Dissertation vs Thesis: a Difference That Matters

The terms “thesis” and “dissertation” are often used transposably, resulting in confusion among students and educators. However, there are vital distinctions between them that need to be understood to ensure the proper documentation and presentation of either type of academic paper.

In this blog, we will highlight the distinctions and similarities between a dissertation vs thesis.

What is a thesis?

A thesis is a typed document that presents the research and analysis of a master’s degree candidate. The aim of this type of academic paper is to prove that you have a solid understanding of your field of study and can apply the knowledge you have been taught in a practical way. This sort of paper must present your ability to identify a problem and offer a viable solution.

What is a dissertation?

This is a comprehensive document that showcases the research and analysis of a PhD candidate. The aim of a doctoral paper is similar to that of a thesis, which is to prove your expertise and mastery of your field. 

But unlike a thesis, a doctoral paper has larger depth and extension, and it must show your ability to make valuable contributions to original research and knowledge to your field. Apart from depth, there are other vital distinctions between a thesis vs dissertation. 

What is the difference between a thesis and a dissertation?

A thesis is usually done by a master’s degree candidate, while a doctoral paper is written by a PhD candidate. This is the most fundamental distinction between the two. 

So rather than saying a masters dissertaion or a doctoral thesis, it should be referred to as a master’s thesis or a doctoral doctoral paper, respectively.

Other distinctions include:

  • Span

A thesis is usually less longer than a doctoral paper and is mostly around 50–100 pages in length. A doctoral paper, however, has more length, with a span ranging from 200 to 500 pages.

  • Aim

A thesis is meant to showcase the candidate’s mastery of their field of study, while a doctoral paper is meant to add valuable contributions and fresh knowledge to the field.

  • Format

A thesis is always structured like a research paper, with an introduction, literature review, methodology, results, and conclusion. A doctoral paper, however, is more structured, often including an abstract, table of contents, list of figures, and appendices.

  • Level

A thesis is completed by a Master’s degree candidate, while a doctoral paper is completed by a PhD candidate.

  • Independence

A thesis is usually done with the guidance of a advisor, while a doctoral paper is completed entirely by the candidate, with the advisor acting as a consultant.

What makes a thesis and a doctoral paper similar?

Despite the distinctions between a thesis and a doctoral paper, there are also a few similarities between both. Understanding the similarities between both is crucial for ensuring a smooth and successful research and writing process. 

Some of the key similarities include:

  1. Extensive research and writing

You will need to invest a significant amount of time and effort into researching and writing your work, regardless of the type of paper you are writing.

  1. Organization

To be successful, your paper must be well-organized, with an understandable and concise structure, and it must be well-written, with proper use of citations.

  1. Purpose

No matter what you are writing, your work must demonstrate your knowledge and understanding of your field.

  1. Assessment

Before your work can be considered complete, it must be approved by a committee of experts in your field, who will assess your work and provide feedback and suggestions for improvement.

The importance of proper formatting and presentation

Proper formatting and presentation is crucial for the success of your PhD thesis or dissertation. The format of your work must be consistent and professional, and it must meet the requirements and standards of your field. This may include following specific guidelines for page numbering, font size and style, margins, and headings, among other things.

It is equally important to proofread and edit for grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors, as well as for overall clarity and coherence.


Whether you are pursuing a Master’s degree or a PhD, it is important to understand what is expected of you and to work closely with your advisor to ensure that your work meets the desired expectations.

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