Word Confusion: Dissertation versus Thesis

Posted December 7, 2015 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Self-Editing, Word Confusions, Writing

Revised as of 17 February 2018

This was a topic in one of the listservs to which I belong, and I found it curious that the British and American uses were directly opposite each other. So it all depends on the country in which your target audience resides.

Word Confusions…

…started as my way of dealing with a professional frustration with properly spelled words that were out of context in manuscripts I was editing as well as books I was reviewing. It evolved into a sharing of information with y’all. I’m hoping you’ll share with us words that have been a bête noir for you from either end.

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Dissertation Thesis
Credit to: Apple Dictionary.com; Merriam-Webster: dissertation and thesis; Oxford Dictionaries: dissertation

The cover page for Sheldon's dissertation.

“Sheldon’s Dissertation” by Harold Horton Sheldon is in the public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

The cover page for Sheldon’s dissertation.

Cover page for a thesis paper

“Telecom Sector Thesis” is Namans’ own work and is in the public domain, via via Wikimedia Commons.

There really isn’t much difference between a thesis and a dissertation.

Part of Grammar:
Plural for noun: dissertations
Plural for noun: theses
[U.S.] Written for a Ph.D.

[British] Written for a master’s or bachelor’s degree

[U.S.] Written for a master’s or bachelor’s degree

[British] Written for a Ph.D.

[Israeli] Written for a Ph.D. or master’s degree

A long piece of writing about a particular subject that is done to earn an advanced degree at a university

An extended, usually written, treatment of a subject

Witten as a requirement for the Doctor of Philosophy degree (Ph.D.), a doctorate in any discipline except medicine, or sometimes theology

A long essay or dissertation embodying results of original research and especially substantiating a specific view

  • Especially one written by a candidate for an academic degree

A statement or theory that is put forward as a premise to be maintained or proved

  • [In Hegelian philosophy] A proposition forming the first stage in the process of dialectical reasoning
  • A proposition to be proved or one advanced without proof

Subject for a composition or essay

[Prosody] An unstressed syllable or part of a metrical foot in Greek or Latin verse 1

  • The accented part of a musical measure

[Music] Downward stroke in conducting

[Music] Downbeat

Joe wrote his doctoral dissertation on Thucydides.

She went on then into a dissertation on her family’s love of Ireland.

His central thesis is that psychological life is not part of the material world.

He finally finished his doctoral thesis.

He wrote his thesis on Marian figures used in the Church during the Renaissance.

Even though he was still in high school, he wrote the equivalent of a master’s thesis on the effects of global warming.

New evidence has come to light which supports his thesis.

We disagreed with the basic thesis of the report.

The book’s central thesis is that propaganda influences the masses in important ways.

Adjective: dissertational
Noun: dissertationist
History of the Word:
First known use: 1651

Early 17th century, in the sense of discussion, debate from the Latin dissertatio(n-), which is from dissertare, meaning continue to discuss from disserere meaning examine, discuss.

1 Late Middle English via late Latin from Greek, literally placing, a proposition, from the root of tithenai meaning to place.

C’mon, get it out of your system, bitch, whine, moan…which words are your pet peeves?

Pinterest Photo Credits

US Flag 49 Stars was created by jacobolus using Adobe Illustrator for the U.S. government and Union Flag 1606 (Kings Colors) by Hoshie are both in the public domain. Man Reading Book by David Boyle from London, UK, (week19_0006), is under the CC BY 2.0 license. All three are via Wikimedia Commons.

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