Theses & Dissertation

What is the Difference Between a Thesis and a Dissertation?

Most are the times when the terms thesis and dissertation are used interchangeably. Although they share some similarities, thesis and dissertation are two distinct academic items. Notably, the differences between thesis and dissertation are based on the academic guidelines of different institutions as well as the type of education system you are enrolled in. For instance, countries that have adopted the British education system view dissertation as an academic work that needs to be completed at the end of an undergraduate or master’s degree while a thesis is viewed as an academic work that needs to completed at the end of a doctorate degree. Conversely, countries following the American education system tend to use the term dissertation to refer to an academic work to be completed at the end of a doctorate degree whereas a thesis refers to an academic work completed at the end of an undergraduate or master’s degree. Another note to make is that the difference between a thesis and a dissertation may originate from the type of subject that a student is pursuing.  Some subjects may require a thesis or a dissertation irrespective of the academic level. Ultimately, you have to consult your university and department so as to be sure about the guidelines for writing your research work. Thus, it does not really matter which word you use; all that matters is that you follow the guidelines given by your professors to prove that you have researched and clearly understood your topic.

General Differences between a Thesis and a Dissertation

To avoid the confusion surrounding the terms Thesis and Dissertation, we shall look at the major sources of the differences between these two terms.

Scope: The scope of a thesis is quite different from that of a dissertation. Notably, a thesis requires a student to carry out research using primary resources such as surveys, focus group discussions and interviews in collecting all relevant data. This type of research seeks to build up on existing data or to prove an existing idea or theory.  Furthermore, the scope of a thesis is broad as it is adding on to existing literature. On the contrary, it is not compulsory for a student writing a dissertation to collect primary data during research. Instead, a student can use existing information from secondary data sources such as peer-reviewed journal articles, books, published papers and credible newspaper articles among others. A student executing a dissertation must present new information and back it up using secondary evidence. Thus, the scope of a dissertation is quite narrow since it focuses on the basic details of a particular subject under study. Indeed, as student carrying out a dissertation is expected to carry out research in a topic that has never been researched on so as to come up with new information. In sum, a thesis does not add new information to academia whereas a dissertation develops a new idea that is added to existing academic information. A dissertation can be likened to the discovery of new things in the laboratory.

Length: Given that a thesis involves the analysis of a proposition based on existing literature, the length of such works is not much and may range between 100 and 200 pages. However, your instructor may decide otherwise and so it is crucial to consult with your instructor about the length of your thesis before proceeding with your research. Conversely, a dissertation is a lengthy piece of research work that may be as much as three times longer than a thesis. The lengthy nature of a dissertation is due to its narrow scope whereby a student is required to develop a hypothesis and carry out original research to prove or disprove the hypothesis. This process requires a student to cover the most basic details of a topic thus leading to the production of lengthy work of research.

Structure: Though the structure of a both a thesis and dissertation may not differ much, there are some notable structural differences that can be used in telling the two apart. A thesis can be likened to a research paper whereby a student identifies a topic and carries out research on it so as to prove whether the claims made are correct or incorrect. A student carrying out a thesis must critically analyze existing data as well as primary data collected from fieldwork, and thereafter extract results and make accurate conclusions.  A thesis is majorly aimed at assessing the ability of a student to critically think and make inferences from data collected on a specific topic. On the contrary, a dissertation is used in proving a new idea that a student has developed using existing literature. In this case, a student makes a definite conclusion on an idea instead of expanding on an existing topic like in the case of a thesis. In some cases, a student may further on the research they carried out in their thesis during their dissertation so as to close up the open-ended conclusion they made up in their thesis. This simply means that a dissertation may at times be a continuation of a thesis with the aim of using the data collected in the thesis process to develop a new idea that is useful in academia.

Degree Studied: As earlier mentioned, the terms Thesis and Dissertation differ depending on the type of degree being studied as well as the education system present in a country. In the British education system, a thesis is done at the end of a doctorate degree whereas a dissertation is done at the end of an undergraduate or master’s degree. The opposite is true for the American education system.

Despite all differences, the terms Thesis and Dissertation are crucial academic products that are used in developing a student’s ability to carry out independent research and use their logical and critical thinking skills in making conclusions on different academic topics. These two processes are similar since they require a student to submit a proposal, collect data and defend their final findings before a jury made up of professors from one’s faculty.

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