How Are Theses And Dissertations Different?

It is not uncommon for there the be confusion between the two terms. Dictionaries tend to be unhelpful as they interchange the use of the words which causes even more confusion. The interchangeability of the two terms causes even further confusion, as Colleges and Universities, also muddle up their use. This can mean that there confusion of the usage of the term within a faculty, within an educational establishment and between different colleges and universities.

The general consensus is that a Theses is the study of a topic, using published research papers and literature. The study looks in detail at the research methodology and makes comparisons to other work on the same topic. A Thesis is usually written with the aim of achieving a Masters Degree.

By the same measure, a Dissertation is a study of an original topic, again it uses published research papers and literature, but instead of making comparisons, published literature is used to support the claims made by the original work produced in the Dissertation. A Dissertation is usually written with the aim of achieving a Doctorate Degree.

Summing up the definitions:


  • They are both research papers.
  • Both produced to achieve higher degrees.
  • They both have similar structures (abstract, intro, discussion, bibliography, literature review and appendix).



  • Adds analysis to existing thought and literature. (Literature Search, Critical Reviews).
  • A Theses illustrates the level of understanding, logic and analytical thinking of the writer. The aim of the Theses is to illustrate that the writer is knowledgeable in his field of study.
  • The writer defines his work through a theses statement and uses published work to sustain or refute this.
  • A student does not have to face a panel of professors to explain their thesis work.
  • Traditionally used to obtain a Masters Degree.


  • Analyses existing literature but adds something new and original.
  • The dissertation shows that the author can contribute something completely new and original in his field of study.
  • The author uses his own ideas and points of view, explores published research but also extends his argument through his own surveys, interviews and statistics.
  • The writer has to explain their work in person to their professors / tutors.
  • Traditionally used to achieve a PhD.


Depending which side of the Atlantic Ocean you live ; the terms thesis and dissertation may be interchangeable for Masters and PhD. So don't hesitate to look for helpful advice about thesis and dissertation writing on DissertationTeam blog.

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