Doctoral Thesis vs. Dissertation: 8 Basic Differences

dissertation versus thesis

In the overwhelming majority of higher educational institutions, guidelines for writing a thesis or dissertation are mostly identical, which means that both the thesis and the dissertation are similar types of postgraduate research completed by students for acquisition of a degree higher than the Master’s level. However, that’s not always the case, and in some universities, there indeed exists a distinction between these two types of research work, which you should know before starting to conduct your own study. Naming the scientific work correctly is one of the basic indicators of its comprehension, so let’s clarify the intricacies of dissertation versus thesis naming to give you the power of seeming an expert in the field.

Dissertation vs. Thesis: Basic Differences

Here is the list of most immediate distinctions the majority of representatives of academic circles name when speaking about the doctoral thesis vs. dissertation debate:

  1. ‘Thesis’ is the title of research work mostly referring to research submitted for the Master’s degree, while higher degrees’ acquisition (e.g., PhD) and research work associated with it are usually referred to as the ‘dissertation.’ Here, one may refer to the Master thesis vs. Doctoral dissertation, while in some institutions, the matter is exactly vice versa – it usually depends on the area of the world (Europe vs. the USA).
  2. It is also believed that writing a thesis demands conducting original research from its author, while the person involved in dissertation writing may base the study on the materials and information already existing in the professional field.
  3. A thesis is usually associated with an original contribution to knowledge, so a mandatory requirement for its completion is formulation of a workable and reasonably new, unexplored hypothesis, while the dissertation’s major quality criterion is expression of good knowledge of recently published research and new findings in the professional area.
  4. Thesis vs dissertation length is also a major distinctive criterion – while for a dissertation, about 20,000 words are usually enough for getting a fair grade, theses are usually written with inclusion of up to 80,000 words into the word count.
  5. These works differ by structure as well; this depends not only on the type of work, but also on the student’s specialty, as science majors are usually required to compose less text, with preference given to technical drawings and calculations in the appendices, and the humanities and arts majors are tasked with writing longer pieces of text for acquisition of a degree.
  6. Proper distinction between a thesis and a dissertation normally requires a clear understanding of the context in which the term is used; in the European context and in the USA, these terms mean different types of work. Thus, it is appropriate to check the country first before evaluating the propriety of term’s selection.
  7. Many academic advisors distinguish theses and dissertations by the depth of knowledge required from the researcher for their completion, and require a more rigorous and detailed methodological justification in theses.
  8. Most Master’s theses are limited in scope and depth as compared to Doctoral dissertation work.

Dissertation vs. Thesis: UK

In Europe, and specifically in the UK, a Doctoral thesis is a larger and more important work than the dissertation is. It is mandatory to include only original research into the thesis, while dissertations are usually submitted by the student as intermediary parts of the postgraduate research process. Hence, the thesis possesses a certain kind of seniority as compared to a dissertation in the UK context. Some experts also refer to a thesis in the UK academia as an unpublished work of a researcher seeking the Doctoral degree. However, there is also a distinction between doctoral theses and Master’s and undergraduate theses and dissertations in the UK.

Dissertation vs. Thesis: USA

The US academic institutions treat theses and dissertations radically differently from the European tradition. Here, a thesis is usually referred to as a shorter scientific work, and theses are assigned to students who have not yet reached the postgraduate education level. Hence, it is not uncommon to see references to Master’s theses and even BSc theses in the American higher education. At the same time, the completion of a dissertation is associated with post-graduate research, and here you will hear about PhD dissertations, not theses.

Defending the PhD Dissertation vs. Thesis

Since both a thesis and a dissertation may be parts of the postgraduate research, let’s distinguish the types of defense not by the name of the defended research work, but by the level of academic study for verifying which the work is prepared. That leaves us with a defense for Master’s and PhD/Doctoral level of study – one major distinction refers to the number of people involved in the defense. While Master’s-degree work may involve the defense with only a handful of people involve, and sometimes it is even enough to get the supervisor’s approval for the degree to be obtained, Doctoral research work’s defense involves the collection of a committee with a chairperson and several faculty members performing the reading and appraisal of work.

In all the rest, preparation for the defense is normally similar for both Master’s and Doctoral students and involves the following crucial steps:

  1. Since you are expected to present the research work in a coherent and confident manner to a number of committee members and sometimes even broader audience, it is strongly recommended to prepare for the defense and rehearse the presentation speech a couple of times. The key purpose of this presentation is to show that you are perfectly knowledgeable about all aspects of your study and are ready to defend all its aspects and perspectives. Thus, self-confidence and ideal knowledge of central theoretical and practical aspects of the study might be instrumental for the successful defense.
  2. In your preparation for the defense, make sure to make a proper emphasis on the personal growth and progress that you have achieved throughout the research process. A thesis/dissertation is definitely valued for the original contribution to a professional area, but your committee is also closely looking at you as a professional. Hence, being given the degree is possible only if they see how you developed during the research completion process, and how you involved with the subject.
  3. To feel comfortable during the defense, plan every single detail – choose comfortable and professionally looking clothing and shoes, examine the place in which your defense will take place to feel comfortable in a known locale, and get ready psychologically.
  4. Take the correct rhetorical approach in your presentation; while thorough knowledge of your subject will allow you to reduce stress and overcome pressure, there is also a need to show a true passion and engagement with the research subject. In such a way, you will be able to give the committee an additional reason for granting you the aspired degree.

Thesis or Dissertation: Are They So Different?

Knowing the distinctions between theses and dissertations is definitely necessary, especially for individuals planning post-graduate education, but in fact, these two types of research work are not as different as it is often depicted. Both represent a serious, lengthy, and intensive research project that requires much dedication, strong research and analytical skills, and an original contribution to the professional area of interest. Moreover, both a thesis and a dissertation serve as evidence of attaining a certain degree of expertise in terms of research organization and presentation, which is a vital part of academic work and is effectively exemplified with interesting, original, and valuable research samples. Finally, these two types of research are commonly characterized with an identical structure; as a rule, each of thesis and dissertation works has to contain an introduction, a detailed background overview of existing literature, a clearly detailed methodology, presentation of original empirical or theoretical study findings, their discussion, and conclusions on the subject.