Thesis and Dissertation -What are the Differences?

Thesis and Dissertation are used at different academic levels and it seems to cause confusion on what they should mean at the different levels. It is a general fact that both dissertation and thesis are research papers carried out by institutions as a means of assessing the research capacity of a student after years of study. Since both academic terms are grouped under this veil, they are easily interchanged or misused.

Similarly, the stage in which both terms can be used in academia varies in both institutions and countries but because both stages are closely knit together, they are either mistaken or used interchangeably. The essence of this article is to critically examine the differences between a dissertation and a thesis.

Hence, the differences between a thesis and a dissertation include the following:


As fore mentioned in the text, the meaning and differences between a thesis and a dissertation entirely vary in different countries. In America for example, a thesis is considered an academic paper presented in institutions to assess the research capacity of individuals seeking to complete their masters whereas, a dissertation is an academic paper presented by institutions to assess the research ability of individuals seeking to complete their PhD.

In the United Kingdom, on the other hand, a thesis is considered a research paper issued to students seeking to complete their doctoral degree whereas a dissertation is a research paper issued and written by students seeking to obtain a university and master’s degree. The educational system of both countries is adopted in different countries too, hence the differences between both terms also apply in these countries.

Take Nigeria for example, due to colonialism by the British, the educational system of this country was adopted by Nigeria. Hence, people in Nigeria also write a dissertation if they are graduating from a university or seeking to obtain a master’s degree and they write a thesis when seeking to obtain a doctoral degree.


Apart from the differences in context based on the location or country the paper was issued, both papers are structured and written differently. These differences include:

  • A dissertation demands a detailed and critical analysis of a designated subject matter hence, it is a long piece of writing. A thesis on the other hand is a shorter piece of writing.
  • A thesis demands the critical analysis and evaluation of an already existing topic whereas a dissertation demands the critical analysis and evaluation of a new topic solely created by the individual writing the research paper.
  • A dissertation regards its writer as an author whereas the thesis does not.


In terms of differences based on the choice of topic, a dissertation requires that the student or scholar writes about a topic or subject matter related to his/her field of study. A thesis on the other hand gives the writer more freedom to write about an academic issue or topic, it need not be related to his/her field of study.

In terms of oral presentation, both a thesis and a dissertation require oral presentations as a means to prove that the paper was written by the student. The oral presentation of a thesis requires a shorter period of time whereas the presentation of a dissertation requires a longer period of time


As fore mentioned in the text, both academic papers are issued as a means of testing the research ability of the student and assessing the student based on it. However, the specific purpose or reason behind the two varies. In a dissertation, for example, a student is tasked with the responsibility of bringing forth a new topic regarding his/her related field of study, analyzing, examining and researching the topic in a bid to provide a solution or conclusion to the issue regarding the proposed topic.

The essence of this form of the research paper is to evaluate the overall understanding of an individual in the field of study as well as his/her research ability in general. A thesis, on the other hand, tasks a student with the responsibility of formulating a proposition or a view behind an already established ideology culminated by different authors in academia. The purpose or reason behind the proposed paper is to assess the general ability of an individual to conduct research.


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