Difference between thesis and dissertation: Main components of writing an effective thesis paper

Difference between thesis and dissertation: Main components of writing an effective thesis paper

Thesis meaning

A thesis is a written document that contains a statement or a theory involving personal research, written by a university student or author that is submitted in support of candidature for attaining an academic degree or professional qualification in a particular academic field or discipline. Therefore, a thesis presents the author’s research and findings in a distinct academic subject which validates the author as a certified professional, eligible to practice work related to his/her field of study.

A thesis is the most common and determining assignment for a student pursuing a bachelor’s or master’s degree, a prerequisite for graduation. It is standard among PhD scholars pursuing a doctorate in a specific scholarly discipline. The word thesis is typical to the general claim of an essay or similar work pertinent to an academic field.

The required complexity or quality of a thesis can vary by country, university, or program, and the required minimum study period can vary significantly in duration.

Thesis versus dissertation

The words “thesis” and “dissertation” are often used in academia, and a majority are unable to tell apart the difference between the two. Thesis is a Greek word meaning “proposition”, whereas dissertation is a Latin word meaning “discussion.” Thesis is usually used for a PhD (doctoral) or M Phil level degree in most countries. In technical terms “A thesis is a document that presents the author’s research and findings and is submitted in support of candidature for a degree or professional qualification.”

In comparison, dissertation is a writing that explains a particular subject in detail and is submitted for attaining a PhD and M Phil level degree. It includes the independent work of the person. A dissertation is the final assignment submitted by the students before attaining a degree. Generally, dissertation is described as a treatise without relation to obtaining an academic degree, but the usage of the two words differs between the US and UK, and that confusion prevails in the rest of the world. In the US, a scholar needs to write a thesis if he is pursuing a master’s level of education and a dissertation is only written if he or she is pursuing a doctoral degree. While in the UK, a scholar would be awarded a master’s level degree if he or she has successfully written and submitted a dissertation and a thesis if only he or she is pursuing a PhD (doctoral) degree.

The main confusion occurs in the usage of the terms dissertation and thesis, and the similarities between the two regarding their structure and application. Both thesis and dissertation have the same structure when it comes to introduction, literary review, main body, conclusion, bibliography, and appendix.

Characteristics of Dissertation

1. Work should be done independently by the student or scholar. It is required for PhD degree only.

2. The scholar should show detailed knowledge and understanding. It also includes references.

3. The dissertation shows critical and analytical thinking.

4. It shows the original work and research.

5. It should have an academic approach that includes academic documents and have appropriate format of writing.

Characteristics of Thesis

1. Title and abstract should be presented accurately and should reflect the nature of the research study.

2. The subject matter should be present in the way that target readers will understand.

3. Grammar and punctuation should be accurate and consistency is required in writing a thesis.

In order to obtain a master and doctoral degree, both thesis and dissertation are required.

Difference between dissertation and thesis

1. Dissertation is required for a PhD degree, whereas thesis is required at the end of a master’s program. In the UK, a thesis is submitted in order to obtain a PhD as well.

2. Dissertation is like an academic book that is part of a broader post-graduate research project, whereas thesis is an academic research paper that includes extensive citations and references, with focus on the original work.

3. Dissertation is a more extended report about a research because it requires a great deal of research to execute. It includes discussion on the original research and is usually part of a PhD course, while a thesis is usually shorter than a dissertation and should be at least 100 pages in length. A thesis mostly involves preliminary research, focusing on technical expertise, written during a post-graduate course.

4. Dissertation is written to contribute to new knowledge or add new theories and practices in an academic field, whereas a thesis is written to prove the scholar’s understanding of the topic or subject.

5. Dissertation includes new findings and discoveries in the report, while thesis consists of assumption-based work that is justified using theories.

The nature and purpose of a thesis are typical to a statement to be proven or supported with evidence. In the context of publication, a thesis is arranged in the form of a monograph, with or without appended papers. A thesis comprises a title page, abstract, a table of contents listing out the various chapters, for example, introduction, a literature review, methodology, results, discussion, and bibliography, or more usually a reference section. The structure of a thesis differs based on the academic disciplines and areas of studies such as arts, humanities, social sciences, technology, sciences, etc. and the inherent differences among them. In a thesis by a publication, the chapters constitute an introductory and a comprehensive review of the appendant published and unpublished article documents.

Dissertations normally report on a research project or a study, or an extended analysis of a topic. The structure of a thesis or dissertation explains the purpose of the previous research literature, which targets on the topic of the study, the methods used, and the findings of the project.

1. Most world universities use multiple chapter formats, which introduces the research topic, the methodology, as well as the scope and significance.

2. Literature review of relevant literature, demonstrating how this has informed the research issue.

3. A methodology chapter, explaining how the research has been designed and why the research method, population, data collection, and analysis being used have been chosen.

4. A findings chapter, outlining the findings of the research.

5. An analysis and discussion chapter, analyzing the findings and discussing them in the context of the literature review. This chapter is often divided into two, which is analysis and discussion.

6. A conclusion, usually degree awarding institutions often define their own house style that candidates have to conform to in preparing a thesis document.

In addition to institution’s specific house styles, there exist a number of field-specific, national and international standards and recommendations for the presentation of thesis. Some old house styles specify their structural components such as front matter, title page, abstract, table of content, etc. and use roman numerals for page numbers.

But relevant international standards and many newer style guides acknowledge that the custom house specific style guide practice can cause major confusions among scholars especially with electronic documents. Therefore to avoid confusions, house specific page number sequences are avoided for front matter, and a single sequence of Arabic numerals is preferred with the recto of the title page, presentation page, etc. The layout as well as the type and color of paper are also used as per the generally accepted standard. After which, the final copy of the dissertation will become a permanent part of the library collection.  Before the dissertation is accepted, the paper size, the order of components, and citation style will be checked page by page by the accepting officer before the dissertation or thesis is accepted and before the receipt is issued. However, strict standards are not always required, in most Italian universities, only the general style guide  are needed on the characters, paper size, and the page formatting, leaving much freedom to the scholar to write and frame the paper.

Thesis or dissertation committee

A thesis or dissertation committee is one that supervises a student’s dissertation. This committee at least in the US model usually consists of a primary supervisor or advisor, and two or more committee members who supervise the progress of the dissertation, and may also act as the examining committee, or jury at the oral examination of the thesis.

Thesis statement

A thesis statement usually appears at the end of the introductory paragraph of a thesis paper, and it offers a concise summary of the main point or claim of the essay or research paper. The statement usually comprises of one sentence that appears at the beginning, though it may occur more than once. The thesis statement is developed, supported, and explained in the course of the paper by means of examples and evidence. A thesis statement helps organize the system of proper academic writing and presentation. A thesis statement is an essential component for scholarly research papers. The thesis statement will reflect the kind of paper being written. There are three kinds of papers: analytical, expository, and argumentative. The thesis statement will take a different form for each of these kinds of papers.  In technical terms “A thesis statement sums up the main point of your paper in 1 or 2 sentences, and usually appears at the end of your introduction.”A thesis statement prevents the scholar from going off topic.

How to write a thesis statement?

1. Topic: Mention the main topic of your paper.

2. Position: Take a position and state your argument.

3. Evidence: Summarize the evidence you will use to support your argument.

A strong thesis statement is concise, disputable, and coherent.

Step 1: The scholar needs to come up with a research question. For example, a research question would be, “What were the main factors that led to the result of the 2016 Brexit referendum?”

Step 2: Find a tentative answer to the research question you came up with in step 1. Since we are taking an argumentative approach, the answer should take a strong position on the topic. For example, “Brexit was driven by political frustration.” As the process of writing a thesis is a long one, the thesis statement needs to keep developing and changing as the scholar arrives at more significant findings and ideas.

Step 3: The final thesis statement should be elaborate and constructive, for example, “The Brexit referendum result was driven by working-class frustration with political elite, caused by austerity policies that eroded public services and fragmented communities; the referendum offered an alternative to the status quo.”

The thesis statement should be concise, building up to the central argument, which is “Brexit was driven by political frustration.” To keep it concise, avoid using general and vague phraseology. The thesis statement should be disputable, as we can see in the example given above where the thesis statement took a position that some may argue, as it is not a simple fact readers will easily accept as the statement requires further evidence to prove its stance, which would motivate readers in persuasion to keep reading. The thesis statement should be coherent, the three parts of a thesis statement, which are topic, position and evidence presented in the above example were all coherently connected and presented in a logical manner.

Depending on the aim of the paper, there are different types of thesis statements one can choose from.

1. Argumentative type: An argumentative thesis statement should take a clear position, since the goal is to persuade readers of a claim.

2. Expository type: If a scholar wants to analyze, interpret, or evaluate different aspects of a topic, then a thesis statement should map out the key points of the analysis and briefly introduce the conclusions one would draw from it. For example, “The history of the UK’s relationship to the EU is complicated. From the beginning, Britain has been reluctant to fully integrate into the Europe, both economically and culturally, but the politics of EU membership has changed throughout the past 50 years.”

3. Analytical type: A paper could also aim to explain and discuss the facts of a topic. In such cases, a thesis statement should summarize all the main points covered in the paper. For example, “Polling and surveys shed light on the demographics of the Brexit vote, which can be broken down in terms of age, ethnicity, region and educational level.”


A effective thesis is the result of an essay formulated in a systematic and organized fashion that is analytical and constructive with the purpose of contributing to scholarly understanding of the subject.

The aforementioned will help readers to distinguish the difference between dissertation and thesis and their range of applications, as well as helping students and scholars to write engaging thesis in university level of education.

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