Dissertation vs. Thesis

What's the Difference?

A dissertation and a thesis are both academic research papers that are required for the completion of a graduate degree. However, there are some key differences between the two. A thesis is typically shorter in length and focuses on a specific research question or hypothesis. It is usually required for a master's degree. On the other hand, a dissertation is longer and more comprehensive, often involving original research and contributing new knowledge to the field. It is typically required for a doctoral degree. Additionally, while a thesis is usually written by an individual student, a dissertation often involves collaboration with a faculty advisor or committee.


DefinitionA long research paper submitted for a doctoral degreeA research paper submitted for a master's degree
LengthUsually longer, ranging from 150-300 pagesRelatively shorter, ranging from 80-100 pages
ScopeTypically covers a broader research areaUsually focuses on a specific research topic
OriginalityExpected to contribute new knowledge to the fieldExpected to demonstrate mastery of existing knowledge
Academic LevelDoctoralMaster's
SupervisionOften requires a committee of advisorsUsually supervised by a single advisor
TimeframeTakes several years to completeTakes several months to a year to complete
PublicationMay be published as a book or scholarly articleMay be published as a scholarly article

Further Detail


When pursuing higher education, particularly at the graduate level, students often encounter the terms "dissertation" and "thesis." While these terms are sometimes used interchangeably, they actually refer to distinct academic research projects. In this article, we will explore the attributes of dissertations and theses, highlighting their similarities and differences.

Definition and Purpose

A dissertation is a comprehensive research project typically required for the completion of a doctoral degree. It involves original research and the contribution of new knowledge to the field of study. On the other hand, a thesis is a research project required for the completion of a master's degree. It also involves original research, but to a lesser extent compared to a dissertation.

Both dissertations and theses serve as a demonstration of a student's ability to conduct independent research, analyze data, and present their findings in a scholarly manner. They provide an opportunity for students to delve deep into a specific topic of interest and make a valuable contribution to their academic discipline.

Length and Scope

One of the primary differences between dissertations and theses lies in their length and scope. Dissertations are typically longer and more extensive than theses. A dissertation can range from 80,000 to 100,000 words or more, while a thesis is usually around 20,000 to 40,000 words.

Due to their larger scope, dissertations often require more extensive research, data collection, and analysis. They may involve multiple chapters, such as an introduction, literature review, methodology, results, discussion, and conclusion. Theses, on the other hand, may have fewer chapters and a more focused structure.

Academic Level and Degree Requirements

Another important distinction between dissertations and theses is the academic level at which they are required and the corresponding degree requirements. Dissertations are typically associated with doctoral programs, such as Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) or Doctor of Education (Ed.D.). These programs often require students to complete a dissertation as the final step towards earning their degree.

Theses, on the other hand, are commonly associated with master's programs, such as Master of Science (M.S.) or Master of Arts (M.A.). While some master's programs may require a thesis, others may offer a non-thesis option where students can complete additional coursework or a capstone project instead.

Timeframe and Research Duration

Given the differences in length and scope, dissertations and theses also vary in terms of the timeframe and research duration required to complete them. Dissertations often take several years to complete, as they involve extensive research, data collection, and analysis. Doctoral students may spend several years conducting their research, writing their dissertation, and defending it before a committee.

Theses, on the other hand, can typically be completed within a shorter timeframe, usually ranging from one to two years. Master's students may have more flexibility in terms of research duration, as the scope of their project is generally narrower compared to a dissertation.

Publication and Audience

While both dissertations and theses contribute to the body of knowledge in their respective fields, they differ in terms of publication and audience. Dissertations are often published in academic journals or as standalone books, as they represent significant contributions to the field. They are typically read and evaluated by experts in the specific discipline.

Theses, on the other hand, are less likely to be published and are primarily intended for a narrower audience, such as the student's academic advisor, committee members, and other students within the program. However, this may vary depending on the significance and novelty of the research conducted in the thesis.


In summary, dissertations and theses are both important research projects that demonstrate a student's ability to conduct independent research and contribute to their academic field. While dissertations are typically associated with doctoral programs and require more extensive research and analysis, theses are commonly required for master's programs and have a narrower scope. Understanding the attributes and distinctions between dissertations and theses is crucial for students embarking on their graduate studies, as it helps them navigate the requirements and expectations of their respective programs.

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