The Difference between a Thesis and a Dissertation

Starting a graduate program can be a great challenge. You should be well prepared to face the next several years. As a graduate student, you will need to complete a thesis and a dissertation. But what is the difference?

Thesis vs Dissertation

Throughout your academic career, you will hear these two terms quite often, and frequently they will be used interchangeably. They are similar, however, they have their own meanings and provide different outcomes.

A thesis is written with a purpose to reveal the research within the specific field of study. When a student produces a final thesis to the board or committee, they will be eligible to receive a master’s degree afterwards.

In contrast, a dissertation is written solely for the purpose of obtaining a postgraduate degree. Dissertations are assigned to doctoral students.


Writing a thesis and writing a dissertation have several factors in common. This is where the confusion comes into play! The main similarities between a thesis and a dissertation are:

  • Both are assignments for graduate students.
  • Both papers are quite lengthy and extensive, they will require a great amount of time to complete.
  • Both are typically prepared during the final year of study.
  • You must receive a passing grade on a thesis and dissertation in order to receive your degree.
  • You can receive advice from mentors, your peers, or your board committee for each type of paper.
  • Most schools will allow a resubmission of both papers if you should not receive a passing grade the first time.

What Makes Each Paper Unique

The largest difference between a thesis and a dissertation would be the overall purpose. The true goal of the paper will define whether it is a thesis or a dissertation.
In the instance of writing a thesis, as defined, you will be writing on a subject to reveal the research within the chosen field of study. Writing a thesis will test the student’s knowledge on the subject and demonstrate the overall understanding. Students will formulate a proposition, also known as the thesis, based on the previous works within the field. These works should be analyzed in the paper, and the student will make a case in support of the evidence or against it.

To compare, a dissertation is typically written by doctoral students who will have a strong focus on their original research. When a student is assigned a dissertation, he/she will need to discover a subject in the field of study that has not been researched yet. Students must come up with an original hypothesis and provide research and evidence to prove their theories.

While the differences between a thesis and a dissertation might not seem very big, understanding them will help you to be ready when the time comes to actually write the paper.