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Difference between a Dissertation and a Thesis

Beginning a graduate program can be an exciting experience. The fact is that regardless if you’re obtaining a doctoral degree, or a master’s you will be required to complete an original research project. This is the main goal of graduate school, and what the project is will depend on your degree program.

It’s common for the words “dissertation” and “thesis” to be used interchangeably, but this has led to some confusion over what each term actually means. The structure is the main similarity between the thesis and the dissertation. Both projects require an introduction, bibliography, literary review, appendix, main body, and conclusion. However, the similarities basically end here, as the two are not that similar.

Main Points to Consider

In the United States, the word “thesis” refers to a master’s degree program’s final project, where the dissertation ends a doctoral program. Students going to school for their master’s degree must conduct research on a certain subject that uses the knowledge they accumulated during their program. On the other hand, obtaining your PhD is different. It is different because it requires students to contribute something in your field that is undiscovered and new. What this means is that the information needs to be completely original. Hence, the main difference between the two is that amount of knowledge you must collect to write your paper.

In general, a thesis for your master’s degree is more like that of a research paper you would complete during your coursework. You are only allowed to use others’ research, while providing an in-depth analysis of your own regarding your discoveries. It is meant to demonstrate your level of analytical and critical thinking, as well as defining the subject matter you’re most interested in from your chosen field. On the other hand, a dissertation requires you to use others’ research simply as a guide; you will need to come up with an entirely new hypothesis and research it on your own.

The last major difference between dissertations and thesis papers is the length of the writing. A thesis paper for a master’s degree program is usually 100 pages or more. Conversely, a dissertation can be double or even triple this length. The length of each will vary by school, so simply ask your grad school what length you are looking at.

In the end, although many people use the words dissertation and thesis interchangeably, the words differ more than you may think. With the only major similarity being the structure of the paper, the differences are far and wide. For this reason make sure you clarify from your school exactly what is expected of you!


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