The Differences between a dissertation and thesis aren’t always clear. A lot of students — and even teachers — use the terms interchangeably. But the words don’t always refer to the same thing. You want to grasp the differences so you can be sure you’re writing the right paper every time. We hope you’ll develop a clear understanding of the differences.

Dissertation Writing: U.S. Universities vs. U.K. Universities

The term “dissertation” in U.S. universities doesn’t seem to mean the same idea in British universities. Here in the U.S., a dissertation is an involved writing project that leads to the achievement of a doctoral degree.

In the U.K., a dissertation is a type of research paper in postgrad school that culminates in a master’s degree. They don’t say “graduate school” in the U.K. It’s postgrad school over there. A dissertation in the U.S. is an undertaking completed at a higher level of learning (Ph.D. level) than in the U.K. That does seem to make it a whole lot different.

How is Thesis Writing in the U.S. Different than in the U.K.?

As a U.S. student, you’ll write your thesis either in college or graduate school. It’s different in the U.K. Students pursuing a postgraduate education there encounter thesis writing at the Ph.D. level. What does that mean? A U.K. student writing a thesis is studying at a different level than a U.S. student developing a thesis. Now, that’s an important difference.

Dissertation and Thesis: Which is Longer?

Typically (in the U.S.), a dissertation is much longer than a thesis. You can expect your thesis to contain as many as 100 pages. Your dissertation in the U.S. can be up to two times longer than the thesis you completed in grad school. If we apply the same reasoning for U.K. students, we see that a thesis in the U.K. should be much longer than a dissertation.

Differences in Approach and Purpose

A thesis (U.S.) aims to demonstrate you’ve acquired enough specific knowledge in grad school. You’re supposed to focus on a particular subject in your field. Your aim is to showcase your analytical and critical thinking ability.

A thesis shows others you’ve immersed yourself in your program. And that you’re capable of producing valuable work independently. When writing your thesis, you’ll primarily focus on other people’s research. The idea is to analyze such studies and develop new perspectives.

A  Ph.D. (U.S.) focuses on original research. You may use other researchers’ work, but that’s only supposed to guide you. Such research should help you develop your hypothesis (or hypotheses).

However, you should focus on producing an original piece of work. A well-developed dissertation offers new knowledge. It delivers new data that adds to the knowledge in your field. Your work should establish you as an authority on a specific subject. The chief aim of a dissertation is to produce new, valuable knowledge.

But writing a dissertation doesn’t always mean studying what no other person has. You don’t need to become Niels Bohr or Steve Hawking to write a successful dissertation. You might introduce a new angle to an existing idea to produce new, exciting ideas.


Have you grasped the differences between a dissertation and thesis? We’re happy if our comparison made the differences clearer than they have been for you. Any other difference we might have omitted?