After completing a graduate degree program, students are usually required to write and submit a research project. You may be asked to turn in either a thesis or dissertation, depending on the degree. As such, it is essential to understand both to know what you will be required to write.

Dissertation and thesis are terms that many institutions sometimes use differently and even interchangeably. Moreover, if you google “PhD thesis vs. dissertation,” the results may be conflicting. However, there is a generally accepted meaning for both terms.

We’ll learn what each term implies and how they differ in this article. If you’ve been wondering, what is a dissertation? or what is a master’s thesis? Continue reading to find out.

Thesis definition: what is a thesis?

A thesis is a piece of scholarly work written and submitted by students graduating from a master’s program. It is written to obtain a master’s degree, and it demands a high standard of writing and knowledge of the subject you have been studying in the program. The basic structure of a thesis usually includes a title page, abstract, table of contents, table of figures/maps, body, typically divided into chapters, and conclusion.

Dissertation definition: what is a dissertation?

A dissertation is also a piece of scholarly work, often lengthier than a thesis, which is required of students pursuing a doctorate. It demands more original or expanded research on a topic. Generally, a dissertation has the following components: title page, acknowledgments, abstract, table of contents, introduction, literature review, theoretical framework, methodology, findings, discussion of findings, conclusion, reference list, and appendices.

Dissertation vs. thesis – what are the differences?

Now that we understand both terms, we will proceed to the differences between a thesis and a dissertation:

  • Time of writing

One primary difference between thesis and dissertation is the time they are written. A master’s program and a doctoral program are two major academic programs that scholars undergo. A master’s thesis is completed after a master’s program, whereas a doctoral dissertation is completed at the finish of a doctoral program.

  • Length

A thesis is usually much shorter than a dissertation. This is because a dissertation requires more in-depth and distinctive research than a thesis. For example, the average master’s thesis is roughly 100 pages long. In contrast, a PhD dissertation could be 400 to 500 pages long. Furthermore, a student’s time to complete a master’s thesis is smaller than that required to complete a doctoral dissertation.

  • Sources of data

A master’s thesis uses the knowledge that has already been analyzed and published. This is usually referred to as secondary data and may be obtained from journal articles, published statistics, survey reports, scholarly publications, etc. Hence, when writing a master’s thesis, you’ll need to write on already reported documented data. This is quite different when it comes to a doctoral dissertation. A doctoral dissertation makes use of novel (new) data. The sources may be from lab experiments, firsthand surveys and interviews, and unpublished but verified data.

  • Scope of research

A master’s thesis aims to prove you are competent and knowledgeable in the subject you studied during the program. The work is a test and a demonstration of how much mastery you have regarding your field of study. As for a doctoral dissertation, the aim is to innovate and use the knowledge obtained from the program to create new advancements and contribute to the subject in the long run.


Both thesis and dissertation are academic terms that every students will encounter as they advance in their education. Both words, however, can be confusing as they are sometimes used interchangeably. This article establishes the general differences between a master’s thesis and a doctoral dissertation. Leave it to us to help you avoid googling if a doctoral thesis is an actual thing.

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