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Dissertation vs. Thesis: A Comparison

No matter what your field or specialty is, earning a graduate degree is one of the best ways to advance your career. In fact, for some professionals, earning a master’s degree and a doctoral degree is a requirement. A graduate degree program nurtures professional critical-thinking skills and refines field-specific knowledge, enabling you to prove your expertise and competence.

When completing a graduate degree program, students are required to produce a major research and writing project, such as a dissertation in a doctoral program or thesis in a master’s program. These two projects are often confused, so what is the difference between a dissertation vs. thesis? There are a few major differences and similarities between the two that are important for any potential graduate student to know.

What Is a Thesis?

A thesis is an academic paper completed near the end of a student’s course of study for a master’s degree program. Note that most master’s degrees require the completion of a thesis for graduation. Some bachelor’s degree programs even require students to write an undergraduate thesis, which is typically shorter and less in-depth than a master’s degree thesis.

To write a master’s thesis, students select a reasonably narrow topic of interest in their field. For example, if you’re earning a degree in nutrition science , you might examine the effects of varying compositions of pregame meals on athletic performance.

The next step is to conduct an in-depth review of existing research on your topic. You would then formulate an academic argument (for example, that high-carb pre-game meals are advantageous for endurance athletes) and use the existing research to prove your assertion.

A thesis is typically structured in a relatively rigid format, depending on the policies of the university and the individual department. The following components are often required: 

What Is a Dissertation?

In contrast to a thesis, students working on a doctoral dissertation conduct their own original research after reviewing the established research. The goal of a dissertation is not only to prove the student’s own knowledge and skills but also to add to the existing body of knowledge in their field.

Students may present a new theory or hypothesis in their field or present research disproving a previously presented theory. Alternatively, they may tackle a new angle, taking the established research in a new direction.

The traditional order is to take doctoral courses, complete the qualifying exams and then write the dissertation. However, there are exceptions to this. At some universities, the dissertation process is integrated into the coursework. This allows students to get a jumpstart on their research while working toward the completion of their course requirements. As a result, they may graduate more quickly.

The process of writing a dissertation begins in a way similar to the process for a master’s thesis. Students select their topic and then conduct a literature review, which is a thorough analysis of the existing research on that topic. From there, students can work on developing a new theory, debunking a previously established theory or finding a new angle on an existing theory.

The dissertation defense is often one of the most intimidating aspects of the doctoral degree program. However, students work closely with their selected committees throughout the dissertation process. This means you can rest assured that if your committee has allowed your work to proceed to the point of the dissertation defense point, then your dissertation will almost certainly be accepted, and you will be granted your degree after your successful defense.

Like that of a thesis, the specific makeup of a dissertation depends on the policies and requirements of the university and the doctoral candidate’s department. In general, however, dissertations include the following:

Differences Between a Dissertation vs. Thesis

The primary difference between a dissertation vs thesis is the degree programs that require these projects. Students in a master’s degree program will write a thesis, whereas students in a doctoral degree program will complete a dissertation.

Another difference between the two projects is that a dissertation usually requires an oral defense, whereas a thesis generally does not. After submitting the completed dissertation to their dissertation committees, students will schedule dates for the oral presentation of their work. The committee members will ask questions and sometimes pose challenges. Students must be able to justify their methodology and interpretation of their findings.

Additionally, as you might expect, a typical master’s thesis is far shorter than a typical doctoral degree dissertation. A thesis might be between 40 and 80 pages, although it can vary from one degree program to the next. In contrast, the average dissertation is between 100 and 300 pages.

Similarities Between a Dissertation and a Thesis

Despite the differences, there are some similarities between a dissertation and a thesis. Both require intensive research and the completion of a lengthy paper comprised of original writing.

In addition, both projects require the following: 

Another similarity is the committee. All doctoral degree students work with a committee comprised of faculty members, advisors and similar professionals who guide the student’s research and writing. It’s also customary for students writing a master’s thesis to have a committee.

In both thesis and dissertation committees, the committee chair is the primary point of contact for the student. In other words, the chair is the person who is most closely involved with shaping the direction of the student’s research, academic arguments and writing.

For both types of degree programs, the thesis or dissertation is a requirement to graduate with the degree. It is typically considered the capstone project.

Grand Canyon University offers a wide range of master's and doctoral degree programs to choose from. GCU is committed to helping students enhance their career qualifications, transition to new careers or simply fuel their passion for learning. Click on the Request Info button above to learn more about GCU’s graduate degree programs and how to apply

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.

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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.

Photo by  Glenn Carstens-Peters  on  Unsplash

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.

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:



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.

Photo by  Russ Ward  on  Unsplash

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.

Degree Types

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.

If you want to learn more, get in touch with us !

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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Know the difference: PhD thesis v/s PhD dissertation

PhD thesis vs PhD dissertation

One of the biggest turning points of any PhD student’s journey is the submission of a research writing project in the form of either a PhD thesis or a PhD dissertation. From an academic perspective, the thesis/dissertation is in many ways a major indicator of the abilities and expertise that you have gained as a doctoral candidate. The mere task of understanding the requirements and compiling a thesis/dissertation is in itself huge. However, what may be confusing to understand, especially if you are just embarking upon your doctoral journey, are the differences when it comes to PhD thesis v/s PhD dissertation.

These two terms are often used interchangeably when referring to doctoral studies as there are a number of similarities between them:

Owing to the above-mentioned similarities, the confusion between the correct usage of these two terms is quite understandable. In order to ensure the proper usage of these two terms, it’s crucial to understand the differences in a PhD thesis v/s PhD dissertation. Here are some quick pointers that may be useful.

Differences between thesis and dissertation

Since most academic institutions will continue to use these terms interchangeably, it is imperative that you confirm the intricate details regarding the expected structure of a PhD thesis/dissertation with your respective institution. However, for now, we hope that the above article helps in clarifying some of the major doubts that you may have had regarding a PhD thesis v/s dissertation.

In order to better understand the meaning of thesis vs dissertation, let us go back to the origin of the terms. The term ‘thesis’ originates from the Greek word ‘tithenai’, which means ‘to place a proposition’, while the term ‘dissertation’ has a Latin origin, which essentially means ‘disserere’/’dissertare’, i.e., ‘to (continue to) examine and discuss’. 1 To simplify further, a thesis by itself may simply represent an argument that you put forth and describe in depth, while a dissertation may represent a written summary/discussion of a particular work. 2

phd is thesis or dissertation

In countries/institutions that follow the British education system, it is common to term the final doctoral research writing project as a PhD thesis, while the countries/institutions that follow the American education system prefer to call it a PhD dissertation. In case you are unsure which education system is followed by your institution, it may be a good idea to verify this with the respective personnel, so that you can plan your doctoral journey effectively.

While the above two points may be useful to understand the differences between thesis and dissertation on a surface level, as a PhD student it is crucial for you to understand the deeper differences in the content and the type of work that goes into each of them. Let us do this by revisiting the differences in the origin of the two terms: ‘dissertare’ or to discuss (dissertation) v/s ‘to place a proposition’ (thesis). In my experience, the content of a PhD dissertation often comprises peer-reviewed publications that are published by the doctoral candidate during their doctoral work, along with supplementary chapters.  On the other hand, while compiling a PhD thesis, a doctoral candidate may need to describe the doctoral work in detail with the help of distinct chapters comprising: abstract, introduction, literature review, methodology, results, discussion, conclusion and bibliography/references. Thus, the main difference between thesis and dissertation, lies in the way the written document is being presented although the doctoral work done by the candidate will mostly remain the same .


1.         What is the Difference Between a Dissertation and a Thesis? |

2.         The PhD Thesis |

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Thesis Vs. Dissertation — Know the difference and similarities!

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The academic world is filled with many different types of writing assignments, each with its own unique set of requirements and expectations. One common source of confusion for students is the distinction between a thesis and a dissertation. Both are long-form academic works, but there are several key differences between the two that are important to understand.

In Shakespeare’s day, a candidate for a master’s degree would write a thesis, an original paper in which he maintained a certain proposition. Whereas, completion of a doctoral program required submission and defense of a dissertation. He would read his thesis to his committee, after which he sat in silence while two faculty members gave point-by-point refutations of everything the candidate said.

The focus here was on the student’s ideas and his ability to arrange and express them clearly. If a student wished to advance further in academia he could pursue a dissertation. This was more of a  literature review . He would read widely in a particular area and write up his findings, discussing the various authorities and their opinions. The point was to demonstrate that he was well-versed in the literature of the field. While the confusion between the two terms is understandable, we shall tackle the dissertation vs. thesis topic in this article and provide unambiguous insights on it.

Table of Contents

What Is a Thesis?

A thesis is a critically written scholarly piece of research work. Typically, it is submitted by students graduating from a master’s program. The purpose of a thesis is to allow students to showcase their knowledge and expertise within the subject matter they have been studying as part of the program.

What Is a Dissertation?

A dissertation is a comparatively lengthier piece of scholarly writing that accounts for your research work throughout the doctoral program. A researcher earns the Ph.D. after submitting and defending his/her dissertation. It includes all information about the original research or expanded research on a new or existing topic conducted by the Ph.D. candidate.

Dissertation vs. Thesis: Differences

Dissertation vs. Thesis: Similarities

Dissertation vs. Thesis: Europe

In Europe, the original distinction between a thesis and a dissertation has been largely retained. A doctoral thesis is a focused piece of original research that is performed to obtain a Ph.D. A dissertation is part of a broader post-graduate research project.


However, the thesis has evolved since original research nowadays requires plenty of background research . So, a thesis will contain extensive citations and references to earlier work, although the focus remains on the original work that comes out of it.

Dissertation vs. Thesis: USA

In the United States, the definition of a thesis is almost the opposite of that in Europe. Because a thesis is shorter than a dissertation it gradually came to mean a preliminary degree on the way to a doctorate. A thesis is now performed to earn a Master’s degree. In scientific fields, a master’s candidate takes advanced coursework and gains hands-on experience in a research project but does not direct the project to the same extent that he would in a doctoral program. In a master’s project, the student’s ideas are welcomed and expected but the focus is on obtaining technical expertise, not doing original research. Engineering students commonly obtain Master’s degrees and seldom go on to get PhDs. In other fields such as Chemistry, the opposite is true, with a Master’s degree no longer being required as the first step for a doctorate. Almost everyone I know who received a Master’s degree in Chemistry got one because they dropped out of graduate school and wrote their truncated research as a Master’s project.

In a Nutshell

Needless to say, the dissertation vs. thesis facts are real. Therefore, using one term instead of another is not acceptable as an academic. One must remember the purpose of each and use them accordingly. However, one is not undermined by the other. Whether you are writing a thesis or a dissertation, both must be done with the same seriousness. Both require critical technical and soft skills. Improving your time management and academic writing skills plays a major role in acing both forms of scholarly writing.

How do you decipher dissertation vs. thesis? Should the interchanged usage of these terms be acceptable? How is your approach to writing a thesis different from that of a dissertation? What are the other differences associated with the thesis and dissertation? Let us know in the comments section below!

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The PhD thesis is the most important part of a doctoral research degree: the culmination of three or four years of full-time work towards producing an original contribution to your academic field.

Your PhD dissertation can therefore seem like quite a daunting possibility, with a hefty word count, the pressure of writing something new and, of course, the prospect of defending it at a viva once you’ve finished.

This page will give you an introduction to what you need to know about the doctoral thesis, with advice on structure, feedback, submission and more.

On this page

Beginning your phd thesis.

The first stage of your PhD thesis will usually be the literature review . We’ve already written a detailed guide to what the PhD literature review involves , but here’s what you need to know about this stage of your PhD:

After finishing your literature review, you’ll move onto the bulk of your PhD dissertation. Of course, you’ll eventually return to the lit review to make sure it’s up-to-date and contains any additional material you may have come across during the course of your research.

PhD thesis research

What sets your PhD thesis apart from previous university work you’ve done is the fact that it should represent an original contribution to academic knowledge . The form that this original contribution takes will largely depend on your discipline.

Depending on the nature of your research, you may ‘write up’ your findings as you go, or leave it until the dedicated ‘writing-up’ period, usually in the third year of your PhD. Whatever your approach, it’s vital to keep detailed notes of your sources and methods – it’ll make your life a lot easier when it comes to using references in your dissertation further down the line.

PhD thesis vs dissertation

It’s common to use the terms ‘thesis’ and ‘dissertation’ interchangeably, but strictly speaking there is a difference in meaning between them:

Put simply, you submit a dissertation, but it’s the thesis it attempts to prove that will form the basis of your PhD.

What this also means is that the writing up of your dissertation generally follows the formulation of your thesis (it’s fairly difficult to write up a PhD before you know what you want to say!).

However, it’s normal for universities and academics to use either (or both) terms when describing PhD research – indeed, we use both ‘thesis’ and ‘dissertation’ across our website.

Can I use my Masters research in my PhD thesis?

If you’re studying an MPhil, it’s normal to ‘ upgrade ’ it into a PhD. You may be able to expand on a previous MA or MSc dissertation – or use part of it in one of your PhD thesis chapters. However, you should discuss this with your supervisor and be careful to avoid self-plagiarisation. Similarly, be aware that a PhD is supposed to be a completely original contribution to your field and shouldn’t draw too heavily on work that you’ve already done.

PhD thesis structure

Having completed your initial literature review and conducted your original research, you’ll move onto the next phase of your doctoral dissertation, beginning to sketch out a plan that your thesis will follow.

The exact structure and make-up of your thesis will vary between fields, but this is the general template that many dissertations follow:

How long should a PhD thesis be?

PhD thesis lengths vary from subject to subject, but all are far longer than those for undergraduate or Masters degrees. Your university will usually set an upper limit – typically between 70,000 and 100,000 words, with most dissertations coming in at around 80,000 words.

Generally speaking, STEM-based theses will be a little shorter than those in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences.

Different universities (and departments) will have different policies regarding what counts towards this word count, so make sure you’re aware what is expected of you. Check with your supervisor whether references, the bibliography or appendices are included in the word count for your dissertation.

How many chapters should a PhD thesis have?

There’s no hard and fast rule for the numbers of chapters in a PhD thesis, but most will have four or five chapters (in addition to the introduction and conclusion). This is the sort of thing you’ll discuss with your supervisor when planning out your research – you should agree on a suitable number of topics to tackle in your dissertation during your supervisory meetings.

Writing up your PhD thesis

Once you’ve conducted your research and settled upon your thesis, there’s only one thing left to do: get it down on paper. Appropriately enough, this final part of a PhD is often referred to as the ‘ writing up period ’.

This is when you produce the final dissertation, which will be submitted as the basis for your viva voce exam. The nature of this task can vary from PhD to PhD.

In some cases you may already have a large amount of chapter drafts and other material. ‘Writing up’ therefore becomes a process of re-drafting and assembling this work into a final dissertation. This approach is common in Arts and Humanities subjects where PhD students tend to work through stages of a project, writing as they go.

Alternatively, you may have spent most of your PhD collecting and analysing data. If so, you’ll now ‘write up’ your findings and conclusions in order to produce your final dissertation. This approach is more common in STEM subjects, where experiment design and data collection are much more resource intensive.

Whatever process you adopt, you’ll now produce a persuasive and coherent statement of your argument, ready to submit for examination.

PhD thesis feedback

Your supervisor will usually give you feedback on each chapter draft, and then feedback on the overall completed dissertation draft before you submit it for examination. When the thesis is a work-in-progress, their comments will be a chance for them to make sure your research is going in the right direction and for you to ask their advice on anything you’re concerned about. This feedback will normally be given in the form of a supervisory meeting.

Although your PhD supervisor will be happy to give you advice on your work, you shouldn’t expect them to be an editor – it’s not their responsibility to correct grammatical or spelling mistakes, and you should make sure any drafts you submit to them are as error-free as possible. Similarly, they won’t be willing to edit your work down to fit a particular word count.

Finishing your PhD thesis

When you’ve finished the final draft of your doctoral thesis and it’s been approved by your supervisor, you’ll submit it for examination. This is when it’s sent to the examiners who will conduct your viva.

Submitting your thesis involves printing enough copies for your examiners and the university’s repository. Don’t leave this until the last minute – printing multiple copies of a 300-page document is a substantial undertaking and you should always allow enough time to account for any possible glitches or issues with the printing process.

Your viva will usually take place within three months of submitting your thesis. You can find out more in our dedicated guide to the PhD viva . After your viva, your examiners will give you a report that confirms whether or not you need to make any changes to your thesis, with several different potential outcomes:

Most PhD students will need to fix some corrections with their thesis (hopefully not major ones). It’s very rare for a dissertation to be failed.

Once you’ve made any necessary changes to your thesis, you’ll submit it one last time (usually electronically).

If you have plans to publish all or part of your work, you may want to request an embargo so that it won’t be visible to the public for a certain time. 12 months is a fairly standard time period for this, although you may want to ask for a longer embargo if you know that you want to turn your thesis into a book or monograph.

Doing a PhD

For more information on what it’s like to do a PhD, read our guides to research proposals , academic conferences and the viva .

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Harvard University - The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Harvard University - The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences


Dissertation Completion Fellowships

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A Guide to Preparing and Submitting Your Dissertation

The dissertation is the capstone project for PhD students. It is perhaps the most important and far-reaching undertaking in the entire doctoral program, having an impact that extends well beyond graduate studies.

Requirements and Deadlines

Every PhD candidate is required to successfully complete and submit a dissertation to qualify for degree conferral. Since each department maintains specific requirements for the content and evaluation of the dissertation, you should review your department's guidelines prior to beginning the process. The GSAS policy page on Dissertations   provides general information on formatting, submission, and publishing and distribution options. Students who do not follow the formatting specifications noted in this publication will not be eligible for conferral of their degree and will need to apply for the next available degree period after corrections are made.

Degrees are awarded in November, March, and May. Dissertation submission deadlines are noted in the   Degree Calendar  section of GSAS Policies .

Students submit their dissertations through ProQuest ETD , Harvard’s electronic thesis and dissertation submission system. 

Publishing Options and Embargoes

Students are given complete control over the accessibility of their work. Upon final approval, the dissertation becomes part of multiple Harvard and non-Harvard downstream systems based on the permissions and publishing options selected during the ProQuest ETD submission process. Consult Publishing Options   for more information .

An electronic copy of the dissertation is added to  Digital Access to Scholarship at Harvard (DASH), the open-access repository of scholarship produced by members of the Harvard community. Dissertations are also deposited with ProQuest’s databases and become accessible to subscribers of  ProQuest Dissertation & Theses Global .

If necessary, students may request to delay the release of (“embargo”) their work when submitting their dissertation to ProQuest ETD . If students would like to request a delayed release of their dissertation of  longer than 2 years , they will be prompted to  upload a signed document   to the “Administrative Documents” section of ProQuest ETD, showing Director of Graduate Study approval of this request. If students do not have a document when submitting their dissertation they will be asked to have the DGS email the  Registrar's Office , acknowledging approval of the delayed release request. Embargo requests apply to both DASH and ProQuest.

GSAS provides a dissertation completion fellowship (DCF) for one academic year to eligible PhD students in the humanities and social sciences who anticipate completing their dissertations within the year. Find out more in GSAS Policies

Help with the Dissertation

Students can find support with planning and preparing to write the dissertation from their academic advisors and programs. Additional resources and support for dissertation writing are available through the  GSAS Fellowships & Writing Center (FWC).

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What’s the Difference between a Dissertation and a Thesis

Dr Harry Hothi

Dissertation versus Thesis

Confusingly, the terms dissertation and thesis are often used interchangeably within higher education and university environments (or graduate school in the USA). Depending on the context, someone may refer to a project write up as a thesis while another person may call the same document a dissertation. In another scenario, both terms may refer to very specific and different things. If we take a look at the meaning of dissertation’ and thesis’ in the Cambridge English Dictionary, we find their definitions to be:

The dictionary definitions of these two words are almost identical! Technically and historically this has been the correct however if we look at the definition of ‘dissertation’ and ‘thesis’ in the Collins English Dictionary, we start to get a sense of the modern interpretation of the two words, particularly as they’re used in the United Kingdom:

Dissertation vs Thesis – the UK

The definition above succinctly sums up the differences between the terms dissertation and thesis in the UK and much of Europe. Most often students will be asked to write an undergraduate or Master’s dissertation whilst if you continue on to in to a PhD doctoral program, you’ll be writing up a thesis.

The distinction here is that a PhD (also referred to as a doctoral degree) requires the development of a novel body of work that adds new knowledge based purely on original research, whilst an undergraduate or Master’s project follows a period of taught modules and does not require novel research; for example it could consist solely of a review of existing research literature.

A well written dissertation project as part of a Masters degree would be closer in length and formatting to a research paper.

Imperial College London is a good example of an institution where this distinction between the terms is clear; the terminology used for students undertaking original research degrees is that they will be asked to submit a PhD, MPhil, MD(Res) or EngD thesis. Conversely, students enrolled in a taught Masters postgraduate degree are asked to submit Master’s dissertations.

As part of a doctoral degree, it’s also common to write research papers which go through a peer review process and help make your thesis defence that much easier. Publishing papers during a Masters degree is less common (but not impossible) than with a doctorate degree, simply because the emphasis with these is less on performing original research/contributing new knowledge, but more on equipping a student with the ability to do so in the future (i.e if they do eventually pursue a PhD degree).

An important structural difference between the two is that the Masters dissertation structure is usually centred around one primary research question whereas a Ph.D. is likely to contain each chapter to a separate research topic and research methodology.

A Masters degree can be a good way to develop basic research skills such as how to critically review existing literature and previously published papers. You’ll get a sense of what independent research is like and how to formulate a research plan. You’ll be required to submit coursework or another written report format on a given topic throughout the year, in addition to the final 10,000-20,000 word dissertation.

The difference here is that whilst you may perform your subject research, data collection and writing across several months for a Masters project, your PhD thesis work will take much longer. Your data collection alone for doctoral study can take in excess if two years and ideally you should be working towards your thesis writing over much of the three years of your project.

Finding a PhD has never been this easy – search for a PhD by keyword, location or academic area of interest.

Dissertation vs Thesis – the USA

Whilst this naming convention in the UK and the rest of Europe is used consistently across the vast majority of universities and departments, this is not necessarily the case at graduate schools in the United States of America.

The key thing to be aware of is that in the USA, the definitions are essentially reversed; a Masters degree in the United States is earned following the completion and submission of a Master thesis, whilst a doctoral dissertation is written by a graduate student as part of the journey towards a PhD degree.

Dissertation vs Thesis – the Similarities

Regardless of the precise term used to describe the body of academic work you produce, both of these will be substantial written documents. They will range in length from around 20,000 word dissertation for a Masters degree project write up, to over 50,000 words for a PhD submission; a 100,000 word thesis is usually the maximum permitted by most universities.

Click here to view PhD thesis examples that have been made available online by the University of Warwick

Some element of research work and independent learning will be key to both, however of course for PhDs, the research element will be the core focus that the work is centred on whilst the Maser’s (or undergraduate) project will have flexibility as to the extent of research work conducted.

Both a thesis and dissertation will conclude with the student taking part in a viva to defend the work of their research project. A dissertation defence for a masters degree will involve at least one faculty member and the student. A doctoral candidate will on the other hand have their thesis defense with at least one external examiner.

The confusion for students between the precise meaning of the term thesis and dissertation is completely understandable; this is due to the very similar dictionary definitions of the words combined with the different context they can refer to depending on what part of the world you’re in. Both require a substantial amount of academic writing, forming part of a graduate program to earn the academic degree of a PhD or Masters.

As I’m in the UK, I’ll conclude by saying that a dissertation is typically associated with the work of an undergraduate or Master’s degree, whilst a thesis is written as part of a research project leading to the award of a PhD degree or an equivalent research degree.

See below for a recap of answers to common questions about the differences between the a dissertation and thesis.

Can you convert a dissertation or thesis into a research paper?

Theoretically you should be able to write up the work presented in either document as a research paper or even several papers. You stand a better chance of making it through peer review if your research work contributes new knowledge to the subject matter. This is certainly possible at the Masters level and essential for a doctorate program. An undergraduate dissertation is less likely to lead to an academic paper unless this is something that has specifically been planned for before starting the project.

What degree program would you write a dissertation or thesis for?

Both documents are written at the graduate level. In the UK, a dissertation is written at the Masters levels whilst a doctorate dissertation is written to earn a Ph.D.

Do you have a viva after submitting a dissertation or thesis?

You will be required to defend your scholarly work in a viva format as part of your postgraduate studies.

As a masters student you will be required to take part in a dissertation defense; the general idea of this is to ensure you’ve understood your chosen topic and have learnt the skills to perform extensive research on a subject. These usually involve giving a 5 to 10 minute presentation, followed by a round of questions and answers with an internal examiner lasting up to 30 minutes (the exact process may vary depending on the educational institution).

A thesis defense or viva however requires a PhD student to present substantial information and supporting evidence to demonstrate how their research has built on previous work to contribute new information to the subject. For this reason, a viva to earn a doctorate degree can often last several hours.

Do you have to perform a literature review as part of a dissertation or thesis?

Yes you do. The main difference is that a literature review for a master’s thesis may be 1,000 to 2,000 words in length whilst for a doctoral thesis, it will be a standalone chapter of around 10,000 words.

Science Investigatory Project

A science investigatory project is a science-based research project or study that is performed by school children in a classroom, exhibition or science fair.

Concept Paper

A concept paper is a short document written by a researcher before starting their research project, explaining what the study is about, why it is needed and the methods that will be used.

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What Is a Dissertation? | Guide, Examples, & Template

Structure of a Dissertation

A dissertation is a long-form piece of academic writing based on original research conducted by you. It is usually submitted as the final step in order to finish a PhD program.

Your dissertation is probably the longest piece of writing you’ve ever completed. It requires solid research, writing, and analysis skills, and it can be intimidating to know where to begin.

Your department likely has guidelines related to how your dissertation should be structured. When in doubt, consult with your supervisor.

You can also download our full dissertation template in the format of your choice below. The template includes a ready-made table of contents with notes on what to include in each chapter, easily adaptable to your department’s requirements.

Download Word template Download Google Docs template

Table of contents

Dissertation committee and prospectus process, how to write and structure a dissertation, acknowledgements or preface, list of figures and tables, list of abbreviations, introduction, literature review, methodology, reference list, proofreading and editing, defending your dissertation, free checklist and lecture slides.

When you’ve finished your coursework, as well as any comprehensive exams or other requirements, you advance to “ABD” (All But Dissertation) status. This means you’ve completed everything except your dissertation.

Prior to starting to write, you must form your committee and write your prospectus or proposal . Your committee comprises your adviser and a few other faculty members. They can be from your own department, or, if your work is more interdisciplinary, from other departments. Your committee will guide you through the dissertation process, and ultimately decide whether you pass your dissertation defense and receive your PhD.

Your prospectus is a formal document presented to your committee, usually orally in a defense, outlining your research aims and objectives and showing why your topic is relevant . After passing your prospectus defense, you’re ready to start your research and writing.

The structure of your dissertation depends on a variety of factors, such as your discipline, topic, and approach. Dissertations in the humanities are often structured more like a long essay , building an overall argument to support a central thesis , with chapters organized around different themes or case studies.

However, hard science and social science dissertations typically include a review of existing works, a methodology section, an analysis of your original research, and a presentation of your results , presented in different chapters.

Dissertation examples

We’ve compiled a list of dissertation examples to help you get started.

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phd is thesis or dissertation

The very first page of your document contains your dissertation title, your name, department, institution, degree program, and submission date. Sometimes it also includes your student number, your supervisor’s name, and the university’s logo.

Read more about title pages

The acknowledgements section is usually optional and gives space for you to thank everyone who helped you in writing your dissertation. This might include your supervisors, participants in your research, and friends or family who supported you. In some cases, your acknowledgements are part of a preface.

Read more about acknowledgements Read more about prefaces

The abstract is a short summary of your dissertation, usually about 150 to 300 words long. Though this may seem very short, it’s one of the most important parts of your dissertation, because it introduces your work to your audience.

Your abstract should:

Read more about abstracts

The table of contents lists all of your chapters, along with corresponding subheadings and page numbers. This gives your reader an overview of your structure and helps them easily navigate your document.

Remember to include all main parts of your dissertation in your table of contents, even the appendices. It’s easy to generate a table automatically in Word if you used heading styles. Generally speaking, you only include level 2 and level 3 headings, not every subheading you included in your finished work.

Read more about tables of contents

While not usually mandatory, it’s nice to include a list of figures and tables to help guide your reader if you have used a lot of these in your dissertation. It’s easy to generate one of these in Word using the Insert Caption feature.

Read more about lists of figures and tables

Similarly, if you have used a lot of abbreviations (especially industry-specific ones) in your dissertation, you can include them in an alphabetized list of abbreviations so that the reader can easily look up their meanings.

Read more about lists of abbreviations

In addition to the list of abbreviations, if you find yourself using a lot of highly specialized terms that you worry will not be familiar to your reader, consider including a glossary. Here, alphabetize the terms and include a brief description or definition.

Read more about glossaries

The introduction serves to set up your dissertation’s topic, purpose, and relevance. It tells the reader what to expect in the rest of your dissertation. The introduction should:

Everything in the introduction should be clear, engaging, and relevant. By the end, the reader should understand the what, why, and how of your research.

Read more about introductions

A formative part of your research is your literature review . This helps you gain a thorough understanding of the academic work that already exists on your topic.

Literature reviews encompass:

A literature review is not merely a summary of existing sources. Your literature review should have a coherent structure and argument that leads to a clear justification for your own research. It may aim to:

Read more about literature reviews

Theoretical framework

Your literature review can often form the basis for your theoretical framework. Here, you define and analyze the key theories, concepts, and models that frame your research.

Read more about theoretical frameworks

Your methodology chapter describes how you conducted your research, allowing your reader to critically assess its credibility. Your methodology section should accurately report what you did, as well as convince your reader that this was the best way to answer your research question.

A methodology section should generally include:

Read more about methodology sections

Your results section should highlight what your methodology discovered. You can structure this section around sub-questions, hypotheses , or themes, but avoid including any subjective or speculative interpretation here.

Your results section should:

Additional data (including raw numbers, full questionnaires, or interview transcripts) can be included as an appendix. You can include tables and figures, but only if they help the reader better understand your results. Read more about results sections

Your discussion section is your opportunity to explore the meaning and implications of your results in relation to your research question. Here, interpret your results in detail, discussing whether they met your expectations and how well they fit with the framework that you built in earlier chapters. Refer back to relevant source material to show how your results fit within existing research in your field.

Some guiding questions include:

If any of the results were unexpected, offer explanations for why this might be. It’s a good idea to consider alternative interpretations of your data.

Read more about discussion sections

Your dissertation’s conclusion should concisely answer your main research question, leaving your reader with a clear understanding of your central argument and emphasizing what your research has contributed to the field.

In some disciplines, the conclusion is just a short section preceding the discussion section, but in other contexts, it is the final chapter of your work. Here, you wrap up your dissertation with a final reflection on what you found, with recommendations for future research and concluding remarks.

It’s important to leave the reader with a clear impression of why your research matters. What have you added to what was already known? Why is your research necessary for the future of your field?

Read more about conclusions

It is crucial to include a reference list or list of works cited with the full details of all the sources that you used, in order to avoid plagiarism. Be sure to choose one citation style and follow it consistently throughout your dissertation. Each style has strict and specific formatting requirements.

Common styles include MLA , Chicago , and APA , but which style you use is often set by your department or your field.

Create APA citations Create MLA citations

Your dissertation should contain only essential information that directly contributes to answering your research question. Documents such as interview transcripts or survey questions can be added as appendices, rather than adding them to the main body.

Read more about appendices

Making sure that all of your sections are in the right place is only the first step to a well-written dissertation. Don’t forget to leave plenty of time for editing and proofreading, as grammar mistakes and sloppy spelling errors can really negatively impact your work.

Dissertations can take up to five years to write, so you will definitely want to make sure that everything is perfect before submitting. You may want to consider using a professional dissertation editing service to make sure your final project is perfect prior to submitting.

After your written dissertation is approved, your committee will schedule a defense. Similarly to defending your prospectus, dissertation defenses are oral presentations of your work. You’ll present your dissertation, and your committee will ask you questions. Many departments allow family members, friends, and other people who are interested to join as well.

After your defense, your committee will meet, and then inform you whether you have passed. Keep in mind that defenses are usually just a formality; most committees will have resolved any serious issues with your work with you far prior to your defense, giving you ample time to fix any problems.

As you write your dissertation, you can use this simple checklist to make sure you’ve included all the essentials.

Checklist: Dissertation

My title page includes all information required by my university.

I have included acknowledgements thanking those who helped me.

My abstract provides a concise summary of the dissertation, giving the reader a clear idea of my key results or arguments.

I have created a table of contents to help the reader navigate my dissertation. It includes all chapter titles, but excludes the title page, acknowledgements, and abstract.

My introduction leads into my topic in an engaging way and shows the relevance of my research.

My introduction clearly defines the focus of my research, stating my research questions and research objectives .

My introduction includes an overview of the dissertation’s structure (reading guide).

I have conducted a literature review in which I (1) critically engage with sources, evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of existing research, (2) discuss patterns, themes, and debates in the literature, and (3) address a gap or show how my research contributes to existing research.

I have clearly outlined the theoretical framework of my research, explaining the theories and models that support my approach.

I have thoroughly described my methodology , explaining how I collected data and analyzed data.

I have concisely and objectively reported all relevant results .

I have (1) evaluated and interpreted the meaning of the results and (2) acknowledged any important limitations of the results in my discussion .

I have clearly stated the answer to my main research question in the conclusion .

I have clearly explained the implications of my conclusion, emphasizing what new insight my research has contributed.

I have provided relevant recommendations for further research or practice.

If relevant, I have included appendices with supplemental information.

I have included an in-text citation every time I use words, ideas, or information from a source.

I have listed every source in a reference list at the end of my dissertation.

I have consistently followed the rules of my chosen citation style .

I have followed all formatting guidelines provided by my university.


The end is in sight—your dissertation is nearly ready to submit! Make sure it's perfectly polished with the help of a Scribbr editor.

If you’re an educator, feel free to download and adapt these slides to teach your students about structuring a dissertation.

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Dissertation vs thesis: what’s the difference?

phd is thesis or dissertation

Since 2006, Oxbridge Essays has been the UK’s leading paid essay-writing and dissertation service

We have helped 10,000s of undergraduate, Masters and PhD students to maximise their grades in essays, dissertations, model-exam answers, applications and other materials. If you would like a free chat about your project with one of our UK staff, then please just reach out on one of the methods below.

First thoughts

The summer seems a very long way away, particularly during a COVID lockdown when normal university life seems suspended. But round about now is when students begin thinking about their thesis dissertation. If you were hoping for a flash of inspiration to strike later on, remember that ‘chance only favours the well-prepared mind’!

When it comes to your thesis dissertation, it’s always good to start early. You can gather ideas, run initial thoughts past lecturers, and do some preliminary reading, at leisure. Your library can start retrieving your hard-to-find research materials. And the weeks, sometimes months, they take to arrive won’t stress you out! Meanwhile, you can set to work on initial thesis dissertations ideas. If, for whatever reason, they stop working out, you can discard them without penalty. There's ample time to come up with something new.

Often, initial ideas for the thesis dissertation are far too ambitious. They tend to be loose, baggy monsters, so broad in scope that they cannot tamed with even the most ingenious research and structure. Starting on your thesis dissertation now gives you time to step back and reflect. It gives you time to make good, strategic choices, without kettling yourself into a corner with limited time and no alternatives.

What is a thesis dissertation?

What precisely is a thesis dissertation? Strangely, this is a question often overlooked by both students and lecturers alike. Perhaps where you are studying it’s just called a ‘dissertation’ or a ‘thesis’. At which point, the question becomes: dissertation versus thesis – what’s the difference? This blog post attempts to answer just that question. It also shows how you can move forward in your studies, by understanding the difference between a dissertation and a thesis.

For undergraduates

If you are an undergraduate and have been tasked with writing a dissertation, this differs to a dissertation (or thesis) at postgraduate level.

The task you have been set is what many departments at the University of Oxford continue to call the ‘long essay’. This is an extended form that mimics the kind of written work that you’ve already been submitting throughout the year. It may be more ambitious than those other pieces of work. It may use more primary and secondary sources, and will likely be longer. But, overall, it will be similar in form and structure to your usual essays.

Be aware, though, that this is not always the case.

Recently, digital technologies have made research materials more readily accessible to larger audiences. In response, traditional long essays are evolving to resemble higher degree research. Oxford’s Faculty of History has been something of a pioneer in transferring undergraduates from ‘long essays’ to ‘theses’. ‘The thesis offers you the opportunity to engage in primary research on a subject of your own revising, and to work out arguments which are entirely your own, not a synthesis of the conclusions of others’, they explain, ‘[...] Some undergraduate theses are so good that they are ready to be published as they stand’ (University of Oxford, 2020).

The 12,000-word limit of these new undergraduate theses is comparable to that found in peer-reviewed journals. And other universities are following suit. They, too, are making changes towards this new research-based dissertation thesis model.

At the time of writing, these new research-based undergraduate theses are still quite rare. For now, the thesis dissertation remains central to organisation of higher, postgraduate degrees.

What the books say

Commercial press literature doesn't help much when it comes to the thesis versus dissertation discussion. Savvy writers and publishers are eager for as broad a readership – and as many library catalogue search hits – as possible. Because of this, they tend to hedge their bets when it comes to their choice of title.

Patrick Dunleavy goes with Authoring a PhD Thesis: How to Plan, Draft, Write and Finish a Doctoral Dissertation (2003). Joan Balker chooses Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day: A Guide to Starting, Revising, and Finishing Your Doctoral Thesis (1998).

Others bring the terms closer together. Randy L. Jayner chooses Writing the winning thesis or dissertation: a step-by-step guide (2018). R. Murray Thomas markets Avoiding Thesis and Dissertation Pitfalls: 61 Cases of Problems and Solutions (2001).

The thesis versus dissertation terminology gets even more strained as you move beyond the covers. Inger Mewburn’s How to Tame Your PhD (2013) discusses ‘the oddities of the thesis/dissertation process’. Fred Pyrczak does the same in his Completing Your Thesis or Dissertation (2000), ‘a book to help students with the thesis/dissertation’.

It’s a short skip from Nineties-looking ‘thesis/dissertation’ (complete with forward slash or oblique). And, from there, to the hybrid ‘thesis dissertation’ term that we’ve used so far. This is a term that can be spotted in Alet Kruger’s Corpus-Based Translation Studies (2011). It is also in Antonio Blanco’s Medical Biochemistry (2017), and many other books and publications.

phd is thesis or dissertation

Thesis and dissertation: a brief history

As the two terms blend, it is becoming harder to recognise the difference between 'thesis' and 'dissertation'. The appearance of the new 'thesis dissertation' catch-all doesn't help much either.

Historical usage offers a much-needed point of clarity. In the UK, the extended piece of work done at the end of a master’s degree has traditionally been called a ‘dissertation’. This has been the case since the seventeenth century. The long piece of work done as the primary requirement for a PhD has been called a ‘thesis’ for almost as long.

Cultural influences from America have unsettled these once-fixed definitions. Until the early twentieth century, America followed Britain closely when it came to the use of 'thesis' and dissertation.

Recording Dan Dodson vs The State, the Records and Briefs of the Supreme Court (1832) is one of the earliest mentions of the ‘doctoral thesis’ in America. ‘I have a doctoral thesis on this problem and it tends to say that the new building, at least in a short run, didn’t make that much difference’. As late as 1919, the University of Chicago’s Circular of Information, recorded the ‘Master’s Dissertation’ passed.

By the mid-1960s, however, the terms in America had reversed. The archives begin to discuss and cite the ‘Master’s Thesis’ and ‘Doctoral Dissertation’. The reason for this switch remains unclear. The classical etymologies of the terms don’t point to any distinction that might be pertinent to a dissertation vs thesis debate. ‘Dissertation’ comes from the Latin ‘dissertatio’ meaning ‘discussion or debate’. ‘Thesis’ comes from a Greek/late Latin ‘thesis’ meaning ‘placing, a proposition’. The origins of these words seem to allow for a flexible interchangeability. The fact that ‘dissertation’ and ‘thesis’ traded meanings in America indicate as much too.

It is anyone’s guess why America started referring to ‘Master’s Theses’ and ‘Doctoral Dissertations’. And this after more than a century of ‘Master’s Dissertations’ and ‘Doctoral Theses’.

In post-war America, there was an expansion of liberal arts colleges in America. This was accompanied by a proliferation of higher degrees. The master’s degree quickly became more significant, financially, than the doctoral degree. And it may be that, in this transition, the 'thesis' was transplanted over, from doctoral student to master’s, in an act of linguistic grade inflation.

American universities and colleges wanted their master’s students to feel proud and clever. In engineering this, they handed over the ‘thesis’ term from their more advanced doctoral counterparts.

The confusion that we witness in the Dissertation vs Thesis UK debate today is due to the exporting of these revised terms back from America to the UK. Their effect is amplified because of the increasing globalisation of higher education. Their effect is also amplified by a larger trans-Atlantic cultural homogenisation.

We have, then, considered two forces operating on the language of thesis dissertation. There is this American muddling of the traditional thesis/dissertation hierarchy. And there is a second, similar process at work, in the upgrade of undergraduate 'long essay' to 'dissertation' or 'thesis'. It is no longer practical or possible to draw a hard distinction between a thesis and a dissertation.

Interestingly, the confusion has not only resulted in the necessity of the ‘thesis dissertation’ hybrid term. It has, more sinisterly, afforded opportunities for unscrupulous academics to exaggerate their qualifications.

Potential for abuse

Recently, a public complaint was made against a British lecturer. This lecturer had listed postgraduate qualifications on his staff profile page. All of them were from prestigious universities.

For many years, these went unchecked and unchallenged. But, recently, one member of the public read the lecturer, bragging on social media that he’d been awarded a First for his research thesis.

The member of the public was sceptical of the truth of this claim. Postgraduate research degrees are not classified like undergraduate ones. They were unable to locate the lecturer’s thesis in centralised research catalogues. The complainant soon discovered the lecturer's postgraduate qualifications were actually undergraduate level. They were continuing education diplomas. These diplomas are a fine achievement for those who work hard to get them. But they are a far cry from the postgraduate qualifications from topflight universities that the academic had suggested.

At the time of writing, the academic’s qualifications were being investigated by his own university. They were also being investigated by the national Office for Students.

You can check people's CV claims by knowing about the different types of ‘thesis dissertations’. You can spot fraudulent behaviour when it comes your way! More usefully, knowing those differences allows you to judge what is expected of you, at whichever level you are studying.

Summary of differences

Writing a thesis dissertation at any level can be daunting, particularly if you’ve never attempted one before. If you’re unsure what your thesis dissertation should be, the best thing you can do is to read a few recent examples from your department or speak to your dissertation supervisor. How easy this is to do highlights one major difference between thesis and dissertation. What follows, to conclude, is a list of those major differences.

phd is thesis or dissertation

1. Accessibility and assessment

Undergraduate long essays are sometimes called dissertations or theses. These are internally assessed and not made publicly accessible. You will only be able to read them if you borrow them from former students or ask your lecturer for outstanding examples from previous years.

Master’s dissertations, also internally assessed, are stored either in departmental libraries and/or the university library. These can usually be accessed by physically visiting the library. More conveniently, master’s dissertations can also be requested via the UK’s Interlibrary loan agreement.

PhD theses, once externally examined, are stored both in the library of the host university and the national British Library. Theses are searchable through the British Library's online ETHOS catalogue.

As a rule, the greater the ease of public access, the more significant or important the thesis dissertation is deemed to be. The same is true of the use of external staff. Undergraduate and master’s-level courses are internally marked and externally moderated. Higher profile PhD theses are always externally examined.

Finally, undergraduate degrees are the only ones that receive grades or classifications. Master’s and PhD aren't classified – just a simple question of pass or fail.

2. Duration of study

In the UK, master’s degrees take one or two years of full-time study. The master’s dissertation is a significant component of that study. This is less so the case in special MRes or ‘master’s by research degrees’, where the dissertation plays a more central role in the course of study.

By contrast, PhDs take a minimum of three years. In practice, the PhD thesis is the sole work of a doctoral student. Any other study requirements, if any, are very limited by comparison.

3. Word count

The prescribed word count for thesis dissertations is indicative of the academic level at which they are pitched. Undergraduate dissertations tend to be no longer than 12,000 words. Master’s dissertations run at closer to 40,000. PhD theses usually clock in at 80,000 to 120,000 words. PhDs in Fine Art with a practice component tend to be shorter as they work alongside an exhibition of artwork.

If you are studying for a PhD, it’s worth noting that academic publishers prefer to publish new academics writing towards that minimum. If publishing is one of your postdoctoral ambitions, sticking to the lower limit could save you years of rewriting!

Original contribution to knowledge

Any student at any level of study can have an original thought, and it is always hugely satisfying to read when it occurs.

At undergraduate level, originality tends to be defined relatively loosely. A thoughtful synthesis of existing ideas is, in practice, usually assessed as original thinking, even if it isn’t, strictly original.

Original thinking an often be found in a master’s dissertation. But the emphasis continues to be on that synthesis of existing knowledge. Master’s students are expected to know the literature around their chosen subject thoroughly and have done their research. They are expected to demonstrate an expert command of its arguments. This is what they are primarily assessed on.

PhD theses, however, are made or broken by their original contribution to knowledge. Expert understanding of the subject tends to be relegated to an early literature review chapter. Out of review emerges a central, truly original idea, that propels the rest of the thesis.

As we have already seen, undergraduate theses can, in exceptional cases, be publishable. PhD theses, on the other hand, are far more ambitious with regards to publication. Their successful completion marks the first step in professional, academic career.

Choosing an academic editor

We hope this blog post has cleared up any confusion you might have had about the difference between dissertation and thesis. A final note: at every level – undergraduate, master’s, or doctoral – meticulous presentation, correct referencing, appropriate register, robust argumentation, and strong evidence for those arguments are always rewarded.

Furthermore, the higher the level of degree, the more all these things are expected. Choosing an academic editor who knows your subject well is important at undergraduate level. But at master’s and PhD level, it becomes crucial. Those higher degrees are predicated on expert knowledge of the field and original contribution to knowledge.

Whoever you approach as an editor, always ask what direct experience they have that relates to your work. If the experience they state seems cursory or adjunct, be prepared to walk away and find someone else more familiar with your chosen field.

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How to find resources by format

Why use a dissertation or a thesis.

A dissertation is the final large research paper, based on original research, for many disciplines to be able to complete a PhD degree. The thesis is the same idea but for a masters degree.

They are often considered scholarly sources since they are closely supervised by a committee, are directed at an academic audience, are extensively researched, follow research methodology, and are cited in other scholarly work. Often the research is newer or answering questions that are more recent, and can help push scholarship in new directions. 

Search for dissertations and theses

Locating dissertations and theses.

The Proquest Dissertations and Theses Global database includes doctoral dissertations and selected masters theses from major universities worldwide.

NDLTD – Networked Digital Library of Theses and Dissertations provides free online access to a over a million theses and dissertations from all over the world.

WorldCat Dissertations and Theses searches library catalogs from across the U.S. and worldwide.

Locating University of Minnesota Dissertations and Theses

Use  Libraries search  and search by title or author and add the word "thesis" in the search box. Write down the library and call number and find it on the shelf. They can be checked out.

Check the  University Digital Conservancy  for online access to dissertations and theses from 2007 to present as well as historic, scanned theses from 1887-1923.

Other Sources for Dissertations and Theses

University of Minnesota Dissertations and Theses FAQs

What dissertations and theses are available.

With minor exceptions, all doctoral dissertations and all "Plan A" master's theses accepted by the University of Minnesota are available in the University Libraries system. In some cases (see below) only a non-circulating copy in University Archives exists, but for doctoral dissertations from 1940 to date, and for master's theses from 1925 to date, a circulating copy should almost always be available.

"Plan B" papers, accepted in the place of a thesis in many master's degree programs, are not received by the University Libraries and are generally not available. (The only real exceptions are a number of old library school Plan B papers on publishing history, which have been separately cataloged.) In a few cases individual departments may have maintained files of such papers.

In what libraries are U of M dissertations and theses located?

Circulating copies of doctoral dissertations:.

Circulating copies of master's theses:

Archival copies (non-circulating)

Archival (non-circulating) copies of virtually all U of M doctoral dissertations from 1888-1952, and of U of M master's theses from all years up to the present, are maintained by University Archives (located in the Elmer L. Andersen Library). These copies must be consulted on the premises, and it is highly recommended for the present that users make an appointment in advance to ensure that the desired works can be retrieved for them from storage. For dissertations accepted prior to 1940 and for master's theses accepted prior to 1925, University Archives is generally the only option (e.g., there usually will be no circulating copy). Archival copies of U of M doctoral dissertations from 1953 to the present are maintained by Bell and Howell Corporation (formerly University Microfilms Inc.), which produces print or filmed copies from our originals upon request. (There are a very few post-1952 U of M dissertations not available from Bell and Howell; these include such things as music manuscripts and works with color illustrations or extremely large pages that will not photocopy well; in these few cases, our archival copy is retained in University Archives.)

Where is a specific dissertation of thesis located?

To locate a specific dissertation or thesis it is necessary to have its call number. Use Libraries Search for the author or title of the item, just as you would for any other book. Depending on date of acceptance and cataloging, a typical call number for such materials should look something like one of the following:

Dissertations: Plan"A" Theses MnU-D or 378.7M66 MnU-M or 378.7M66 78-342 ODR7617 83-67 OL6156 Libraries Search will also tell the library location (MLAC, Health Science Library, Magrath or another St. Paul campus library, Science and Engineering, Business Reference, Wilson Annex or Wilson Library). Those doctoral dissertations still in Wilson Library (which in all cases should be 1980 or later and will have "MnU-D" numbers) are located in the central section of the third floor. Those master's theses in Wilson (which in all cases will be 1997 or later and will have "MnU-M" numbers) are also located in the central section of the third floor. Both dissertations and theses circulate and can be checked out, like any other books, at the Wilson Circulation desk on the first floor.

How can dissertations and theses accepted by a specific department be located?

Wilson Library contains a series of bound and loose-leaf notebooks, arranged by department and within each department by date, listing dissertations and theses. Information given for each entry includes name of author, title, and date (but not call number, which must be looked up individually). These notebooks are no longer current, but they do cover listings by department from the nineteenth century up to approximately 1992. Many pre-1940 U of M dissertations and pre-1925 U of M master's theses are not cataloged (and exist only as archival copies). Such dissertations can be identified only with these volumes. The books and notebooks are shelved in the general collection under these call numbers: Wilson Ref LD3337 .A5 and Wilson Ref quarto LD3337 .U9x. Major departments of individual degree candidates are also listed under their names in the GRADUATE SCHOOL COMMENCEMENT programs of the U of M, available in University Archives and (for recent years) also in Wilson stacks (LD3361 .U55x).


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