• How are theses and dissertations different?


    How they are similar

    Theses and dissertations are very similar documents. However, in many ways they are also very different. Theses and dissertations both require substantial time and labor investments. They both are long in length with theses usually around 50 pages and dissertations ranging from 100-300 pages. Both theses and dissertations require substantial planning, research, and organization. Depending on the academic program for which the thesis or dissertation is completed, most require original research.


    How they differ

    Although theses and dissertations are similar on many levels, they are also very different and many people with doctoral degrees have had to complete both a thesis and a dissertation since they can serve such different purposes. First, the thesis is normally completed in a master’s program whereas a dissertation is normally completed in a doctoral program. There are exceptions to this such as specific academic programs not requiring a thesis or a dissertation and related degrees, such as an M.D., which do not require a thesis or a dissertation.

    Since a thesis is required for a master’s degree and a dissertation is completed in relation to a doctoral degree, many doctoral candidates complete both a thesis and a dissertation. In some programs a theses is less demanding than the dissertation and may only require a review of research that is relevant to the topics of interest. In this way, sometimes the thesis is used as preparation for writing the dissertation in order to explore the underlying research and literature related to the problem that the dissertation will explore. Similarly a thesis is sometimes used to run what is called a “pilot study” or a study exploring the variables the person wishes to pursue in later research. Pilot studies are normally completed as a way to check the viability of the main study to be completed later.

    For someone who is seeking to become an academic it is important that the thesis and the dissertation show potential in research. What this means is that professors need to show that while they were students they had some idea about what they were interested in researching and put forth one or more studies that explored these areas in interesting ways. This can help a university see the individual’s potential as a future researcher.


    Important points

    • Theses are generally completed in master’s degree programs
    • Dissertations are generally completed in doctoral programs
    • There are exceptions to the requirement for theses and dissertation. Each program is unique.
    • Many degrees, such as M.D.’s, do not require either theses or dissertations since research is not the goal of an M.D.

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