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Mini Thesis Definition Dissertation

If you’re contemplating graduate school, you may have heard that a comprehensive paper is required to graduate, and you likely wonder what exactly is the difference between a thesis and a dissertation. It’s good that you’re thinking ahead. There are definite differences between the two terms, though they are sometimes used interchangeably and often confused. Both papers are similar in their structure, as they contain an introduction, literary review, body, conclusion, bibliography and appendix. Beyond that, the similarities basically end. Let’s delve further into the definition of each and the differences between them.

Basic Thesis and Dissertation Differences

The main difference between a thesis and a dissertation is when they are completed. The thesis is a project that marks the end of a master’s program, while the dissertation occurs during doctoral study. The two are actually quite different in their purpose, as well. A thesis is a compilation of research that proves you are knowledgeable about the information learn throughout your graduate program. A dissertation is your opportunity during a doctorate program to contribute new knowledge, theories or practices to your field. The point is to come up with an entirely new concept, develop it and defend its worth.

Structural Differences Between a Thesis and a Dissertation

A master’s thesis is kind of like the sorts of research papers you are familiar with from undergrad. You research a topic, then analyze and comment upon the information you gleaned and how it relates to the particular subject matter at hand. The point of the thesis is to show your ability to think critically about a topic and to knowledgeably discuss the information in-depth. Also, with a thesis, you usually take this opportunity to expand upon a subject that is most relevant to a specialty area you wish to pursue professionally. In a dissertation, you utilize others’ research merely as guidance in coming up with and proving your own unique hypothesis, theory or concept. The bulk of the information in a dissertation is attributed to you.

Finally, there is a difference in length between these two major works. A master’s thesis should be at least 100 pages in length, likely a bit beyond that. However, a doctoral dissertation should be much longer, because they involve a great deal of background and research information, along with every detail of your proposal and how you arrived at the information, according to Purdue University. A dissertation is an extremely complex work. It will likely be two, possibly even three, times the length of a thesis. You will receive guidance from a faculty member who will serve as your dissertation adviser. This adviser will be there to point you in the right direction if you are stuck, can assist in locating resources and ensure that your proposal is on the right track.

Related Resource: Capstone Project

Each school and program has its own guidelines for what a thesis and dissertation should contain, as well as its structure. However, you now have an overview of the difference between a thesis and a dissertation.

How to Write an Abstract for Your Thesis or Dissertation

What is an Abstract?

  • The abstract is an important component of your thesis. Presented at the beginning of the thesis, it is likely the first substantive description of your work read by an external examiner. You should view it as an opportunity to set accurate expectations.
  • The abstract is a summary of the whole thesis. It presents all the major elements of your work in a highly condensed form.
  • An abstract often functions, together with the thesis title, as a stand-alone text. Abstracts appear, absent the full text of the thesis, in bibliographic indexes such as PsycInfo. They may also be presented in announcements of the thesis examination. Most readers who encounter your abstract in a bibliographic database or receive an email announcing your research presentation will never retrieve the full text or attend the presentation.
  • An abstract is not merely an introduction in the sense of a preface, preamble, or advance organizer that prepares the reader for the thesis. In addition to that function, it must be capable of substituting for the whole thesis when there is insufficient time and space for the full text.

Size and Structure

  • Currently, the maximum sizes for abstracts submitted to Canada's National Archive are 150 words (Masters thesis) and 350 words (Doctoral dissertation).
  • To preserve visual coherence, you may wish to limit the abstract for your doctoral dissertation to one double-spaced page, about 280 words.
  • The structure of the abstract should mirror the structure of the whole thesis, and should represent all its major elements.
  • For example, if your thesis has five chapters (introduction, literature review, methodology, results, conclusion), there should be one or more sentences assigned to summarize each chapter.
Clearly Specify Your Research Questions
  • As in the thesis itself, your research questions are critical in ensuring that the abstract is coherent and logically structured. They form the skeleton to which other elements adhere.
  • They should be presented near the beginning of the abstract.
  • There is only room for one to three questions. If there are more than three major research questions in your thesis, you should consider restructuring them by reducing some to subsidiary status.

Don't Forget the Results

  • The most common error in abstracts is failure to present results.
  • The primary function of your thesis (and by extension your abstract) is not to tell readers what you did, it is to tell them what you discovered. Other information, such as the account of your research methods, is needed mainly to back the claims you make about your results.
  • Approximately the last half of the abstract should be dedicated to summarizing and interpreting your results.

Updated 2008.09.11
© John C. Nesbit

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