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Guide to writing your thesis/dissertation, definition of dissertation and thesis.
The dissertation or thesis is a scholarly treatise that substantiates a specific point of view as a result of original research that is conducted by students during their graduate study. At Cornell, the thesis is a requirement for the receipt of the M.A. and M.S. degrees and some professional master’s degrees. The dissertation is a requirement of the Ph.D. degree.
Formatting Requirement and Standards
The Graduate School sets the minimum format for your thesis or dissertation, while you, your special committee, and your advisor/chair decide upon the content and length. Grammar, punctuation, spelling, and other mechanical issues are your sole responsibility. Generally, the thesis and dissertation should conform to the standards of leading academic journals in your field. The Graduate School does not monitor the thesis or dissertation for mechanics, content, or style.
“Papers Option” Dissertation or Thesis
A “papers option” is available only to students in certain fields, which are listed on the Fields Permitting the Use of Papers Option page , or by approved petition. If you choose the papers option, your dissertation or thesis is organized as a series of relatively independent chapters or papers that you have submitted or will be submitting to journals in the field. You must be the only author or the first author of the papers to be used in the dissertation. The papers-option dissertation or thesis must meet all format and submission requirements, and a singular referencing convention must be used throughout.
ProQuest Electronic Submissions
The dissertation and thesis become permanent records of your original research, and in the case of doctoral research, the Graduate School requires publication of the dissertation and abstract in its original form. All Cornell master’s theses and doctoral dissertations require an electronic submission through ProQuest, which fills orders for paper or digital copies of the thesis and dissertation and makes a digital version available online via their subscription database, ProQuest Dissertations & Theses . For master’s theses, only the abstract is available. ProQuest provides worldwide distribution of your work from the master copy. You retain control over your dissertation and are free to grant publishing rights as you see fit. The formatting requirements contained in this guide meet all ProQuest specifications.
Copies of Dissertation and Thesis
Copies of Ph.D. dissertations and master’s theses are also uploaded in PDF format to the Cornell Library Repository, eCommons . A print copy of each master’s thesis and doctoral dissertation is submitted to Cornell University Library by ProQuest.
Dissertation Structure & Layout 101: How to structure your dissertation, thesis or research project.
By: Derek Jansen (MBA) Reviewed By: David Phair (PhD) | July 2019
So, you’ve got a decent understanding of what a dissertation is , you’ve chosen your topic and hopefully you’ve received approval for your research proposal . Awesome! Now its time to start the actual dissertation or thesis writing journey.
To craft a high-quality document, the very first thing you need to understand is dissertation structure . In this post, we’ll walk you through the generic dissertation structure and layout, step by step. We’ll start with the big picture, and then zoom into each chapter to briefly discuss the core contents. If you’re just starting out on your research journey, you should start with this post, which covers the big-picture process of how to write a dissertation or thesis .
*The Caveat *
In this post, we’ll be discussing a traditional dissertation/thesis structure and layout, which is generally used for social science research across universities, whether in the US, UK, Europe or Australia. However, some universities may have small variations on this structure (extra chapters, merged chapters, slightly different ordering, etc).
So, always check with your university if they have a prescribed structure or layout that they expect you to work with. If not, it’s safe to assume the structure we’ll discuss here is suitable. And even if they do have a prescribed structure, you’ll still get value from this post as we’ll explain the core contents of each section.
Overview: S tructuring a dissertation or thesis
- Acknowledgements page
- Abstract (or executive summary)
- Table of contents , list of figures and tables
- Chapter 1: Introduction
- Chapter 2: Literature review
- Chapter 3: Methodology
- Chapter 4: Results
- Chapter 5: Discussion
- Chapter 6: Conclusion
- Reference list
As I mentioned, some universities will have slight variations on this structure. For example, they want an additional “personal reflection chapter”, or they might prefer the results and discussion chapter to be merged into one. Regardless, the overarching flow will always be the same, as this flow reflects the research process , which we discussed here – i.e.:
- The introduction chapter presents the core research question and aims .
- The literature review chapter assesses what the current research says about this question.
- The methodology, results and discussion chapters go about undertaking new research about this question.
- The conclusion chapter (attempts to) answer the core research question .
In other words, the dissertation structure and layout reflect the research process of asking a well-defined question(s), investigating, and then answering the question – see below.
To restate that – the structure and layout of a dissertation reflect the flow of the overall research process . This is essential to understand, as each chapter will make a lot more sense if you “get” this concept. If you’re not familiar with the research process, read this post before going further.
Right. Now that we’ve covered the big picture, let’s dive a little deeper into the details of each section and chapter. Oh and by the way, you can also grab our free dissertation/thesis template here to help speed things up.
The title page of your dissertation is the very first impression the marker will get of your work, so it pays to invest some time thinking about your title. But what makes for a good title? A strong title needs to be 3 things:
- Succinct (not overly lengthy or verbose)
- Specific (not vague or ambiguous)
- Representative of the research you’re undertaking (clearly linked to your research questions)
Typically, a good title includes mention of the following:
- The broader area of the research (i.e. the overarching topic)
- The specific focus of your research (i.e. your specific context)
- Indication of research design (e.g. quantitative , qualitative , or mixed methods ).
A quantitative investigation [research design] into the antecedents of organisational trust [broader area] in the UK retail forex trading market [specific context/area of focus].
Again, some universities may have specific requirements regarding the format and structure of the title, so it’s worth double-checking expectations with your institution (if there’s no mention in the brief or study material).
This page provides you with an opportunity to say thank you to those who helped you along your research journey. Generally, it’s optional (and won’t count towards your marks), but it is academic best practice to include this.
So, who do you say thanks to? Well, there’s no prescribed requirements, but it’s common to mention the following people:
- Your dissertation supervisor or committee.
- Any professors, lecturers or academics that helped you understand the topic or methodologies.
- Any tutors, mentors or advisors.
- Your family and friends, especially spouse (for adult learners studying part-time).
There’s no need for lengthy rambling. Just state who you’re thankful to and for what (e.g. thank you to my supervisor, John Doe, for his endless patience and attentiveness) – be sincere. In terms of length, you should keep this to a page or less.
Abstract or executive summary
The dissertation abstract (or executive summary for some degrees) serves to provide the first-time reader (and marker or moderator) with a big-picture view of your research project. It should give them an understanding of the key insights and findings from the research, without them needing to read the rest of the report – in other words, it should be able to stand alone .
For it to stand alone, your abstract should cover the following key points (at a minimum):
- Your research questions and aims – what key question(s) did your research aim to answer?
- Your methodology – how did you go about investigating the topic and finding answers to your research question(s)?
- Your findings – following your own research, what did do you discover?
- Your conclusions – based on your findings, what conclusions did you draw? What answers did you find to your research question(s)?
So, in much the same way the dissertation structure mimics the research process, your abstract or executive summary should reflect the research process, from the initial stage of asking the original question to the final stage of answering that question.
In practical terms, it’s a good idea to write this section up last , once all your core chapters are complete. Otherwise, you’ll end up writing and rewriting this section multiple times (just wasting time). For a step by step guide on how to write a strong executive summary, check out this post .
Need a helping hand?
Table of contents
This section is straightforward. You’ll typically present your table of contents (TOC) first, followed by the two lists – figures and tables. I recommend that you use Microsoft Word’s automatic table of contents generator to generate your TOC. If you’re not familiar with this functionality, the video below explains it simply:
If you find that your table of contents is overly lengthy, consider removing one level of depth. Oftentimes, this can be done without detracting from the usefulness of the TOC.
Right, now that the “admin” sections are out of the way, its time to move on to your core chapters. These chapters are the heart of your dissertation and are where you’ll earn the marks. The first chapter is the introduction chapter – as you would expect, this is the time to introduce your research…
It’s important to understand that even though you’ve provided an overview of your research in your abstract, your introduction needs to be written as if the reader has not read that (remember, the abstract is essentially a standalone document). So, your introduction chapter needs to start from the very beginning, and should address the following questions:
- What will you be investigating (in plain-language, big picture-level)?
- Why is that worth investigating? How is it important to academia or business? How is it sufficiently original?
- What are your research aims and research question(s)? Note that the research questions can sometimes be presented at the end of the literature review (next chapter).
- What is the scope of your study? In other words, what will and won’t you cover ?
- How will you approach your research? In other words, what methodology will you adopt?
- How will you structure your dissertation? What are the core chapters and what will you do in each of them?
These are just the bare basic requirements for your intro chapter. Some universities will want additional bells and whistles in the intro chapter, so be sure to carefully read your brief or consult your research supervisor.
If done right, your introduction chapter will set a clear direction for the rest of your dissertation. Specifically, it will make it clear to the reader (and marker) exactly what you’ll be investigating, why that’s important, and how you’ll be going about the investigation. Conversely, if your introduction chapter leaves a first-time reader wondering what exactly you’ll be researching, you’ve still got some work to do.
Now that you’ve set a clear direction with your introduction chapter, the next step is the literature review . In this section, you will analyse the existing research (typically academic journal articles and high-quality industry publications), with a view to understanding the following questions:
- What does the literature currently say about the topic you’re investigating?
- Is the literature lacking or well established? Is it divided or in disagreement?
- How does your research fit into the bigger picture?
- How does your research contribute something original?
- How does the methodology of previous studies help you develop your own?
Depending on the nature of your study, you may also present a conceptual framework towards the end of your literature review, which you will then test in your actual research.
Again, some universities will want you to focus on some of these areas more than others, some will have additional or fewer requirements, and so on. Therefore, as always, its important to review your brief and/or discuss with your supervisor, so that you know exactly what’s expected of your literature review chapter.
Now that you’ve investigated the current state of knowledge in your literature review chapter and are familiar with the existing key theories, models and frameworks, its time to design your own research. Enter the methodology chapter – the most “science-ey” of the chapters…
In this chapter, you need to address two critical questions:
- Exactly HOW will you carry out your research (i.e. what is your intended research design)?
- Exactly WHY have you chosen to do things this way (i.e. how do you justify your design)?
Remember, the dissertation part of your degree is first and foremost about developing and demonstrating research skills . Therefore, the markers want to see that you know which methods to use, can clearly articulate why you’ve chosen then, and know how to deploy them effectively.
Importantly, this chapter requires detail – don’t hold back on the specifics. State exactly what you’ll be doing, with who, when, for how long, etc. Moreover, for every design choice you make, make sure you justify it.
In practice, you will likely end up coming back to this chapter once you’ve undertaken all your data collection and analysis, and revise it based on changes you made during the analysis phase. This is perfectly fine. Its natural for you to add an additional analysis technique, scrap an old one, etc based on where your data lead you. Of course, I’m talking about small changes here – not a fundamental switch from qualitative to quantitative, which will likely send your supervisor in a spin!
You’ve now collected your data and undertaken your analysis, whether qualitative, quantitative or mixed methods. In this chapter, you’ll present the raw results of your analysis . For example, in the case of a quant study, you’ll present the demographic data, descriptive statistics, inferential statistics , etc.
Typically, Chapter 4 is simply a presentation and description of the data, not a discussion of the meaning of the data. In other words, it’s descriptive, rather than analytical – the meaning is discussed in Chapter 5. However, some universities will want you to combine chapters 4 and 5, so that you both present and interpret the meaning of the data at the same time. Check with your institution what their preference is.
Now that you’ve presented the data analysis results, its time to interpret and analyse them. In other words, its time to discuss what they mean, especially in relation to your research question(s).
What you discuss here will depend largely on your chosen methodology. For example, if you’ve gone the quantitative route, you might discuss the relationships between variables . If you’ve gone the qualitative route, you might discuss key themes and the meanings thereof. It all depends on what your research design choices were.
Most importantly, you need to discuss your results in relation to your research questions and aims, as well as the existing literature. What do the results tell you about your research questions? Are they aligned with the existing research or at odds? If so, why might this be? Dig deep into your findings and explain what the findings suggest, in plain English.
The final chapter – you’ve made it! Now that you’ve discussed your interpretation of the results, its time to bring it back to the beginning with the conclusion chapter . In other words, its time to (attempt to) answer your original research question s (from way back in chapter 1). Clearly state what your conclusions are in terms of your research questions. This might feel a bit repetitive, as you would have touched on this in the previous chapter, but its important to bring the discussion full circle and explicitly state your answer(s) to the research question(s).
Next, you’ll typically discuss the implications of your findings? In other words, you’ve answered your research questions – but what does this mean for the real world (or even for academia)? What should now be done differently, given the new insight you’ve generated?
Lastly, you should discuss the limitations of your research, as well as what this means for future research in the area. No study is perfect, especially not a Masters-level. Discuss the shortcomings of your research. Perhaps your methodology was limited, perhaps your sample size was small or not representative, etc, etc. Don’t be afraid to critique your work – the markers want to see that you can identify the limitations of your work. This is a strength, not a weakness. Be brutal!
This marks the end of your core chapters – woohoo! From here on out, it’s pretty smooth sailing.
The reference list is straightforward. It should contain a list of all resources cited in your dissertation, in the required format, e.g. APA , Harvard, etc.
It’s essential that you use reference management software for your dissertation. Do NOT try handle your referencing manually – its far too error prone. On a reference list of multiple pages, you’re going to make mistake. To this end, I suggest considering either Mendeley or Zotero. Both are free and provide a very straightforward interface to ensure that your referencing is 100% on point. I’ve included a simple how-to video for the Mendeley software (my personal favourite) below:
Some universities may ask you to include a bibliography, as opposed to a reference list. These two things are not the same . A bibliography is similar to a reference list, except that it also includes resources which informed your thinking but were not directly cited in your dissertation. So, double-check your brief and make sure you use the right one.
The very last piece of the puzzle is the appendix or set of appendices. This is where you’ll include any supporting data and evidence. Importantly, supporting is the keyword here.
Your appendices should provide additional “nice to know”, depth-adding information, which is not critical to the core analysis. Appendices should not be used as a way to cut down word count (see this post which covers how to reduce word count ). In other words, don’t place content that is critical to the core analysis here, just to save word count. You will not earn marks on any content in the appendices, so don’t try to play the system!
Time to recap…
And there you have it – the traditional dissertation structure and layout, from A-Z. To recap, the core structure for a dissertation or thesis is (typically) as follows:
- Acknowledgments page
Most importantly, the core chapters should reflect the research process (asking, investigating and answering your research question). Moreover, the research question(s) should form the golden thread throughout your dissertation structure. Everything should revolve around the research questions, and as you’ve seen, they should form both the start point (i.e. introduction chapter) and the endpoint (i.e. conclusion chapter).
I hope this post has provided you with clarity about the traditional dissertation/thesis structure and layout. If you have any questions or comments, please leave a comment below, or feel free to get in touch with us. Also, be sure to check out the rest of the Grad Coach Blog .
Psst… there’s more (for free)
This post is part of our dissertation mini-course, which covers everything you need to get started with your dissertation, thesis or research project.
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many thanks i found it very useful
Glad to hear that, Arun. Good luck writing your dissertation.
Such clear practical logical advice. I very much needed to read this to keep me focused in stead of fretting.. Perfect now ready to start my research!
what about scientific fields like computer or engineering thesis what is the difference in the structure? thank you very much
Thanks so much this helped me a lot!
Very helpful and accessible. What I like most is how practical the advice is along with helpful tools/ links.
Thank you so much sir.. It was really helpful..
Hi! How many words maximum should contain the abstract?
Thank you so much 😊 Find this at the right moment
You’re most welcome. Good luck with your dissertation.
best ever benefit i got on right time thank you
Many times Clarity and vision of destination of dissertation is what makes the difference between good ,average and great researchers the same way a great automobile driver is fast with clarity of address and Clear weather conditions .
I guess Great researcher = great ideas + knowledge + great and fast data collection and modeling + great writing + high clarity on all these
You have given immense clarity from start to end.
Morning. Where will I write the definitions of what I’m referring to in my report?
Thank you so much Derek, I was almost lost! Thanks a tonnnn! Have a great day!
Thanks ! so concise and valuable
This was very helpful. Clear and concise. I know exactly what to do now.
Thank you for allowing me to go through briefly. I hope to find time to continue.
Really useful to me. Thanks a thousand times
Very interesting! It will definitely set me and many more for success. highly recommended.
Thank you soo much sir, for the opportunity to express my skills
Usefull, thanks a lot. Really clear
That was incredibly useful. Thanks Grad Coach Crew!
My stress level just dropped at least 15 points after watching this. Just starting my thesis for my grad program and I feel a lot more capable now! Thanks for such a clear and helpful video, Emma and the GradCoach team!
Do we need to mention the number of words the dissertation contains in the main document?
It depends on your university’s requirements, so it would be best to check with them 🙂
Such a helpful post to help me get started with structuring my masters dissertation, thank you!
Great video; I appreciate that helpful information
It is so necessary or avital course
This blog is very informative for my research. Thank you
Doctoral students are required to fill out the National Research Council’s Survey of Earned Doctorates
wow this is an amazing gain in my life
This is so good
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To graduate with a master’s (thesis program) or doctoral (dissertation program) degree, students are required to submit an Electronic Thesis/Dissertation (ETD) and a Committee Approval Form to the Graduate School through the UW ETD Administrator Site . ETDs are distributed by ProQuest/UMI Dissertation Publishing and made available on an open access basis through UW Libraries ResearchWorks Service .
The Graduate School partners with the UW Libraries to provide comprehensive resources for students as they write, submit, and publish academic theses or dissertations. These pages outline information and policies related to preparing your thesis/dissertation, including formatting, deadlines, copyright and distribution decisions, and, ultimately, graduation. We also encourage you to review the ETD Library Guide for additional information.
For comprehensive information on preparing to graduate, please refer to our graduation requirements information page .
Writing Your Thesis or Dissertation
As a starting point, students submitting an ETD are encouraged to review the below resources:
- Hacking the Academy: UW Theses & Dissertations (Recording of July 29, 2020 event) This session helps students think through their options for how and when to share their work, including the copyright and publishing considerations they may need to take into account.
- Electronic Theses & Dissertations with the UW Libraries The University Libraries welcomes you to this self-guided course on electronic theses and dissertations (ETDs) at the UW. In this five-part learning experience, you will learn a lot about the ETD process including how the submission process works, how to give and receive recognition for your work, how to find and interpret publisher policies and how to read and inspect publishing contracts.
After you submit your ETD, the Graduate School will review your document as part of the graduation process at the end of each quarter. We will review for information accuracy, consistency, and to ensure your ETD meets the formatting requirements described below. There are three required sections (pages) that must be included at the beginning of your manuscript: 1) Title Page, 2) Copyright Page, 3) Abstract. Templates for these sections are provided below.
Apart from these first three pages, the Graduate School does not adhere to any specific formatting or publishing requirements unless explicitly stated by the ProQuest Author Guide: Preparing Your Manuscript for Submission (provided below). You should refer to the citation, formatting, and style specifications of your discipline and the guidance of your supervisory committee. Note: theses and dissertations must be submitted in PDF format.
For a complete overview of the graduation process, please review Preparing to Graduate .
- Must include all items listed in the sample title page and placed in the same order
- May be the first or second page of your document
- Title of document
- Author’s Full Name
- Name of degree as it will appear on your diploma
- Year of graduation
- Names of chair/committee members (do not include signatures or professional titles, e.g. Dr. or PhD, before/after faculty names)
- Program authorized to offer degree (school or department)
- Name and year must match title pages
- List the year of graduation
- Place abstract after copyright and title page
Master’s Thesis Approval Form:
You are required to upload a completed and signed Master’s Thesis Approval Form into the UW ETD Administrator (ProQuest) site; the Approval Form is part of your ETD submission. This Approval Form is a separate PDF and should not be included as a page in the thesis or dissertation itself.
- Master’s Thesis Approval Form
Electronic Doctoral Dissertation Approval:
Final Exams scheduled after March 3, 2020 include a link for Reading Committee Members to approve the dissertation online at MyGrad Committee View.
ETD Formatting Resources:
- Thesis/Dissertation Formatting Checklist – a quick reference guide of the formatting do’s and don’ts provided below.
- ProQuest Dissertation Publishing — Author Guide: Preparing Your Manuscript for Submission
- ProQuest Online Submission FAQs
- Master’s Thesis Title Page – Fillable PDF Template
- Doctoral Dissertation Title Page – Fillable PDF Template
- Word Templates – Alex Mamishev, Professor in Electrical Engineering maintains a Word file that other students may find useful when formatting their document.
Common ETD Formatting Revisions Requested
To ensure timely graduating, take some time before you submit to review this information and ProQuest’s document formatting guidelines. These are all common errors and revisions the Graduate School will request when reviewing ETD formatting. You will be required to resubmit if revisions are needed. Be precise, and consistent as you format your document. Many formatting errors result from following a fellow or former student’s example, so it’s important to review the most current templates and guidelines.
Title Page, Copyright Page, Abstract
Your document must be written in English ( policy 184.108.40.206 ). If you need to write your document in another language to accommodate the main audience, you must get prior approval to do so by submitting a petition the dean via MyGrad . If the petition is approved, the required sections (title page, copyright page, abstract) must still be written in English.
Plagiarism is using words, ideas, diagrams, and other content from publicly available work without appropriately acknowledging the sources of these materials. This definition constitutes plagiarism whether it is intentional or unintentional and whether it is the work of another or your own, previously published work.
Plagiarism is a very serious offense that the University of Washington does not tolerate. Evidence of plagiarism may prevent granting of your degree.
Submitting and Publishing
Submitting for dissemination and access.
The Graduate School and the Libraries require that all UW theses and dissertations be submitted electronically for management efficiency, cost control, ease of dissemination, and long-term preservation reasons. In addition, your ETD must eventually be made available openly on the web. Your ETD will be hosted in both UW’s institutional repository, ResearchWorks , and in ProQuest’s ETD Database . Consequently, you will need to indicate your choices in two sections about how your ETD is made available. Most students choose to make their work available immediately, but you can choose to limit access temporarily before making it available openly.
Students may restrict access to their theses and dissertations…
- while seeking to publish journal articles or books based on them,
- to protect intellectual property during the patent application process, or
- to prevent the disclosure of sensitive or classified information.
During the submission process, you will select ProQuest and ResearchWorks (Institutional Repository, or IR) publication options. The options are summarized on a table below, followed by selected scenarios to assist you in making your decisions.
IMPORTANT: The metadata describing your ETD, including the citation and abstract, is openly available immediately— regardless of the embargo or restriction status. This information is searchable by Google, Bing and other search engines, so take care that neither the descriptive information nor the text contain confidential or sensitive information.
Selecting Access Options
Selected etd access scenarios.
The UW Libraries and the Graduate School are committed to the goal of sharing graduate students’ research as soon and as widely as possible, while allowing students to temporarily limit access to their theses and dissertations for such reasons as to support formal publication in journal article or book form or to allow time for filing patents. Below are some examples of how students may wish to use these options to support their publishing or intellectual property-protection goals.
Discussion of Scenarios
- Journal Article Publishing. In recent years graduate students – especially in scientific, medical and technical fields — have increasingly been publishing results of their research in journals.
- The “Research Article” Dissertation. In some disciplines students may be expected to publish 2 or more journal articles during the course of their studies and submit them as the core of their thesis or dissertation — along with an introduction, literature review, and conclusions. Because this has become so common, most journals now permit authors to immediately republish their articles within their theses or dissertations as long as they provide the full article citation and a statement that an article is being “reprinted with permission” of the journal. However, some other journals allow the practice but require that an article not appear on an open access basis before a delay of 6 or 12 months. The Libraries strongly suggests that students become familiar with the policies in place at the journals in which they would like to publish their work, and choose appropriate access restrictions if needed when they submit their ETD’s.
- Book Publishing. Some students in such humanities and social science disciplines as history and political science may hope to publish a revised version of their dissertation as their first book. As they consider that possibility they may be concerned they might undermine their prospects by making their dissertations widely available via ProQuest and/or on an open access basis.Before deciding whether or for how long to limit access to their work based on these concerns, The Libraries recommends students become familiar with the arguments and evidence put forward on these issues. For example, Cirasella and Thistlethwaite 3 and Courtney and Kilcer 4 provide excellent discussions of issues and review recent literature, while William Germano’s classic From Dissertation to Book 5 and Beth Luey’s Revising Your Dissertation 6 offer important insight into what might be involved during the dissertation revision process. While the Libraries recommends that most students hoping to publish their dissertations as books make them widely available while they work toward that goal, they should feel free to consider choosing otherwise, such as “Immediate Access” for ProQuest and limiting to UW for five years – at the end of which students may request additional time.
- Patent Protection Strategies. Students whose theses or dissertations describe work for which patent protection might be appropriate should contact Jesse Kindra at CoMotion ( [email protected] or 206 616-9658) prior to submitting their work to ProQuest and choosing access restrictions. Depending on the circumstances, a student may choose to completely withhold access for one year, but should recognize that doing so will prevent anyone else at the UW from having access to it during the restricted access period. To exercise this option, students should delay releasing their work to ProQuest for 1 or 2 years, and then choose “No access for 1 year, then make Open Access” from the Institutional Repository (IR) Publishing Options menu for the UW copy. In unusual circumstances, requests for access to be withheld an additional year may be considered. To make such a request, students should describe the reason(s) for it in an email to [email protected] prior to expiration of the original embargo period.
1 Marisa L. Ramirez, Joan T. Dalton, Gail McMillan, Max Read and Nancy H. Seamans, “Do Open Access Electronic Theses and Dissertations Diminish Publishing Opportunities in the Social Sciences and Humanities,” College and Research Libraries 74 (July 2013): 368‐80, http://crl.acrl.org/content/74/4/368.full.pdf+html .
2 Marisa Ramirez, Gail McMillan, Joan T. Dalton, Ann Hanlon, Heather S. Smith and Chelsea Kern, “Do Open Access Electronic Theses and Dissertations Diminish Publishing Opportunities in the Sciences?” College and Research Libraries 75 (November 2014): 808-21, http://crl.acrl.org/content/75/6/808.full.pdf+html .
3 Jill Cirasella and Polly Thistlethwaite, “Open Access and the Graduate Author: A Dissertation Anxiety Manual,” pp. 203-224 in Open Access and the Future of Scholarly Communication: Implementation (Kevin L. Smith and Katherine A. Dickson, eds.: Rowman and Littlefield, 2017), http://academicworks.cuny.edu/gc_pubs/286/ .
4 Kyle K. Courtney and Emily Kilcer, “From Apprehension to Comprehension: Addressing Anxieties about Open Access to ETD’s,” pp. 225-244 in Open Access and the Future of Scholarly Communication: Implementation (Kevin L. Smith and Katherine A. Dickson, eds.: Rowman and Littlefield, 2017).
5 William Germano. 2013. From Dissertation to Book, 2d. ed. : University of Chicago Press.
6 Beth Luey (ed.). 2008. Revising Your Dissertation: Advice from Leading Editors. University of California Press.
When you submit your ETD for review and publication, you will be required to read and accept two separate publishing agreements. You will also have to decide whether to publish your work right away or to delay its release. Additional pages within this section will outline all the considerations to keep in mind, when deciding how to make your work available to the scholarly community.
All students writing a thesis or dissertation should review the UW Libraries Copyright Research Guide . Understanding copyright law is another critical aspect as you write your thesis or dissertation. As you compose your work, ask yourself the following questions:
- Have you referenced others’ work? If so, you either need to get explicit permission from the rights holder or to determine that your use is Fair.
- Have you previously published any part of the work? If you’ve signed your copyright over to your publisher, you will need permission to use your material in your thesis.
Ordering Paper Copies
There are no required fees , although you have the option to register your copyright via ProQuest for a fee. If you want to order bound (paper) copies of your document, you may do so through the UW Copy Centers or through ProQuest. Questions should be directed to the UW Copy Centers or to ProQuest at 1.800.521.0600 ext. 77020 — available 8 a.m.–5 p.m. EST, Monday through Friday (excluding U.S. holidays).
Frequently Asked Questions
I created an account in the etd administrator site, but i’m not ready to submit my etd. can i come back to my account later.
Yes. If you need to finish your submission later (for instance, if you need to update your PDF file before uploading it), you can save your information and come back to finish. No information will be lost.
I submitted my ETD but would like to make an edit to the document. How can I edit my submission?
Once your thesis/dissertation is submitted, no additional changes to the document are allowed with the exception of a major data error in the document. In this circumstance, a letter outlining the necessary changes is required from your supervisory committee chair.
What will the Graduate School be reviewing after I submit my ETD?
Submissions are reviewed by GEMS advisors for formatting requirements for the three required sections — title page, copyright page, abstract — before they are delivered to ProQuest for publication. We are checking for accuracy and consistency. Refer to the Formatting Guidelines section on this page for detailed information.
I submitted my ETD and haven't heard anything yet. When will it be reviewed?
We try to review all ETDs as they are received, but if you submit early in the quarter it may not be acted on immediately. If you need to confirm completion of your degree requirements to an external agency or employer, please access the request for letter of certification in the forms section of our Additional Resources page (once your degree has posted to your UW transcript, we can no longer issue this letter). In general, ETDs are reviewed in the last two to three weeks before the quarter ends and after the last day of the quarter. When your submission has been accepted by a GEMS advisor, you will receive email confirmation.
How can I tell if my ETD was submitted and received by the Graduate School?
When your ETD is successfully submitted and pending review, the status will read “submission in review.”
When will my ETD be made available for access?
This depends on the type of access restrictions you selected when creating your account. However, your submission will be delivered to ProQuest for publishing four to six weeks after graduation and you will receive email confirmation when this has occurred. It should be available in UW ResearchWorks around the same time.
When will the printed dissertation / thesis copies I ordered from ProQuest be ready?
After you receive the email confirmation that UW has “delivered” your submission (ETD) to ProQuest, you should please refer to the ProQuest customer service guidelines for the expected delivery date of your order.
What if I am missing a faculty signature for my thesis or dissertation, or I have encountered difficulties in uploading my ETD? Must I pay the graduate registration waiver fee and graduate in the following quarter?
If you encounter these types of situations, contact Graduate Enrollment Management Services (206.685.2630 or [email protected] ) as early as possible and no later than the last day of the quarter in which you intend to graduate.
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What Is a Dissertation? | 5 Essential Questions to Get Started
Published on 26 March 2020 by Jack Caulfield . Revised on 5 May 2022.
A dissertation is a large research project undertaken at the end of a degree. It involves in-depth consideration of a problem or question chosen by the student. It is usually the largest (and final) piece of written work produced during a degree.
The length and structure of a dissertation vary widely depending on the level and field of study. However, there are some key questions that can help you understand the requirements and get started on your dissertation project.
Table of contents
When and why do you have to write a dissertation, who will supervise your dissertation, what type of research will you do, how should your dissertation be structured, what formatting and referencing rules do you have to follow, frequently asked questions about dissertations.
A dissertation, sometimes called a thesis, comes at the end of an undergraduate or postgraduate degree. It is a larger project than the other essays you’ve written, requiring a higher word count and a greater depth of research.
You’ll generally work on your dissertation during the final year of your degree, over a longer period than you would take for a standard essay . For example, the dissertation might be your main focus for the last six months of your degree.
Why is the dissertation important?
The dissertation is a test of your capacity for independent research. You are given a lot of autonomy in writing your dissertation: you come up with your own ideas, conduct your own research, and write and structure the text by yourself.
This means that it is an important preparation for your future, whether you continue in academia or not: it teaches you to manage your own time, generate original ideas, and work independently.
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During the planning and writing of your dissertation, you’ll work with a supervisor from your department. The supervisor’s job is to give you feedback and advice throughout the process.
The dissertation supervisor is often assigned by the department, but you might be allowed to indicate preferences or approach potential supervisors. If so, try to pick someone who is familiar with your chosen topic, whom you get along with on a personal level, and whose feedback you’ve found useful in the past.
How will your supervisor help you?
Your supervisor is there to guide you through the dissertation project, but you’re still working independently. They can give feedback on your ideas, but not come up with ideas for you.
You may need to take the initiative to request an initial meeting with your supervisor. Then you can plan out your future meetings and set reasonable deadlines for things like completion of data collection, a structure outline, a first chapter, a first draft, and so on.
Make sure to prepare in advance for your meetings. Formulate your ideas as fully as you can, and determine where exactly you’re having difficulties so you can ask your supervisor for specific advice.
Your approach to your dissertation will vary depending on your field of study. The first thing to consider is whether you will do empirical research , which involves collecting original data, or non-empirical research , which involves analysing sources.
Empirical dissertations (sciences)
An empirical dissertation focuses on collecting and analysing original data. You’ll usually write this type of dissertation if you are studying a subject in the sciences or social sciences.
- What are airline workers’ attitudes towards the challenges posed for their industry by climate change?
- How effective is cognitive behavioural therapy in treating depression in young adults?
- What are the short-term health effects of switching from smoking cigarettes to e-cigarettes?
There are many different empirical research methods you can use to answer these questions – for example, experiments , observations, surveys , and interviews.
When doing empirical research, you need to consider things like the variables you will investigate, the reliability and validity of your measurements, and your sampling method . The aim is to produce robust, reproducible scientific knowledge.
Non-empirical dissertations (arts and humanities)
A non-empirical dissertation works with existing research or other texts, presenting original analysis, critique and argumentation, but no original data. This approach is typical of arts and humanities subjects.
- What attitudes did commentators in the British press take towards the French Revolution in 1789–1792?
- How do the themes of gender and inheritance intersect in Shakespeare’s Macbeth ?
- How did Plato’s Republic and Thomas More’s Utopia influence nineteenth century utopian socialist thought?
The first steps in this type of dissertation are to decide on your topic and begin collecting your primary and secondary sources .
Primary sources are the direct objects of your research. They give you first-hand evidence about your subject. Examples of primary sources include novels, artworks and historical documents.
Secondary sources provide information that informs your analysis. They describe, interpret, or evaluate information from primary sources. For example, you might consider previous analyses of the novel or author you are working on, or theoretical texts that you plan to apply to your primary sources.
Dissertations are divided into chapters and sections. Empirical dissertations usually follow a standard structure, while non-empirical dissertations are more flexible.
Structure of an empirical dissertation
Empirical dissertations generally include these chapters:
- Introduction : An explanation of your topic and the research question(s) you want to answer.
- Literature review : A survey and evaluation of previous research on your topic.
- Methodology : An explanation of how you collected and analysed your data.
- Results : A brief description of what you found.
- Discussion : Interpretation of what these results reveal.
- Conclusion : Answers to your research question(s) and summary of what your findings contribute to knowledge in your field.
Sometimes the order or naming of chapters might be slightly different, but all of the above information must be included in order to produce thorough, valid scientific research.
Other dissertation structures
If your dissertation doesn’t involve data collection, your structure is more flexible. You can think of it like an extended essay – the text should be logically organised in a way that serves your argument:
- Introduction: An explanation of your topic and the question(s) you want to answer.
- Main body: The development of your analysis, usually divided into 2–4 chapters.
- Conclusion: Answers to your research question(s) and summary of what your analysis contributes to knowledge in your field.
The chapters of the main body can be organised around different themes, time periods, or texts. Below you can see some example structures for dissertations in different subjects.
- Political philosophy
This example, on the topic of the British press’s coverage of the French Revolution, shows how you might structure each chapter around a specific theme.
This example, on the topic of Plato’s and More’s influences on utopian socialist thought, shows a different approach to dividing the chapters by theme.
This example, a master’s dissertation on the topic of how writers respond to persecution, shows how you can also use section headings within each chapter. Each of the three chapters deals with a specific text, while the sections are organised thematically.
Like other academic texts, it’s important that your dissertation follows the formatting guidelines set out by your university. You can lose marks unnecessarily over mistakes, so it’s worth taking the time to get all these elements right.
Formatting guidelines concern things like:
- line spacing
- page numbers
- title pages
- presentation of tables and figures
If you’re unsure about the formatting requirements, check with your supervisor or department. You can lose marks unnecessarily over mistakes, so it’s worth taking the time to get all these elements right.
How will you reference your sources?
Referencing means properly listing the sources you cite and refer to in your dissertation, so that the reader can find them. This avoids plagiarism by acknowledging where you’ve used the work of others.
Keep track of everything you read as you prepare your dissertation. The key information to note down for a reference is:
- The publication date
- Page numbers for the parts you refer to (especially when using direct quotes)
Different referencing styles each have their own specific rules for how to reference. The most commonly used styles in UK universities are listed below.
You can use the free APA Reference Generator to automatically create and store your references.
APA Reference Generator
The words ‘ dissertation ’ and ‘thesis’ both refer to a large written research project undertaken to complete a degree, but they are used differently depending on the country:
- In the UK, you write a dissertation at the end of a bachelor’s or master’s degree, and you write a thesis to complete a PhD.
- In the US, it’s the other way around: you may write a thesis at the end of a bachelor’s or master’s degree, and you write a dissertation to complete a PhD.
The main difference is in terms of scale – a dissertation is usually much longer than the other essays you complete during your degree.
Another key difference is that you are given much more independence when working on a dissertation. You choose your own dissertation topic , and you have to conduct the research and write the dissertation yourself (with some assistance from your supervisor).
Dissertation word counts vary widely across different fields, institutions, and levels of education:
- An undergraduate dissertation is typically 8,000–15,000 words
- A master’s dissertation is typically 12,000–50,000 words
- A PhD thesis is typically book-length: 70,000–100,000 words
However, none of these are strict guidelines – your word count may be lower or higher than the numbers stated here. Always check the guidelines provided by your university to determine how long your own dissertation should be.
At the bachelor’s and master’s levels, the dissertation is usually the main focus of your final year. You might work on it (alongside other classes) for the entirety of the final year, or for the last six months. This includes formulating an idea, doing the research, and writing up.
A PhD thesis takes a longer time, as the thesis is the main focus of the degree. A PhD thesis might be being formulated and worked on for the whole four years of the degree program. The writing process alone can take around 18 months.
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Prize-Winning Thesis and Dissertation Examples
Published on September 9, 2022 by Tegan George . Revised on July 18, 2023.
It can be difficult to know where to start when writing your thesis or dissertation . One way to come up with some ideas or maybe even combat writer’s block is to check out previous work done by other students on a similar thesis or dissertation topic to yours.
This article collects a list of undergraduate, master’s, and PhD theses and dissertations that have won prizes for their high-quality research.
Table of contents
Award-winning undergraduate theses, award-winning master’s theses, award-winning ph.d. dissertations, other interesting articles.
University : University of Pennsylvania Faculty : History Author : Suchait Kahlon Award : 2021 Hilary Conroy Prize for Best Honors Thesis in World History Title : “Abolition, Africans, and Abstraction: the Influence of the “Noble Savage” on British and French Antislavery Thought, 1787-1807”
University : Columbia University Faculty : History Author : Julien Saint Reiman Award : 2018 Charles A. Beard Senior Thesis Prize Title : “A Starving Man Helping Another Starving Man”: UNRRA, India, and the Genesis of Global Relief, 1943-1947
University: University College London Faculty: Geography Author: Anna Knowles-Smith Award: 2017 Royal Geographical Society Undergraduate Dissertation Prize Title: Refugees and theatre: an exploration of the basis of self-representation
University: University of Washington Faculty: Computer Science & Engineering Author: Nick J. Martindell Award: 2014 Best Senior Thesis Award Title: DCDN: Distributed content delivery for the modern web
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University: University of Edinburgh Faculty: Informatics Author: Christopher Sipola Award: 2018 Social Responsibility & Sustainability Dissertation Prize Title: Summarizing electricity usage with a neural network
University: University of Ottawa Faculty: Education Author: Matthew Brillinger Award: 2017 Commission on Graduate Studies in the Humanities Prize Title: Educational Park Planning in Berkeley, California, 1965-1968
University: University of Ottawa Faculty: Social Sciences Author: Heather Martin Award: 2015 Joseph De Koninck Prize Title: An Analysis of Sexual Assault Support Services for Women who have a Developmental Disability
University : University of Ottawa Faculty : Physics Author : Guillaume Thekkadath Award : 2017 Commission on Graduate Studies in the Sciences Prize Title : Joint measurements of complementary properties of quantum systems
University: London School of Economics Faculty: International Development Author: Lajos Kossuth Award: 2016 Winner of the Prize for Best Overall Performance Title: Shiny Happy People: A study of the effects income relative to a reference group exerts on life satisfaction
University : Stanford University Faculty : English Author : Nathan Wainstein Award : 2021 Alden Prize Title : “Unformed Art: Bad Writing in the Modernist Novel”
University : University of Massachusetts at Amherst Faculty : Molecular and Cellular Biology Author : Nils Pilotte Award : 2021 Byron Prize for Best Ph.D. Dissertation Title : “Improved Molecular Diagnostics for Soil-Transmitted Molecular Diagnostics for Soil-Transmitted Helminths”
University: Utrecht University Faculty: Linguistics Author: Hans Rutger Bosker Award: 2014 AVT/Anéla Dissertation Prize Title: The processing and evaluation of fluency in native and non-native speech
University: California Institute of Technology Faculty: Physics Author: Michael P. Mendenhall Award: 2015 Dissertation Award in Nuclear Physics Title: Measurement of the neutron beta decay asymmetry using ultracold neutrons
University: Stanford University Faculty: Management Science and Engineering Author: Shayan O. Gharan Award: Doctoral Dissertation Award 2013 Title: New Rounding Techniques for the Design and Analysis of Approximation Algorithms
University: University of Minnesota Faculty: Chemical Engineering Author: Eric A. Vandre Award: 2014 Andreas Acrivos Dissertation Award in Fluid Dynamics Title: Onset of Dynamics Wetting Failure: The Mechanics of High-speed Fluid Displacement
University: Erasmus University Rotterdam Faculty: Marketing Author: Ezgi Akpinar Award: McKinsey Marketing Dissertation Award 2014 Title: Consumer Information Sharing: Understanding Psychological Drivers of Social Transmission
University: University of Washington Faculty: Computer Science & Engineering Author: Keith N. Snavely Award: 2009 Doctoral Dissertation Award Title: Scene Reconstruction and Visualization from Internet Photo Collections
University: University of Ottawa Faculty: Social Work Author: Susannah Taylor Award: 2018 Joseph De Koninck Prize Title: Effacing and Obscuring Autonomy: the Effects of Structural Violence on the Transition to Adulthood of Street Involved Youth
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- Tips for Writing Masters Dissertation
- Masters Dissertation - Some Advice for Researching and Writing It
What is Masters Dissertation or Postgraduate Dissertation?
Many postgraduate students experience a feeling of dread when they first begin thinking about the word ‘Dissertation’! As an essential component of most postgraduate degree programmes, the Dissertation can be the key to success or failure. However, there’s no need to spend time on stress and worry if you understand how to create a successful Dissertation .
What is a masters dissertation.
A Masters Dissertation is a lengthy written study on a topic chosen by the student. It is undertaken with the guidance of a faculty supervisor, and involves an extended period of research and writing. The content and length vary depending on your field of study – Dissertations are typically longer in theoretical fields, and shorter in practical fields.
MA Dissertations are conventional academic studies in the fields of the Arts, Humanities and some Social Sciences. They are typically comprised of a thorough investigation of a particular topic, based on the application of theoretical knowledge to already-available data (texts, documents, artworks or existing data sets). It is rare for MA dissertations to include extensive data collected by the author, as the focus is primarily on the application of philosophical and theoretical frameworks. The length of MA Dissertations is typically 25,000-50,000 words, although they may be shorter in some degree programmes where a practical element is also included.
MSc Dissertations are often shorter than MA Dissertations, because they rely more heavily on concrete data that can be conveyed with fewer words. However, the content is just as rigorous in a scholarly sense. MSc Dissertations will often involve some practical field work by students, who are expected to collect data through lab activities. For MSc students the Dissertation forms part of a larger process of research reports and data collection.
MBA Dissertations can take several forms. Traditionally they adhere to a more science-based framework and have more in common with MSc Dissertations than MA Dissertations. However, universities are increasingly offering MBA students opportunities to pursue alternative forms of research that encompass more qualitative and philosophical approaches, and that address a wider set of learning outcomes. For this reason the length of the MBA Dissertation can vary significantly depending on the particular institution and the line of research the student undertakes. Furthermore, many MBA programmes do not require dissertations at all!
How Is a Masters Dissertation Different from Undergraduate and PhD-level Dissertations?
Masters Dissertation requires students to engage with their subject area in a more critical manner than they will have done at the undergraduate level. While many Masters students probably completed a Bachelor’s Dissertation , the expectations for the Masters Dissertation are very different. At this level they will be expected to develop a critical analysis that goes beyond the synthesised reviews typically offered in undergraduate studies. In particular, Masters students are expected to develop a clear philosophical and methodological framework for their writing, and this enables them to craft a much more targeted and incisive analysis.
Masters Dissertations also differ significantly from MPhil and PhD Dissertations, because the Masters level requires less original research. A PhD requires a much longer thesis, normally between 80,000 and 100,000 words. Both the PhD and MPhil require a more sophisticated research agenda, which will rely heavily on independent field research or unique text-based research. At the Masters level, research does not need to be completely unique and ground-breaking, as it does for a PhD. However, Masters students are still expected to provide original writing and critical analysis.
What Does a Masters Dissertation Normally Contain?
Masters Dissertation will typically contain the following dissertation structure , although the length and nature of these vary according to the academic field:
- Abstract – a brief summary statement that contextualises your research, outlines your methodology and summarises findings.
- Literature Review – a chapter that summarises the most important theories and philosophies that are relevant to your research.
- Methodology – a dissertation chapter or statement that details the methods used to conduct your research, and provides a justification for this choice.
- Analytical Chapters – the main body of the dissertation, these chapters provide the critical analysis of your chosen material or subject.
- Conclusion – the final chapter summarises your findings and suggests possible directions for future research.
- Bibliography – the bibliography is expected to be quite lengthy and must conform to the style guidelines for your discipline.
Standard Requirements and Assessment of Masters Dissertations
Word Length – Most Masters Dissertations are 15,000 – 50,000 words in length, although as stated above this can vary significantly depending on the subject area. Do remember that the word count typically does not include front matter, foot notes, bibliography or appendices!
Duration of Study – Most UK Masters programmes are one year in length, with the Dissertation submitted at the end of that year. This can vary for longer degree programmes, or in cases where students are allowed an extra ‘writing up’ year.
Submission Deadlines – Submission deadlines will vary among universities so it’s best to check with your specific institution for details. Masters Dissertations are assessed by examiners and the results must be certified by University Exam Boards, which are held twice yearly (normally in July and September). This means that the deadline for submitting dissertations is usually late June or late August, to allow time for marking prior to the Exam Boards. If necessary, students can request an extension to these deadlines if they can demonstrate genuine extenuating circumstances that will delay their submission. Always check with your university for specific regulations regarding submission and extensions.
Grades – The marking system for Masters dissertations is usually on the same numeric scale that is used for other UK assessments. Students must generally achieve a minimum mark of 40 to pass, but most will aspire to higher marks than this. Marks of 60-69 earn a classification of 2.1, or B; Marks over 70 earn a First classification, or A.
Writing a good dissertation requires honest dedication from students and an ability to motivate themselves over a long period of time. You can start off on a successful path by understanding the typical Masters Dissertation requirements, and developing your plan of study accordingly!
David Brigden and Graham Lamont, 2010. Planning Dissertations. Available: http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/resources/detail/subjects/medev/Planning_dissertations. Last accessed 08 Apr 2013.
Kjell Erik Rudestam, 2007. Surviving Your Dissertation: A Comprehensive Guide to Content and Process. 3rd Edition. SAGE Publications, Inc.
University of Worcester, 2010. Masters Dissertation Handbook. Available: http://www.worcester.ac.uk/registryservices/documents/Masters_Dissertation_Handbook_2010_2011.pdf. Last Accessed 02 May, 2013.
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Dissertation vs Thesis: Your 2023 Guide
If you’ve been thinking about going to graduate school, you may be familiar with the application requirements, rigorous academic schedule, and thesis or dissertation you’ll be expected to complete. So, what exactly is the difference between a thesis and a dissertation? While there are similarities, there’s a clear difference between the two. In our guide, we compare dissertation vs thesis. Discover more about both – and what you can expect during your graduate program. Let’s get started!
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What Is a Thesis?
A thesis is an academic paper or project that’s completed towards the end of a master’s degree program . It is typically completed as the capstone project , meaning it’s the final project required for a student to graduate.
Students need to select a narrow, specific topic within – or relating to – their field of study. Once they’ve selected a topic, students must conduct an in-depth review of existing research on their chosen subjects. The next step is to formulate an academic argument, an assertion they’ll need to support or prove with said research.
Therefore, a thesis is akin to an in-depth research paper. It’s comprised of research that essentially proves what a student has learned during their program.
What Is a Typical Thesis Structure?
A thesis generally follows a rigid structure that’s decided by the program, department, or university. Here is an example of a thesis structure:
- The Title Page
- Summary of Thesis Abstract
- Table of Maps and Figures
- The Thesis Body (Sometimes divided into chapters)
- The Results or Conclusion
Who Needs to Complete a Thesis?
Most master’s degree programs require students to complete a thesis. While some undergraduate programs may also require a thesis, these are generally shorter and narrower in scope.
Some programs will also require a master’s student to defend their thesis in front of a panel or committee.
What Is a Dissertation?
What is “the PhD paper” called? Some people refer to it as a PhD thesis, but it’s most commonly known as a dissertation in the US. Dissertations are the capstone project required at the tail end of a PhD program . It is almost always required, except for a select few one-year PhD programs .
Much like a thesis, dissertations are also academic papers that aim to prove a student’s expertise – while adding to the current body of knowledge – in their field. Thus, a student must look at existing research and conduct their own research .
Basically, it’s the magnum opus of a doctoral journey in the United States. A dissertation isn’t just a long research paper; it’s a beast of a project. It demands extensive research, originality, and the ability to make a meaningful contribution to your chosen field. Think of it as a research odyssey guided by a seasoned mentor. Once you’ve conquered this scholarly quest and defended your findings, you’ll proudly emerge with your hard-earned doctoral degree, a testament to your dedication and scholarly prowess.
A dissertation typically comes after a PhD student completes their required courses and passes their qualifying exams. In some programs, the dissertation process is embedded into the coursework. In such cases, students receive a jump start on their work, allowing them to potentially finish their program earlier.
What Does a Dissertation Do?
PhD candidates must present a new theory or hypothesis. Alternatively, they must present their research to question (or disprove) the existing accepted theory on their chosen subject. Students may choose to tackle their topic from a new angle or take their research in a different direction.
Most programs will require students to defend their dissertations. During the defense, candidates must be able to justify the methodology of their research and the results and interpretation of their findings. Defenses are typically oral presentations in front of a dissertation committee , where the students are asked questions or presented with challenges.
Although the defense may seem daunting, PhD students work closely with their advisors to prepare for their dissertations. Students receive feedback and advice to guide their dissertations in their chosen direction.
What Is the Typical Dissertation Structure?
Dissertations follow a rigid structure typically set by the program, department, or university. Here is an example format:
- The Acknowledgments Page
- The Abstract
- The Literature Review & Theoretical Framework
- The Methodology
- Discussions of the Findings, including analysis, interpretation, and applications
- The Conclusion
- List of References
- Any Appendices
What Is a Doctoral Thesis?
A doctoral thesis is a substantial piece of scholarly work that marks the pinnacle of a doctoral degree program, such as a PhD. Think of it as the academic grand finale. Its primary mission? To showcase the candidate’s mastery in their chosen field and their knack for delving deep into research.
In a nutshell, a doctoral thesis is a mammoth project that calls for originality. You’ve got to dig, investigate, gather data, crunch numbers, and present real data-supported findings. All this hard work usually happens under the watchful eye of a knowledgeable mentor. Once you’ve conquered this scholarly mountain and defended your thesis successfully, you’ll be proudly awarded your well-deserved doctoral degree. It’s the hallmark of your expertise and contribution to your field.
And how does a doctoral thesis differ from a dissertation? That’s mainly a geographic explanation. While they’re largely similar in scope and purpose, when comparing a doctoral thesis vs. a dissertation:
- A dissertation is the PhD capstone requirement in the US .
- A doctoral thesis is the PhD capstone requirement in Europe .
Related Reading: The Easiest PhDs
Dissertation vs. Thesis: The Similarities
In the master’s thesis vs dissertation discussion, there are plenty of similarities. Both are lengthy academic papers that require intense research and original writing. They’re also capstone projects which are completed at the tail end of their respective programs.
Students must work closely with their respective committees (e.g., faculty members, advisors, professionals) who provide feedback and guidance on their research, writing, and academic arguments. Both thesis and dissertation committees have a committee chair with whom the students work closely.
In some ways, the requirements for theses and dissertations are quite similar. They require a skillful defense of a student’s academic arguments. What’s more, both papers require critical thinking and good analytical reasoning, as well as in-depth expertise in the chosen field of study.
Students must also invest a significant amount of time into both projects while also being able to accept and action feedback on their work.
Dissertation vs. Thesis: The Differences
What are the differences between a PhD dissertation vs. thesis? The first and most distinct difference is the degree program requiring a PhD dissertation or thesis. A dissertation is typically the capstone project for a doctorate, while a thesis is the capstone project for a master’s degree program (or undergraduate program).
Candidates will have to defend their dissertation during an oral presentation in front of their committee. Only some master’s theses require this.
During a thesis, students typically conduct research by reviewing existing literature and knowledge on their chosen subject. During a dissertation, students must do their own research and prove their theory, concept, or hypothesis. They should also expect to develop a unique concept and defend it based on the practical and theoretical results achieved from their rigorous research.
Theses are also typically shorter (around 40 to 80 pages). Dissertations, however, are much longer (between 100 and 300 pages). Of course, the actual length of the paper may depend on the topic, program, department, or university.
Related Reading : PhD Candidate vs Student: What’s the Difference?
Dissertations and Theses: US vs. Europe
Whether you’re in the US or Europe, dissertations and theses are similar. However, European requirements and conventions differ slightly:
To ensure your PhD graduation, a dissertation is generally required. Doctoral theses in Europe are much like a PhD dissertation in the US : You must complete your own research and add to the existing body of knowledge in your field.
It may seem odd to require a dissertation for master’s degree programs, but in Europe, this is exactly what you’ll need. A master’s dissertation is a broader post-graduate program research project , though it’s most typically required for master’s programs.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are a few of the most common questions we hear about the meaning of thesis vs. dissertation.
Is a Thesis and a Dissertation the Same?
Yes and no. In some ways, a dissertation and a thesis are the same. For example, both require original writing, critical skills, analytical thinking, plenty of research, and lots of academic effort. However, a thesis is more commonly reserved for master’s – and some undergraduate – programs. Dissertations are generally required by PhD programs in the United States.
Additionally, a thesis typically calls for heavy research and compilation of existing knowledge and literature on a subject. A dissertation requires candidates to conduct their own research to prove their own theory, concept, or hypothesis – adding to the existing body of knowledge in their chosen field of study.
How Long Is a Thesis vs. a Dissertation?
One of the primary differences between thesis and dissertation papers is their length. While a thesis might be anywhere from 40 to 80 pages long, a dissertation can easily run from 100 to 300. It’s important to note that these numbers depend on the specific program and university.
Does a PhD Require a Thesis or a Dissertation?
It all depends on where you are! While a US-based PhD requires you to complete a dissertation, a thesis (or “doctoral thesis”) is more commonly required for PhD candidates in Europe. In the US, a thesis is more commonly reserved for master’s degree programs and occasionally undergraduate programs. In Europe, a “master’s dissertation” is typically required for the completion of a master’s degree.
So, there you have it: an in-depth comparison of the dissertation vs. thesis academic requirements. Now that you know the primary similarities and differences between the two, it might become easier to decide your academic path. Just remember, you may be able to find a master’s program without a thesis or a doctorate without a dissertation requirement if you prefer. Good luck!
Are you ready to jump into your doctorate? Find out if you need a master’s degree to get a PhD .
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Dissertation vs Thesis: The Differences that Matter
As a graduate student, you will have many different types of challenging coursework and assignments. However, the biggest project that you’ll work on when earning your master’s or doctoral degree will be your thesis or dissertation . The differences between a dissertation vs thesis are plenty. That’s because each of these pieces of writing happen at different times in one’s educational journey.
Let’s break down what a dissertation and thesis are so that you have a strong handle on what’s expected. For both a thesis and a dissertation, there is an obvious fluency and understanding of the subject one studies.
Let’s take a look at their similarities and differences.
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What is a dissertation.
When you enter a doctoral program to earn a PhD, you will learn a lot about how to conduct your own research. At the culmination of your degree program, you’ll produce a dissertation.
A dissertation is a lengthy piece of written work that includes original research or expanded research on a new or existing topic. As the doctoral student, you get to choose what you want to explore and write about within your field of study.
What is a Thesis?
A thesis is also a scholarly piece of writing, but it is for those who are graduating from a master’s program. A thesis allows students to showcase their knowledge and expertise within the subject matter they have been studying.
Main Differences Between a Thesis vs. Dissertation
The biggest difference between a thesis and a dissertation is that a thesis is based on existing research.
On the other hand, a dissertation will more than likely require the doctoral student to conduct their own research and then perform analysis. The other big difference is that a thesis is for master’s students and the dissertation is for PhD students.
Structural Differences Between a Thesis and a Dissertation
Structurally, the two pieces of written analysis have many differences.
- A thesis is at least 100 pages in length
- A dissertation is 2-3x that in length
- A thesis expands upon and analyzes existing research
- A dissertation’s content is mostly attributed to the student as the author
Research Content and Oral Presentation
Once completed, some programs require students to orally present their thesis and dissertation to a panel of faculty members.
Typically, a dissertation oral presentation can take several hours. On the other hand, a thesis only takes about an hour to present and answer questions.
Let’s look at how the two scholarly works are similar and different:
- Each is considered a final project and required to graduate
- Both require immense understanding of the material
- Written skills are key to complete both
- Neither can be plagiarized
- Both are used to defend an argument
- Both require analytical skills
- You will have to draft, rewrite, and edit both pieces of writing
- For both, it is useful to have another person look over before submission
- Both papers are given deadlines
- A dissertation is longer than a thesis
- A dissertation requires new research
- A dissertation requires a hypothesis that is then proven
- A thesis chooses a stance on an existing idea and defends it with analysis
- A dissertation has a longer oral presentation component
The Differences in Context: Location Matters
The united states.
In the US, everything that was previously listed is how schools differentiate between a thesis and a dissertation. A thesis is performed by master’s students, and a dissertation is written by PhD candidates.
In Europe, the distinction between a thesis and dissertation becomes a little more cloudy. That’s because PhD programs may require a doctoral thesis to graduate. Then, as a part of a broader post-graduate research project, students may complete a dissertation.
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The purpose behind written research.
Each piece of writing is an opportunity for a student to demonstrate his or her ability to think critically, express their opinions in writing, and present their findings in front of their department.
Graduate degrees take a lot of time, energy, and hard work to complete. When it comes to writing such lengthy and informative pieces, there is a lot of time management that is involved. The purpose of both a thesis and a dissertation are written proof that you understand and have mastered the subject matter of your degree.
A doctoral degree, or PhD, is the highest degree that one can earn. In most cases, students follow the following path to achieve this level of education: Earn a bachelor’s degree, then a master’s, and then a PhD. While not every job title requires this deep educational knowledge, the salaries that come along with each level of higher education increase accordingly.
Earning Your Degree
Whether you are currently a prospective student considering earning your higher education degree or a student enrolled in a master’s or doctoral program, you know the benefits of education.
However, for some, earning a traditional degree on-campus doesn’t make sense. This could be because of the financial challenges, familial obligations, accessibility, or any other number of reasons.
For students who are seeking their higher education degrees but need a flexible, affordable, and quality alternative to traditional college, take a look at the programs that the University of the People has to offer.
University of the People is an entirely online, US accredited and tuition-free institution dedicated to higher education. You can earn your Master’s in Business Administration or your Master’s in Education . Not to mention, there are a handful of associate’s and bachelor’s degree programs to choose from as well.
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The Bottom Line
Regardless of where and when you earn your master’s or doctoral degree, you will likely have to complete a thesis or dissertation. The main difference between a thesis and dissertation is the level at which you complete them. A thesis is for a master’s degree, and a dissertation is for a doctoral degree.
Don’t be overwhelmed by the prospect of having to research and write so much. Your educational journey has prepared you with the right time management skills and writing skills to make this feat achievable!
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Free Topics For Write a Masters Dissertation Professionally
Masters degree programs require students to submit dissertations in the course of their training. Writing dissertations for masters programs is mandatory, and trainees need to get the skills of doing this competently. The safety of students taking their postgraduate programs lies in the great mastery of dissertation writing skills. If your desire is to create excellent dissertation for your master submission, then our service will help you achieve it.
Just like every other academic research work, masters dissertation papers elicit fearful feelings in students. They understand how critical, such papers are, and how they could mess their academic grades if they didn't give it the best. Writing exceptional dissertations as required by your professor is something every student desires. Unfortunately, only few may have the requisite skills of writing them as expected. Experts like our own existence to help you. As long as you collaborate with us, you can be sure you will have the best grade for your dissertation masters degree. We have been on the market for long to help masters students, and we are always confident with the resources we have to help more students who need our services.
Wring dissertations can be a dreadful experience for students who don’t like research. Typically, dissertations, especially for masters degree programs, are lengthy, and they demand many days, weeks, or even months to complete. The good thing is that you can write a dissertation on a topic you are interested in. Most professors allow students to choose their topics to take the entire process simple for them. With the right skills at hand, you can produce a great dissertation paper that will earn you a desirable grade eventually. Do you want to learn how to write excellent dissertations? Make our experts your consultants, and you will enjoy the entire procedure.
Get a Master Degree Dissertation Sample Done by an Expert
Professionals in the writing industry have helped many students in colleges and universities. Most of the beneficiaries have been the master's students, who may have little time to do their work as well as attend to job responsibilities. A number of them refer doing the whole work on their own. The only help they seek is consultation on the topic, structure, and other details needed to write dissertations. Masters dissertation examples displayed on the website from renown writing agencies like our own become helpful in such times. They can refer to them as a guide to writing their own papers.
If you need to write a good master thesis dissertation, asking for a master degree dissertation sample done by a professional would be wise. It will not only be a guide for you but also give you the opportunity to interact with experts who can help you write quality master papers. Brainstorming and researching are the most important things one can do in preparation for their dissertation writing. One thing is evident; they will access some samples that give them some prompts and insights on what to do in their projects. If you understand how valuable the dissertation grade would be to you, then you can use any method to achieve a top-notch quality paper.
Master degree programs can be difficult especially with the demand for unique dissertation writing. However, professional writers can help make your work easier. The only work you would do is to choose the right experts who have adequate knowledge in your field of study. With this, no work including your master dissertation proposal would give you a hard time. The experts you work with will always come into assists whenever needed.
What a Dissertation for Masters Degree Constitute
Writing a paper is simple when you understand its components. For a master degree dissertation, the standard structure and format of writing it should be adhered if the students need to maintain the quality of such a paper. This article will highlight the various constitutes of a dissertation to help you understand how to write it well. Besides, you can get any master essay sample including a master dissertation proposal example, which our writer takes time to compose. Don't delay in requesting for the relevant help from experts who can deliver a wonderful piece.
A dissertation constitutes the following:
- An abstract
A good dissertation entails an abstract, which gives the context of the research, the method used and a brief summary of the findings. An abstract is mandatory for any master dissertation.
- Literature review
This section gives a detailed overview of the theories, existing data, and reliable information related to the topic of research. It entails the knowledge one gathers on the research questions.
The chapter includes the method the students use in his or her investigation. It is efficient when you give a justification for the choice of the method. This section determines how easy or hard your research would be. The choice of the right way is important. You can involve an expert to help you choose the right methodology for your research topic.
The author discusses the findings of the research in this section. You could give a critical analysis including presenting the data through various ways.
It comes at the end of every dissertation. Here, you make the final remarks on your research topic. You could also provide the possible suggestions for further research.
Since any dissertation for masters degree involves a lot of investigations and research, the author ought to provide all the reading material of reference. The bibliography section contains all the books, journals, and articles using the right referencing style.
Master dissertations appear professional and compelling when every of these sections is written articulately. Conduct your research well and make the entire writing process simple. You can involve our dissertation writers to help you do it. They have a lot of experience in writing a dissertation for master students. Relying on them is worthwhile.
The Best Way to Achieve Excellent Essay Master Papers
Are you having a challenge writing your dissertation? Do you need help with your essay master papers? We acknowledge the desire of every student that entails submitting excellent essays. For most postgraduate students, the problem starts with the right choice from various master dissertation topics that they would comfortably research. Since the choice of topic determines how well one would approach their dissertations, it is good when you handle it with the due seriousness. It may include asking for masters dissertation help from experts who can help you choose the right topic or write it on your behalf.
Achieving exceptional master degree papers is never a simple thing. It may involve numerous attempts of writing drafts on the same. It can also compel one to burn the midnight oil just to do extra research that would make their dissertation writing professionally. Dissertations are lengthy; setting aside the adequate time needed to a complete the required research is mandatory. Many students who have many responsibilities to attend to can hire master paper writers to help them instead of risking their final grades.
Students can fail to produce excellent masters papers due to weak structure. Since your professor may not give an allowance for this mistake, avoiding it through help from experts is the best option. It could be that you know how to make the most compelling writings, but you have a wrong idea of how a masters dissertation structure should appear. Have as many samples as you can, and compare the right structure you need for your dissertation. You could also consult with your institution to know the acceptable structure for dissertations and other master papers.
The Need for Professional Help with Master Papers
Did you know that writing quality master papers especially a masters thesis paper requires a lot of dedication and commitment from the writer? Most dissertations contain more than 15,000 words, which ought to be researched and written competently. You would find yourself starting at a good pace only to get tired along the way due to the much work it involves. You may not handle many responsibilities and still produce the high-quality master degree essay needed in your institution. All these are reasons why you should rely on experts like our own to help you.
Many people want to pursue their master's degree. The institutions they desire may have a criterion to admit masters students to take the programs of their choice. However, they are required to submit a proper essay for master degree application, seeking an opportunity to pursue their degrees. The university admission panel can deny you a chance into your program because of a poor master degree essay. Make it as appealing as possible. Get various masters degree application essay examples from reliable companies like our own to help you handle your writing.
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Masters Thesis vs. PhD Dissertation: Key Differences
Whether you are a graduate student just starting out in academia or a professor advising a student, making the distinction between a dissertation and a thesis is critically important to writing a strong dissertation and becoming a stronger writer. Unfortunately, the difference remains unclear since the terms are used interchangeably by graduate students, doctoral researchers, academic publishers & universities.
If you’re not sure whether you’re writing a thesis or a dissertation, this article will help you understand the differences between the two whether you’re a PhD or master’s degree student.
Main Differences Between a Dissertation and a Thesis
While theses and dissertations share many similarities (they are both advanced graduate research papers), they actually refer to two different types of academic writing, and their differences include important concepts such as scope, purpose, length, and research requirements.
Most importantly, the difference between a thesis and a dissertation depends on the level of education. Far beyond being a simple essay, a thesis is for graduate students pursuing a master’s degree while a dissertation is written by doctoral students, also referred to as PhD candidates.
There are a few key differences between a thesis versus a dissertation.
The biggest difference between a thesis and a dissertation is that a thesis makes arguments based on existing research. Meanwhile, a dissertation often requires the PhD candidate to conduct research and then perform an analysis.
More specifically, a thesis often takes the form of a literature review , which is a compilation of research knowledge in a particular field of study that proves one is competent in that subject. On the other hand, a dissertation is a more specific type of research paper written by those working toward a specific doctorate degree that contributes knowledge, theory, or methods to a field of study.
What is a master’s thesis?
A master’s thesis is an academic research paper that requires a greater degree of research than an undergraduate thesis or term paper. It is marked by a higher standard of writing, and students are expected to demonstrate competence, literacy, and mastery of a subject. It usually takes two or three years to complete. Finally, a master’s degree thesis is usually written in order to obtain a research degree and is not intended to be published separately.
What is a PhD dissertation?
A PhD dissertation is a substantial piece of independent research that is required of all students who are pursuing a doctorate degree. It is a piece of original work that has not been published elsewhere and, most importantly, makes a new contribution to the field. This contribution may be a new way of thinking about an existing topic or even a novel theory. The research performed for a dissertation is usually conducted over a period of several years to half a decade.
Features of a Master’s Thesis vs PhD Dissertation
Content and structural differences.
So how is dissertation writing different from thesis writing?
Now that you know the definitions of a dissertation and thesis, let’s dive into some clear ways in which they differ in structure and other main characteristics.
How long is a thesis vs dissertation?
Length is the most obvious factor in differentiating between writing a thesis or dissertation.
Generally, a doctoral dissertation has greater breadth, depth, and intention than a master’s thesis since it is based on original research. While the standard length of a master’s thesis is around 100 pages , a doctoral dissertation can be upwards of 400-500 pages.
While most students can finish their PhD dissertation or thesis in as little as 1-2 years, it can take as long as 7 years depending on the school, program, and dissertation topic. As doctoral programs have their own formatting requirements, check with your school or university to find out what you need for your own dissertation or thesis. Most dissertations are organized into chapters, but the number of chapters varies as well.
Differences in research methods
A thesis and dissertation are both graduate-level research reports. This means they require students to investigate and report on a specific topic. But what is the difference in the scale of research between a master’s versus doctoral degree? The answer comes down to how much and what type of data you collect .
Data sources for a thesis vs dissertation
A master’s thesis is limited to secondary or reported knowledge . This knowledge has already been published, analyzed, and scrutinized in the literature. A thesis does not typically offer anything new in that regard. Your purpose is usually to write a comprehensive literature review on a novel or underreported topic using already-reported data.
On the other hand, a doctoral dissertation reports on novel data and is published so it can be scrutinized by others. It culminates in your dissertation defense.
The above lists clearly show that a PhD researcher and dissertation writer must have specific hands-on experience about not only the result of others’ research but also how the researchers obtained the data. A dissertation must venture into criticism of how other studies performed their experiments, whereas a master’s student will only report on and evaluate the results.
Differences in research scope
As mentioned above, a thesis is more of a literature review written to demonstrate competence and mastery of a field of study. In short, you are a reliable “reporter” of information related to that subject. A thesis shows that you know the technical jargon, understand the subject, are familiar with industry tools, and can translate that information to a general audience. This is why a master’s degree is sufficient and often preferred for industry jobs.
In contrast, a doctoral dissertation goes beyond simply using the building blocks of your subject and actually creates new tools, knowledge, and theories to advance the subject as a whole. If a master’s degree holder is like a seasoned Rolling Stone journalist, then a doctorate is the band/musician who actually makes the music.
So should you pursue a thesis or a dissertation?
The benefits of earning a graduate degree are huge. According to the US Census Bureau , those with an advanced degree earn 3.7 times as much as a high school dropout, and 13.1% hold a master’s, professional, or doctorate degree. If you’re a curious undergraduate student thinking of applying to graduate school, which is the right choice?
In short, a dissertation is more focused and in-depth than a thesis. While a doctoral dissertation is based on original research, a thesis is often an extension or review of others’ research in order to demonstrate literacy. Further, a dissertation can be used as the basis or subject of a thesis, but not vice versa.
Editing a Dissertation vs Thesis
So far, we’ve focused a lot on differences such as research and purpose, but in the end, a thesis or dissertation is a written document that requires skill, focus, discipline, subject knowledge, organization, and scheduling.
For non-native English speakers, the challenge is especially difficult since English is the lingua franca of academia and research.
How does an editing service improve your dissertation or thesis ?
From body spacing and pagination, to font size and citation formatting, the dissertation guidelines are exhaustive. Even worse, they vary by school. So besides the actual English writing and grammar, graduate students must worry about consistency, formatting, nomenclature, and terminology. That’s quite the burden!
This is why it’s very common for graduate students, especially ESL and foreign ones, to seek out dissertation editing services that specifically cater to the academic needs of researchers and students.
Here are just a few reasons why dissertation proofreading is so helpful and what these editors do:
- Correct grammar, punctuation, syntax, and structural errors
- Offer suggestions to rewrite, remove, and revise writing
- Ensure formatting and nomenclature are consistent
- Knowledgeable academic editors with master’s and PhD degrees
- Free up your time to focus on research, revisions, and content instead of looking for mistakes
- Provide a language editing certificate , which may be necessary for non-native English-speaking students
Lastly, most PhD advisors recommend that students seek out professional editing services , specifically thesis editing or dissertation editing , since professors prefer to assess the actual research content of a dissertation, not mundane writing errors. Any graduate student reading this knows professors don’t like their time to be wasted!
Be sure to check out other academic resources on how to improve your academic manuscript and the benefits of proofreading and editing.
And try the Wordvice FREE Citation Generator, which provides citations for four academic formatting styles: APA Citation Generator , MLA Citation Generator , Chicago Citation Generator , and Vancouver Citation Generator .
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What is the Difference Between a Dissertation and a Thesis?
Find your perfect postgrad program search our database of 30,000 courses.
And to make it even more confusing, some institutions or departments will even use the terms differently!
But what are we all really talking about when we refer to a dissertation or a thesis? And does the term you use actually impact on what you actually end up writing?
This article covers the main differences between a dissertation and thesis, and how the terms may differ depending on the course, university and location.
What is a dissertation?
A dissertation is a piece of academic writing centred around original research. In their dissertations, students review existing research but also build on this with unique hypotheses and approaches.
A dissertation can be used to disprove a previous theory or take existing theories and research in a new direction. It is a large research project that is usually completed at the end of the academic year.
Usually, a dissertation starts with a dissertation proposal , which is approved by a study supervisor. The student then completes the research and writes up the methodology , findings, evaluations and conclusions from the research.
Dissertations can be undertaken by both undergraduate and postgraduate students. At undergraduate level the word count is around 5,000 to 8,000 and at postgraduate level it is usually 10,000 to 15,000.
What is a thesis?
A thesis is an academic paper covering an in-depth review of existing research in a particular discipline. It will involve an academic argument, although it doesn’t usually require original research from the student. The existing research is used to support and evaluate the proposed argument.
A thesis is not usually required at undergraduate level and is more common at postgraduate level.
This large piece of written-up research is usually completed at the end of a masters degree. Some masters courses require a thesis to graduate.
Differences between a dissertation vs thesis
The main purpose of a writing a dissertation is to add new findings to the existing literature in that field with original research. Whereas theses tend to evaluate existing findings, as their purpose is to demonstrate knowledge and skills within the course’s subject matter.
In terms of how long it takes to complete a thesis or dissertation project, a thesis is typically shorter than a dissertation since there are fewer original research aspects involved. This means that it will probably take less time. However, this can differ depending on the university and the course.
Dissertations sometimes require an oral presentation, known as a viva , where findings are showcased to academics who ask questions about the research. Theses usually do not require this.
The root of the words
The word ‘dissertation’ originates from the Latin word ‘dissertare’, meaning to continue to discuss and the Latin word ‘disserere’ which means to examine and discuss .
The word ‘thesis’ originally comes from the Greek word ‘tithenai’, which means to place or position. This later evolved into the Latin ‘thesis’, which had two meanings: an abstract question and to put something forward .
Similarities between a dissertation vs thesis
Although there are some key differences between a dissertation and a thesis, there are also similarities.
- Both are generally long pieces of academic writing, much longer than a typical essay.
- Both explore a topic in depth, whether you are conducting totally unique research or structuring an argument based on existing research.
- Both are considered a final project and usually required to graduate from a degree, masters or PhD. Students can graduate without a thesis or dissertation if they choose to complete a postgraduate diploma or postgraduate certificate instead.
- Excellent academic writing skills are highly important for both types of research project.
Is a dissertation harder than a thesis?
Though, the difficulty of a thesis or dissertation depends on your personal skill set. For instance, students that learn better by developing their own research ideas may find a dissertation easier than a thesis.
Difficulty can also depend on the level of the course. For instance, a thesis completed at doctorate level is likely to require more advanced knowledge than a thesis at undergraduate level.
The difficulty of either type of research project can also vary depending on the subject matter and the resources available to you.
Both dissertations and theses can be challenging, but don’t be put off by the thought of having to produce a larger body of work. Your supervisor will be there to support you.
Definitions depend on where you are
The terms ‘dissertation’ and ‘thesis’ are sometimes used interchangeably, and the meanings can differ depending on the country and university.
There are plenty of differences between the variant forms of English, such as British English and American English. Around the world, different English-speaking countries use the words ‘dissertation’ and ‘thesis’ differently.
Generally, nations with British-based academic systems of university education use dissertation to refer to the body of work at the end of an undergraduate or masters level degree . British-based institutions generally use thesis to refer to the body of work produced at the end of a PhD .
In countries and institutions that are based on the American system of education, the words tend to be used in reverse. However, institutions and even different departments in the same university can use the words differently.
If you're in doubt, then stick with the way the university and department you're currently attending use the terms.
Definitions can depend on the subject
In the UK, the terms ‘dissertation’ and ‘thesis’ are generally applied equally across institutions and subjects.
However, in the US the meanings can differ between different subject areas. The term ‘thesis’ can be used to describe a piece of original research in US academia, whereas original research is usually referred to as a dissertation in the UK.
If you’re studying in the US , you may complete a thesis at masters level in another subject area that involves wide-ranging reading and understanding rather than original research and still call it a thesis.
With so much interchangeability between the two terms, it’s understandable that there is often confusion in the debate between a dissertation vs thesis, as there is no clear answer.
Always read specific course details to understand exactly what’s involved in the research project that you are required to produce.
Examples from US and UK universities
Georgetown University in the US refers to a dissertation and a thesis as both adding to your 'field of knowledge' . The University of Edinburgh recommends that you refer to your individual course handbook for guides to dissertations, so each department will have their own guidelines to using the word dissertation and thesis. At University College London they refer to a thesis as the piece of work at the end of an EngD, MPhil, MD(Res) or PhD, which are all research degrees.
Ultimately, it doesn't really matter which word you use as both refer to a serious and lengthy piece of work where you can show what you have researched and understood as part of your postgraduate studies.
As long as you are referring to the piece of work that you are compiling in the same way as those in your department then you will avoid confusion.
It is important to check whether the research piece involves original research or expects you to build upon existing research.
Writing a dissertation or a thesis requires a substantial amount of planning and work and you don't want to let yourself down at the last hurdle with poor presentation of your work, so always keep an eye on your course or department guidelines.
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Te Kura Tāura | UC Graduate School is a space where our graduate research students can access wraparound support at every stage of their journey, from initial enquiry through to graduation.
Doing research at UC
Find out what it is like to do research at UC, see what study options you have, and check out our current research projects.
Support for research students
Studying towards a research degree is demanding. It takes a lot of time and effort and it requires juggling competing priorities. Committing to this process might impact your social circles so it's wise to prepare for the unexpected. Your well-being is very important to UC. Check out our support for research students.
Graduate School events
The team at Te Kura Tāura | UC Graduate School run events, workshops, and seminars throughout the year to support the development of our researchers. Check out the UC Graduate School events coming up in the next few months and come along.
Meet research students
Are you wondering what it's really like to be a research student at UC? Check out some UC research student profiles.
UC Graduate School news
Alumni q&a: janina konia, 17 august 2021.
Janina is passionate about supporting communities to innovate, strengthen, and reshape a system that supports all to feel a sense of belonging and be seen for their strengths, uniqueness and potential, by working together.
Universities band together to boost study of waterways
08 november 2022.
Two Canterbury tertiary institutions have signed an agreement to run postgraduate degree programmes as jointly awarded courses – a first in New Zealand.
University of Canterbury student riding high at age 90
24 may 2021.
She is friends with Kiwi Olympian Sir Mark Todd and once trained the champion horse Charisma, but now Francesca Howard is taking the reins as the oldest student currently enrolled at the University of Canterbury (UC).
UC lecturer's focus on enriching the learning experience
31 march 2023.
A belief in effective teaching compelled Associate Professor Adrian Clark to gain his latest tertiary qualification.
Over 1500 UC graduates get ready to celebrate their success
26 august 2022.
More than 1500 Te Whare Wānanga o Waitaha | University of Canterbury (UC) students will celebrate achieving their degrees at large-scale celebrations in Ōtautahi Christchurch next week.
Alumni Q&A: Jo-Marie Baker
03 august 2021.
Jo-Marie Baker was a daily newspaper journalist for almost a decade before launching Tailor-Made Media in 2008.
Can't stop studying? You're not the only one! Join one of UC's existing research teams or start something new in our spportive, well-resourced research centres.
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17-year-old CEO gains her doctorate from Arizona State University
Posted: December 5, 2023 | Last updated: December 5, 2023
A seventeen-year-old Chicago resident, Dorothy Jean Tillman , has already received her doctorate from Arizona State University .
Tillman, the granddaughter of former Alderwoman Dorothy Tillman, earned her bachelor’s degree at the age of 12 and her master’s degree at the age of 14. While her peers applied to colleges, Tillman successfully defended her dissertation recently to get a doctorate in integrated mental health.
The teen genius told Fox32Chicago , “I feel like it takes good resources and a good team, which I will always praise Arizona State for.”
Tillman’s research highlighted the positive outcomes seen at schools implementing mental health programs. She explained that “[Having a mental health issue] doesn’t make you crazy. It doesn’t make you any of these negative things; it just makes you human.”
She has not made up her mind about what to do with her degree, but she thinks it will be entrepreneurial and deal with the current mental health crisis. Her short-term goals include traveling and world-exploring.
The tech and arts enthusiast also intends to spend time with her peers and even attend prom this spring. She shared, “I have best friends that are still in high school, and I kind of live vicariously through them.”
She also plans to travel to Tempe, Arizona , this spring to receive her doctoral diploma with the rest of her graduating class at ASU.
She wrote on Instagram “I am now Dr. Dorothy Jean Tillman, DBH, since successfully defending my dissertation last week. I’m looking forward to participating in commencement activities at ASU in Phoenix next May. I have so many people to thank for supporting me on this journey, but for now, I’ll just say thank you to my No. 1 champion, my Mom, @jimalita!”
Tillman, who is also a young entrepreneur, is focused on the summer camp she founded four years ago, which offers Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math (STEAM) curriculum to 9 to 14-year-olds in Bronzeville.
“A lot of people are used to STEM camps, which is just science, technology, engineering and math. But I felt like that right brain/left brain dynamic was never explored in a lot of programs I had been put in, so I wanted to create my own program,” she remarked.
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