• "Best Dissertation Writing Tips"
  • "Master's Thesis Writing Advice;

PhD writing tips: learning to distinguish theses and dissertations

There are enough similarities between theses and dissertations that the terms are at times used interchangeably. This may feel accurate and even be encouraged in some academic settings but it remains incorrect. Fortunately, this is an error that can be avoided with a little bit of care. Pay close attention to the following major differences between the two that are listed below.

Research Sources

A dissertation tends to be made up of information you alone have conducted while theses contain information from secondary sources. In a sense, the research of other academics can assist you in the forming of your own hypothesis for a dissertation whereas you can devote your thesis to a thorough and critical analysis of those same studies without actively creating your own.

Level of Study

Theses are more often completed to obtain a degree at the masters’ level while dissertations tend to be done by doctoral level students. There are instances, however, where the major writing completed by a doctoral student is referred to as a thesis and that of a masters’ student is called a dissertation. Where ambiguity persists, ask the faculty at a specific institution for clarification or refer to their websites and other related material.


The average length of a dissertation is approximately 190 pages while a thesis is likely to average 100 pages. This makes the former significantly more time consuming to complete than the latter. It should be noted though that large differences in word count have been observed across different faculties. There are also some colleges and universities that have strict word limits that students are penalized for not adhering to. If the page count seems high, remember that the wide margins, double spacing and blank backed pages inflate page numbers significantly.

Scholarship Opportunities

The thesis may be presented to an institution of learning to help a student gain scholarship funding. Dissertations generally lack that purpose although they remain crucial to the obtainment of the actual doctorate. In some cases, funding may be allocated to students in pursuit of a doctorate in the form of a dissertation fellowship which covers their basic costs of living for the duration of the research.

As you approach graduate level studies, you will most likely find yourself writing one or both of these at some point. Bear their differences in mind so that your writing reflects the proper traits and your work represents you well.