Most master's degree programs require you to successfully complete a thesis to graduate, while most doctoral degree programs require you to complete a dissertation to graduate successfully. This statement shows the main difference between a thesis and a dissertation.
The main difference between a dissertation and a thesis is the programs that require it, the time they are completed, and the purpose for which each is written.
In this article, you will discover every significant difference between a thesis and a dissertation. By the time you are done reading this, you will be able to clearly explain to anyone the difference between the two types of academic papers.
A thesis is an academic paper that you will need to complete near the end of your master's degree program to be allowed to graduate. The overwhelming majority of master's degree programs require you to complete a thesis before you are allowed to graduate successfully. Do not confuse this with the thesis statement, which is the controlling idea in an essay or research paper.
Some undergraduate degree programs also require you to complete a thesis paper before graduation. Undergraduate thesis papers are usually shorter than master's thesis papers. However, it is crucial to note that while undergraduate programs that require people to write a thesis exist, they are not very common.
The most common type of thesis paper, the master's degree thesis paper, is typically written on a very specific topic. Furthermore, the topic is always (100 per cent) related to the master's degree program. For example, when doing a master's degree program in nutrition, your thesis will most likely focus on a topic in the field of nutrition. It will never focus on an unrelated study area such as aviation, biochemistry, or physics.
The most common way to write a thesis paper on a particular topic is to review the existing research that has been done on the topic. After the review, you are supposed to form a thesis statement or central argument and then utilize the research you gathered to support the thesis statement.
What type of format does a typical thesis paper follow? Well, it depends on your university. Most universities have their own specific thesis paper formats. Sometimes even individual departments/colleges have their own thesis paper formatting requirements that must be followed.
While different universities and departments have their own formatting requirements that must be followed, most thesis papers have the same structural elements. These elements include a title page, an abstract, a table of contents, a table of figures, a body, and a conclusion.
A dissertation is a unique academic paper you will need to write and defend near the end of your doctoral degree program. The objective of writing a dissertation is twofold; to prove your knowledge and skills and to enhance the existing knowledge in the field that your paper focuses on.
Since doctoral students write dissertation papers, they usually already have plenty of knowledge of whatever they study. Therefore, when they write dissertation papers, they do it not to explore or prove something within a field of study but to present a new hypothesis or theory. Because of this, one can conclude that dissertation papers are more complex than thesis papers.
In most cases, doctoral programs are organized so that you take the course, successfully complete qualifying exams, and then write your dissertation paper. However, this is not the only way they are organized. In some cases, doctoral programs are organized so that you do the dissertation as part of your course. No need to take the course first and then complete qualifying exams. Doctoral programs that include writing a dissertation as part of the course enable students to graduate faster.
Dissertations are written roughly the same way thesis papers are written. You choose a topic, do a literature review (analyze existing results), and develop a new theory/hypothesis (a theory that debunks or improves an existing one). Because more needs to be covered when writing a dissertation, dissertations are usually much longer than masters or master's thesis programs. They also take much longer to write.
Once you write your dissertation, you will need to defend it. Defending a dissertation is the process of explaining your new theory to a committee of scholars in your field. Many doctoral students consider it the most challenging part of their doctoral experience. However, while defending a dissertation can be intimidating, nothing feels more exciting to a doctoral student than the news of a successful dissertation defense.
When writing your dissertation, you must include all the elements your university or department asks you to include. In general, the elements that doctoral candidates are expected to include in their dissertation papers include a title page, an acknowledgments page, an abstract, a table of contents, an introduction, a literature review, a methodology, a findings chapter, a discussion chapter, a conclusion, a reference list, and an appendices page.
The above paragraph shows that you need to include more elements when writing a dissertation than when writing a thesis.
Check out our related guide on how to choose a good topic for your dissertation or thesis.
As you can see above, there are many differences between a typical master's thesis and a typical dissertation. In this section, you will discover the similarities between a thesis and a dissertation.
Check out this related read: How to write a literature review.
In the US and in most places around the world, a thesis is an academic paper you write toward the fulfilment of your master's degree, while a dissertation is an academic paper you write toward the fulfilment of your doctoral degree. The situation is the opposite in the UK and in many European countries. You write a dissertation toward the fulfilment of your master's degree and a thesis toward fulfilling your doctoral degree.
Because a dissertation is written in the UK as part of a master's degree program, it is also known as a master's dissertation. Similarly, because a thesis is written in the UK as part of a doctorate degree program, it is also known as a doctoral thesis.
So when you read or hear about a master's dissertation in the UK, you should know it is the equivalent of a master's thesis in the US and the rest of the world. And when you read or hear about a doctoral thesis in the US, you should know it is the equivalent of a dissertation in the US and the rest of the world.
Since a master's dissertation in the UK is the same as a thesis in the US, you should expect it to have the same structure as a thesis if you are an American looking at a master's dissertation. Similarly, if you are a Brit looking at an American thesis, you should expect it to have the same structure as a master's dissertation in the UK.
The case is the same for the doctoral thesis. If you are an American looking at a Brit doctoral thesis, you should expect it to have the same structure as a dissertation in the US. Again, if you are a Brit looking at an American dissertation, you should expect it to have the same format as a doctoral thesis in the UK.
Related Reading: Tips to write a dissertation or thesis paper fast.
You also know that the meaning of a thesis in the US is not the meaning of a thesis in the UK. In the US, a thesis is done at the master's level, while in the UK, it is the name of the project done at the doctorate level. Similarly, a dissertation in the US does not mean the same thing as a dissertation in the UK. In the US, a dissertation is the main paper written at the doctorate level, while in the UK, it is the name of the paper written at the master's level.
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