behind the pattern you observed that led to your prediction. When discussing the result, ensure to take into consideration the background you set in your introduction. Avoid agreeing to a trending pattern of view except you are sure it conforms with your findings. Ensure to include the evidence that supports your interpretation in your discussion section. The reader should be able to gain some new insight into the research which were not already known to them before your work. The discussion section should have a lot of references to similar works in the past that provide enough backdrop for the interpretation of your results. Use logical subheadings to split your discussion section to make it readable.   
  6. The Conclusion section contains the most essential and strongest fact you can deduce from your observation during you’re your research work. Make the facts you want the reader to remember about the paper clear in your conclusion. Refer to the challenges you faced and explain the conclusion you arrived at from your research work. make a summary of new observations and insights that you arrived at as a result of the current work. Ensure you use unique words in your conclusion to drive home your point. Avoid repetition of words from other parts of the work.
  7. The recommendations section should be included where necessary and state the actions you recommend that will help solve the problem.
  8. The references section contains all the ideas you cited during the research for your thesis. There are different methods of reference, therefore, it is essential to verify with your department to know which method applies to them beforehand.  
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Frequently Asked Questions About The Differences Between Thesis and Dissertation

What do I Require to Start My Thesis or Dissertation?

All thesis or dissertation students are required to submit an RTAF  to the  School of Graduate Studies and Research before the deadline applicable. In some countries, the RTAF is submitted directly to the department for approval.

What is an RTAF?

RTAF is an acronym for Research Topic Approval Form.

When do You Need an RTAF?

You need to fill and submit an RTAF after forming your committee and before starting the real work on your thesis or dissertation.

Is A Thesis The Same Thing As A Dissertation?

No. Thesis and Dissertation are not the same, even though people use them interchangeably in error.

Are there any structural differences between the structures of a thesis and a dissertation?

No. The structure of the thesis is similar to that of a dissertation.

What does the term “fair use” imply in thesis and dissertations?

It means that the author of a thesis or dissertation is allowed limited use of copyrighted materials in their work.


While there are many structural similarities between a thesis and a dissertation, the intent and approach are different for both papers, and they are both meant for different purposes. Before writing your dissertation or thesis, it is essential to verify from your faculty the criteria and required standards. Doing this will save you a lot of going forth and coming back during your dissertation or thesis work. If you are among those that use the dissertation and thesis interchangeably, it is essential to know today that they are different and should be used in their right contexts. Using the right names in the appropriate context helps to create clarity and enhances understanding.


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