How is a dissertation different from a thesis? If you plan to attend graduate school at the master’s or doctoral level, then you may have come across the terms thesis and dissertation on various school websites that outline the program requirements. Nearly all graduate-level programs in the United States require completion of a final thesis or dissertation, but some schools differ in their interpretation of this final project. Used to gauge comprehension and the ability to argue effectively, a thesis or dissertation represents a student’s understanding within her field of study. The following article will help you identify the differences between these two research documents.
Length and Structure
The length and structure of a thesis and dissertation vary according to program; however, most theses are significantly shorter than dissertations. Students seeking a master’s degree usually complete a thesis project in one full semester during which this is the only course they take. Doctoral candidates spend years completing their research so that they can write, edit and cite a research document that may comprise 400 pages. In some schools, a doctoral candidate’s entire course of study may be referred to as his dissertation. Length and structure also depend on the field of study. Science majors write less because they conduct more hands-on experiments; students in humanities and liberal arts programs write longer papers with more in-depth analysis.
Regardless of how schools use the terms thesis and dissertation, the purpose remains the same for both projects: Master’s level theses and doctoral dissertations require extensive research in order to prove that students have retained sufficient knowledge about their field. Theses typically require less external research because the project reflects a student’s own ideas and conclusions. Dissertations take several years to complete and may require hundreds of external sources.
The secondary focus is to see how well students can defend their own work. Both of these research projects typically conclude with an oral defense in which faculty members ask questions about the research and final paper. A dissertation defense can last several hours whereas a thesis defense may last only an hour.
You should also note a major cultural difference when it comes to final research projects. In the United States, the word “thesis” represents a paper that reflects a student’s ideas supported by thorough research. According to Enago, Europe understands this term in a different way: “A doctoral thesis is a focused piece of original research which is performed in order to obtain a Ph.D. A dissertation is part of a broader post graduate research project.” If you plan to attend a school in Europe or other parts of the world, you should contact your individual school to verify how they define these terms.
Related Resource: TEACH Grant
Some master’s level programs in the United States do not require a research project as significant as a thesis, but almost all doctoral programs require a dissertation. Extensive research projects such as these force students to develop better analytical thinking skills and to put those skills into action by creating a tangible work. In addition, theses and dissertations are published in a limited academic capacity as part of the final requirement for most schools. When choosing a graduate program, make an appointment with your school’s research faculty so that you can ask, “How is your program’s dissertation different from a thesis?”
So you are beginning your graduate program, reading over all the material and trying to prepare yourself as best as possible for the next two to three years. You’re already looking forward to graduation and figuring out exactly what will be required in order to receive your degree on time. What you've probably discovered is that whether you are pursuing a masters degree or a doctoral degree, the main goal in graduate school is to complete original research or projects, depending on your degree program.
The words “thesis” and “dissertation” are often used interchangeably, leading to some confusion in academia about what each individual word actually means. The main similarity between the dissertation and the thesis is the structure. Both have an introduction, literary review, main body, conclusion, bibliography and appendix. But that is the extent in which they are similar.
Differences Between a Masters Thesis and Doctoral Dissertation
Generally in the US, a thesis is the final project for the masters degree and a dissertation leads to a doctoral degree. Those pursuing a masters degree must perform research on a specific subject that demonstrates their knowledge acquired through their program. Seeking a PhD is different in that your dissertation must contribute something completely new and undiscovered to your field. In other words, you have to contribute original knowledge to the subject. So the main difference between a thesis and a dissertation is the depth of knowledge you must attain in order to write the paper.
A masters degree thesis is more closely related to a research paper that you would have completed during college. You are expected only to use the research of others and provide your own analysis on your discoveries. It demonstrates your level of critical and analytical thinking and defines the subject that you are most interested in pursuing within your field. With a dissertation, you are expected to use the research of others only to guide you in your own research to come up with a completely new hypothesis.
Another way in which the thesis and dissertation differ are in length. A masters degree thesis is typically over 100 pages. However, the dissertation is usually at least double and sometimes triple the length of a thesis. To determine the length of your thesis or dissertation, remember you should always first consult your grad school.
Tips For Writing a Thesis or Dissertation
The first step in writing your thesis or dissertation (or any other academic paper) is setting a deadline. You don’t want your deadline to be the due date of the paper because you need to leave enough time to get it proofread and to make any additional changes. You should keep a journal of your ideas to help with the writing process. The next step is to create a detailed outline of your paper.
When beginning to write your thesis or dissertation, keep in mind that you are writing an academic paper. Not many people besides your professors and academic advisors will read your thesis, so make sure to keep your writing style formal.
Consult a scholarly text to see how your thesis or dissertation should be structured. Once you have written and edited your thesis or dissertation, you should find an editor. Some editors will only check spelling and grammar issues, while others will check for overall continuity and flow. Determine what you need before searching for an editor.
People Who Read This Article Also Read:
Why Should You Attend Graduate School?
What are the Differences Between a Masters Degree and a Ph.D.?
What to Expect From Graduate School
Graduate School Jargon
Top 10 Links Every Graduate Student Should Bookmark Now!
Changing Careers with a Master's Degree
Life After Graduate School