The Difference Between Thesis and Dissertation in UK University

In the United Kingdom, students undertaking master’s and undergraduate studies write a dissertation of around twenty thousand words. On the other hand, students undertaking a Ph.D. in the same region write a thesis of approximately eighty thousand words. Confusingly, these two terms are sometimes used interchangeably, but do they really mean the same thing? Well, this article is going to dig deep into the distinction between a dissertation and a thesis. Hence stick around and let us break the confusion between these two tricky terms.

Thesis vs dissertation UK

The two terms have caused confusion for a pretty long time. Over time, people have used traditional references to differentiate between the two, which ended up causing more confusion. However, modern references try to bring us closer to distinguish between the two.

Up until the twentieth century, America used to follow Britain closely as per defining a dissertation and a thesis.

One of the earliest mentions of a doctoral thesis occurred back in 1832 in a recording between Dan Dodson and The state. But was using this term correct or wrong? Well, in a thesis vs. dissertation UK version of explanation things get a little bit tricky. But we will try to draw a clear line between the two, so follow along.

Difference between thesis and dissertation

To start us off, we shall look at the Cambridge English dictionary definition of the two terms:

Dissertation definition

A pretty long writing on a particular subject, especially one done to receive a university or college degree.

Thesis definition

A pretty long piece of writing on a specific subject, especially one which is done to receive a higher university or college degree.

The definition of the two terms as per the Cambridge English dictionary is almost identical. Historically and technically, these definitions have been considered as the correct definitions for the two terms. However, the Collins English Dictionary came by and tried to define the two terms in a modern perspective as follows:

Dissertation definition

A long writing on a particular subject, especially written to achieve a university degree

Thesis definition

A long writing based upon your research and ideas that is done to attain a university degree, especially a higher university degree, for example, a Ph.D.

Difference between thesis and dissertation UK

The dictionary definition shallowly defines the difference between the terms thesis and dissertation. Most often, all students undertaking master’s and undergraduate studies in the UK write dissertation papers, while those undertaking Ph.D. studies write thesis papers.

The difference here is that:

  • D. or doctorate – requires the student to come up with a novel body of work that adds in new knowledge written based upon original content only.
  • Masters and undergraduate projects – written based upon taught modules. It does not need novel research. Such a paper could consist of solely existing research literature.

As per structural difference:

  • A master’s dissertation uses a structure centered around a single research question.
  • A Ph.D. project has multiple research topics; for example, each chapter might entail a new research methodology and a wholly new topic. It hence uses up a lot of time compared to a dissertation.

How long are dissertations

Well, dissertation length varies across different countries and study levels. However, they are generally around ten thousand to twelve thousand words long at an undergraduate level. At a master’s level, they are in between fifteen thousand and twenty-five thousand words long.

How long is a dissertation UK

UK dissertations are in between fifteen thousand and twenty thousand words long. However, depending on the program’s nature, this number can alternate.


Dissertations and thesis have been used over time interchangeably while they have different definitions. We hope that this article has brought to light the difference between dissertation vs thesis UK and that you can comfortably bring out best content on either of the two.

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