Dissertation vs Thesis: Exploring the Differences and Similarities

Graduate students have many challenging assignments to tackle before receiving master’s or doctoral degrees. Dissertations and theses are some of these tasks. But what is the difference between thesis and dissertation? How are these two assignments similar, especially across Europe and the United States? Interestingly, their applications and definitions are fundamentally different in these locations. 

This article explores the differences and similarities between these two academic projects. Read on to learn about these two critical postgraduate assignments.  

Thesis vs. Dissertation: Know the Difference and Similarities!  

The primary distinctions between these two assignments lie in their completion timing. Graduate students complete dissertations when they want to earn PhDs, while those pursuing master’s degrees complete theses. 

Besides this notable dissertation vs thesis difference, these two projects represent the final stages before graduating with a postgraduate degree. Also, these projects require an accurate and deep grasp of the studied research problem. 

What Is a Thesis? 

Getting to the core of the thesis vs dissertation argument requires a clear understanding of what a thesis is. A thesis is a thoroughly documented research project that students submit before graduating with their master’s degrees. This project allows scholars to demonstrate their understanding and expertise in a specific subject matter they’ve been dealing with. 

However, this project doesn’t essentially require a student to do original research or have original ideas. A thesis project focuses on testing your research, comprehension, and analysis skills and does not add to a body of knowledge in a given academic discipline. However, this assignment requires more work than any other average postgraduate paper you may tackle. 

What Is a Dissertation? 

Doctoral degree students are expected to have much more advanced research skills than other learners. Therefore, they are assigned with dissertation projects that test their ability to find an original research problem and make an outstanding research contribution. 

In short, a dissertation is a long written assignment that features original or amplified research on a fresh or current topic. You are usually free to select what you prefer to explore and write about within your academic discipline. 

This project requires successful defense, after which you receive a doctoral degree. In this defense, you will face an expert panel that questions your findings to prove their validity. You must defend your work and explain your reasoning and methods. Afterwards, the panel determines if you will earn the degree.

Dissertation vs. Thesis: Differences

While these two postgraduate assignments are essentially similar, understanding the primary dissertation and thesis difference is vital. This section examines the main disparities between these two academic projects. 

  • Depth. A thesis relies on existing research, while a dissertation goes beyond it, allowing a student to do original research that adds to a body of knowledge. A dissertation requires more advanced research skills and a greater depth of insight into the academic discipline. 
  • Outcome. You earn a PhD after successfully writing and defending a dissertation manuscript, while a thesis gives you a master’s degree.
  • Main goal. A thesis aims to test the depth of your knowledge and understanding of a research topic you have learned. However, a dissertation’s primary goal is to let you contribute fresh theories and original data insights to your academic discipline’s current body of knowledge.
  • Length. A thesis is shorter than a dissertation.
  • Defense. A thesis doesn’t require you to face an expert panel to defend it, while a dissertation requires a defense with a senior committee. 

Differences in the USA

It’s worth noting that the differences between these two academic assignments depend on where you are—Europe or the USA. For instance, in the UK, a thesis lets you earn a PhD, while a dissertation qualifies you for a master’s degree. In the United States, it’s the exact opposite. 

In the US system, a thesis leads to a master’s degree because it’s shorter. It helps science students to gain hands-on experience in research projects and focuses on gaining technical expertise without necessarily digging into advanced research.

Differences in Europe

Things are different in Europe, though the original dissertation vs thesis difference still exists. In the EU, students perform focused doctoral theses centered on original research. Here, a dissertation is a part of a wider postgraduate research project. Scholars need to do more background research and need extensive references to previous work, while maintaining originality in their thesis research. 

Dissertation vs. Thesis: Similarities

While dissertation vs thesis differences are clear, these two assignments also have many similarities. Below are their core overlapping features. 

  • The two tasks are undertaken as final stages before receiving postgraduate degrees.
  • Both projects require you to have an accurate and deep understanding of your professional or academic area.
  • The two projects address advanced research questions.
  • Students need excellent writing skills to complete these assignments.
  • Both tasks must be original and pass the plagiarism test.
  • You need strong analytical skills to write these two projects.
  • Students must follow ethical practices while gathering and compiling research data.
  • Both projects must undergo extensive editing and critical proofing before submission.

Content and Structural Differences 

The difference thesis and dissertation imply also boils down to these projects’ content and structural characteristics. Below are some of the top distinctions: 

  • Both projects are long enough to cover research in depth.
  • Each of them needs to include a theoretical framework and extensive literature review on the subject, which allows the identification of research gaps. 
  • Both a thesis and a dissertation include a methodology chapter that lays out all details of the research design, approach, and data collection methods. 

How Long Is a Thesis vs. Dissertation? 

Length is another structural area where the difference between dissertation and thesis is clear. However, the length of a thesis differs depending on your country, university, research topic, and academic field. In some settings, a thesis can range between 10,000 and 50,000 words. That means it can have between 20 and 100 pages.

A dissertation is usually longer, ranging from 10,000 to over 100,000 words. However, you can’t determine a project’s quality and depth based on word count alone. Thus, you should consult your college for specific project requirements. A dissertation will also include your grant proposal, research proposal, and literature review, along with other substantial elements of the manuscript.

Differences in Research Methods  

The thesis vs dissertation difference can also be approached from the methodology viewpoint. A thesis requires a less advanced level of research competencies and skills, so even secondary data research will do when you compose a thesis project. Students may find available databases with statistics and data and use those materials for analysis. Dissertations, however, require only original data collection and analysis, which is an additional sign of the student’s proficiency in the academic field. 

Editing a Dissertation vs. Thesis 

Up to here, we have explored the thesis vs dissertation difference from different angles. However, the thesis and dissertation difference doesn’t relate to editing and polishing. Essentially, the two projects require mental focus, in-depth subject knowledge, editing skills, discipline, and organization. 

For both projects to gain approval, you must edit them to ensure they are flawless. The editing procedure typically covers the following common elements: 

  • Structure. Both a thesis and a dissertation comprise multiple elements such as the literature review, a problem statement, a table of contents, a research methodology, a conclusion, and reference articles. Proper editing restructures your manuscripts to flow properly and comply with your educational institution’s requirements.
  • Format. Editing both projects requires the inclusion of mandatory formatting guidelines, like using Times New Roman or Arial fonts and using a line spacing of 1.5 for the text. You will also need to ensure that the text spells out numbers from 1 to 10, hyphenates compound adjectives, and aligns tables to the left.
  • Style. Depending on your subject area, your thesis or dissertation must follow style guides. For example, a medical research project must follow the AMA (American Medical Association) style manual. Proper editing polishes the writing style to follow specific style guides.
  • Language. Moreover, editing improves your project’s overall language quality and corrects spelling, punctuation, and grammar mistakes. It also removes repetition, ambiguity, bias, and redundancy. Further, editing refines the language to underscore your project’s essential elements.
  • Proofreading. It’s your final editing stage. This step identifies and eliminates blunders in language, citation, and hyperlinking. It also addresses new spelling errors that emerge while editing.

While editing is vital, the process can be tedious, especially after months of heavy research and writing. In such cases, you could opt for professional assistance to give you a fresh look. Using external help is ideal because it allows a fresh set of eyes to look at your work. 

Getting an external editor is like submitting your work to independent scrutiny and constructive criticism from a competent, well-meaning friend. It’s like getting a reliable second opinion that picks some bugs your tired eyes couldn’t detect because everything looked the same.

Expect the following benefits if you choose a competent external editor:

  • A dissertation or thesis with quality-rich language.
  •  A paper that matches all established style guides and submission guidelines.
  • A project with constructive criticism from skilled and experienced experts who improve its clarity, brevity, structure, and logical flow.
  • A chance to monitor and review adjustments to decide whether you will retain or reject them.
  • Timely delivery for punctual submission. 


Dissertations and theses are milestone projects for students who want to achieve more. The two projects have essential differences and similarities worth noting. Our discussion explored the core dissertation and thesis difference and highlighted the essential similarities of these manuscripts.

Are you pursuing a postgraduate degree? If you are, we hope this informative post has shed more light to enable you to prepare for any of these projects. Use these insights to make the much-desired difference in your academic discipline.

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