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Thesis vs. Dissertation: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Janet White || Published on November 5, 2023
A thesis is usually a project for a master's degree, while a dissertation is for a doctoral degree.

Key Differences

A thesis typically refers to a written document that demonstrates a student's research and findings in partial fulfillment for a master's degree. On the contrary, a dissertation usually denotes a substantial original research project undertaken for a doctoral degree.
In the academic journey, the thesis often comes before the dissertation. A student may work on a thesis during their master's program, whereas the dissertation is tackled during doctoral studies. Though both are rigorous, a dissertation's depth and scope often exceed that of a thesis.
While the thesis demonstrates a student's grasp of a specific subject and the prevailing research, a dissertation contributes new knowledge or a fresh perspective to the field. This distinction is vital, as a dissertation generally demands a novel hypothesis or methodology.
Both the thesis and dissertation culminate in a defense, where the student presents their work and answers questions from a committee. However, defending a dissertation is typically more intense than a thesis defense because of the expectation that doctoral candidates are pushing boundaries in their fields.
The process of creating a thesis or dissertation involves significant research, writing, and revision. While a thesis may explore a particular aspect of a topic in depth, a dissertation delves deeper, aiming to fill knowledge gaps or challenge prevailing theories.

Comparison Chart

Degree Associated

Doctoral (Ph.D.)


Demonstrates understanding
Contributes new knowledge

Position in Academic Journey

Usually precedes dissertation
Follows a thesis


May or may not be original
Expected to be original

Defense Rigor

Generally less intense
More detailed and intense

Thesis and Dissertation Definitions


A project to test a student's capabilities.
She defended her thesis brilliantly.


An extensive research document contributing new knowledge.
The dissertation offered a fresh perspective on the topic.


A proposition to be maintained or proved.
The main thesis of his argument was compelling.


A substantial paper often based on original research.
Peer reviews for his dissertation were overwhelmingly positive.


A long essay or research report.
He spent months refining his thesis.


A written project for a doctoral degree.
His dissertation on molecular biology took three years to complete.


An assertion or claim in academic writing.
The author's thesis was clear in the introduction.


A document representing an author's advanced research.
She received accolades for her groundbreaking dissertation.


A proposition that is maintained by argument.


A treatise advancing a new viewpoint resulting from research.
The university published her dissertation in a renowned journal.


A dissertation advancing an original point of view as a result of research, especially as a requirement for an academic degree.


A lengthy, formal treatise, especially one written by a candidate for the doctoral degree at a university; a thesis.


A hypothetical proposition, especially one put forth without proof.


A formal exposition of a subject, especially a research paper that students write in order to complete the requirements for a doctoral degree in the US and a non-doctoral degree in the UK; a thesis.
Write a dissertation
Write up a dissertation
Hand in a dissertation
Complete a dissertation


The first stage of the Hegelian dialectic process.


A lengthy lecture on a subject; a treatise; a discourse; a sermon.


The long or accented part of a metrical foot, especially in quantitative verse.


A formal or elaborate argumentative discourse, oral or written; a disquisition; an essay; a discussion; as, Dissertations on the Prophecies.


The unaccented or short part of a metrical foot, especially in accentual verse.


A treatise advancing a new point of view resulting from research; usually a requirement for an advanced academic degree


(Music) The accented section of a measure.


Senses relating to logic, rhetoric, etc.


(rhetoric) A proposition or statement supported by arguments.


(by extension) A lengthy essay written to establish the validity of a thesis (sense 1.1), especially one submitted in order to complete the requirements for a non-doctoral degree in the US and a doctoral degree in the UK; a dissertation.


A conjecture, especially one too vague to be formally stated or verified but useful as a working convention.


(logic) An affirmation, or distinction from a supposition or hypothesis.


(philosophy) In the dialectical method of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel: the initial stage of reasoning where a formal statement of a point is developed; this is followed by antithesis and synthesis.


Senses relating to music and prosody.


The action of lowering the hand or bringing down the foot when indicating a rhythm; hence, an accented part of a measure of music or verse indicated by this action; an ictus, a stress.


A depression of the voice when pronouncing a syllables of a word; hence, the unstressed part of the metrical foot of a verse upon which such a depression falls, or an unaccented musical note.


A position or proposition which a person advances and offers to maintain, or which is actually maintained by argument.


Hence, an essay or dissertation written upon specific or definite theme; especially, an essay presented by a candidate for a diploma or degree.
I told them of the grave, becoming, and sublime deportment they should assume upon this mystical occasion, and read them two homilies and a thesis of my own composing, to prepare them.


An affirmation, or distinction from a supposition or hypothesis.


The accented part of the measure, expressed by the downward beat; - the opposite of arsis.


The depression of the voice in pronouncing the syllables of a word.


An unproved statement put forward as a premise in an argument


A treatise advancing a new point of view resulting from research; usually a requirement for an advanced academic degree


A document submitted for a master's degree.
Her thesis on environmental science won an award.


Do both thesis and dissertation need a defense?

Yes, both typically culminate in a defense before a committee.

What distinguishes a dissertation?

A dissertation is a comprehensive research document for a doctoral degree.

How long is a thesis compared to a dissertation?

While lengths vary, dissertations are generally longer than theses.

What's the main objective of a dissertation?

To contribute new knowledge or perspectives to a field.

Are thesis and dissertation topics always new?

Dissertation topics are expected to be original, but thesis topics might cover existing research.

Can a thesis topic become a dissertation topic?

Yes, many students expand upon their thesis research for their dissertation.

Why are dissertations more extensive than theses?

Because they aim to contribute novel insights or knowledge to a field.

What is a thesis?

A thesis is a research document, often for a master's degree.

Which is more rigorous, a thesis or a dissertation?

Typically, a dissertation is more rigorous than a thesis.

Do all universities require a thesis for a master's degree?

Requirements vary; some universities may have non-thesis options.

Is a thesis necessary for a Ph.D.?

While the specifics vary, a dissertation is usually required for a Ph.D., not a thesis.

Is publishing a thesis or dissertation mandatory?

Not always, but many choose to publish their work.

Can a thesis or dissertation be collaborative?

Generally, they're individual projects, but some aspects, like research, might be collaborative.

Which document signifies the completion of an academic journey?

A dissertation, typically indicating the achievement of a doctoral degree.

How are thesis and dissertation topics chosen?

Often in consultation with an academic advisor or committee.

Who evaluates a thesis or dissertation?

Typically, a committee of experts in the field.

Is original research mandatory for a thesis?

Not always; it depends on the program and institution.

How do thesis and dissertation grading work?

Grading criteria vary by institution, but both are evaluated on research quality and writing.

What happens if a thesis or dissertation is not approved?

Students usually revise based on feedback and resubmit or defend again.

Are thesis and dissertation defenses public?

It varies; some institutions hold public defenses, while others are private.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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