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Differences between a project, thesis and dissertation

  • At the end of every stage of our post-secondary education, we get to write a comprehensive paper in order to graduate. We all know that there are three types; research project, thesis, and dissertation. But do we know the difference between them?

    Because of their similarities, we sometimes confuse them and even use them interchangeably. But this shouldn’t be the case because they're actually very different, not just in purpose but also in length, duration and so on.

    Before I mention the differences, here are some similarities you might have thought of:

    1. They are all academic documents.

    2. They’re all written to obtain an academic degree.

    3. They have basically the same structure; an introduction, literature review, body, conclusion, bibliography, and appendix.

    As far as similarities go between these three papers, I can't get any further. But there many more differences; here are some:

    1. When it is completed, a research project marks the end of an undergraduate degree program, a thesis marks the end of a Masters program while a dissertation is done during a doctoral study.

    2. Purpose: A research project is done to test students’ understanding and competence in a field of study while at the same time giving them the opportunity to expand their knowledge through research. It might involve an original research, real life problem solving or a hands-on project.

    A thesis is much more in-depth than a research project; it is a compilation of different researches done in an area of study including a critical analysis of their findings. Its aim is to show that you have the ability to demonstrate expertise and knowledgeably discuss your area of study.

    A dissertation, on the other hand, is an original research work that contributes new knowledge (in form of theories or practices) to a certain field of study. What this means is that the bulk of the work is attributed to you. In a dissertation, you use other people’s research merely as guidance.

    3. Length: A research project is usually about 50 pages in length. For Thesis the average is about a 100 to 150 pages. Dissertations can be up to 2 to 3 times the length of a thesis. A thesis is more expensive than a research project and a dissertation is even more complex than a thesis.

    4. A research project can be done individually or in a group whereas thesis and dissertations are done individually.

    5. Duration: A research project spans the length of a semester, a thesis can take between 1 to 3 semesters, while a dissertation, being the pinnacle of academic excellence can span several years

    6. A research paper usually doesn’t require defense on its completion, whereas a thesis and dissertation must go through this as a final stage.

    However, apart from these generalised differences, there are others specific to each institution. Be sure to get yourself accustomed to them before you start writing your academic paper.

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