Dissertation vs. Thesis: What is the Difference?

Researcher holding a textbook in a library

If you plan to earn an advanced degree in the United States, you will be writing a thesis or a dissertation. To understand the difference between these two research papers, you need to understand their structure their similarities, purpose and differences.


Most advanced degree programs require dissertations thesis papers. These papers have a similar structure, including an introduction and a literary review. There will be a lengthy body to either paper as alongside a conclusion, bibliography and an appendix.


The master’s thesis is required to complete master’s programs. Thesis papers compile research that shows that you have learned the material required for your graduate program by interacting with your research in the body of the paper.

Dissertations are required to complete doctoral programs. The dissertation process includes conducting new research to contribute to the body of knowledge in your field. When you complete a dissertation, you get into the field and original research.

You will interact with previous research to develop a new concept or theory, and then you will write your paper to develop your argument and share your findings. At the end of the program, you will defend the value of your work.

Major Differences

The different purpose of these research papers means that the papers themselves have major differences. The structure of a master's thesis is similar to a common research report. You will gather information to analyze and identify connections to your curriculum. The purpose is to think critically about important topics in your field.

In a dissertation, the analysis of current research is just a small feature of the work. You will conduct literary review so that readers in your dissertation committee know about relevant work in the field. In addition, the literature review helps guide your own original research. Most of the dissertation focuses on your own process and findings.

If you are ready to take the next step in your career with a rigorous dissertation-focused curriculum, consider enrolling in programs like the Doctor of Education in Organizational Leadership. To learn about our other programs, visit the College of Doctoral Studies or click on the Request More Information button on this page.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University.

Loading Form

Scroll back to top