| +3 123 456 789


Home » Resources » "Disquisition"
  • Author
    Robert Bruce
  • Category
  • Published
    February 5th, 2024

Introducing the Word Disquisition

This article will look at the meaning, origin, and use of the word ‘disquisition’. It will compare how a disquisition differs from other kinds of writing tasks, and then it will look at how to write one.

This may be the first time you have seen the word, or it could be that your school or university has used it, and you want to know more about it.

An internet search for disquisition brings results that are almost solely from dictionary sites, giving you a one-line definition of the word. Moreover, there are many lists of synonyms. Let’s start by getting past any confusion and looking into the definition.

What is a Disquisition?

A disquisition is a formal inquiry into a subject, or a discussion of one. It is a formal or systematic inquiry or investigation into a topic, explaining all the arguments and facts that bear upon it. It is a long and detailed explanation of a subject.

A disquisition stresses the limitation of a subject. It does not carry any suggestion of failure or success of the subject. The disquisition is not intended as a way of expounding the writer’s proposition about something, it presents the topic and investigates and exposes everything that comes under its title.

From this definition, it can be seen that it is not intended to be argumentative, and is generally informative and impartial.

Why You Have Not Heard this Word Before

Disquisition is not a commonly used word. Where you will easily find published dissertations, essays, and theses, you will not find many works that contain the word ‘disquisition’, nor will you find many published works described as disquisitions. So, with it being a little-used word, those who have used it in their work have added a certain level of intrigue to the title. But does anyone use it?

At present there seems to be just one educational institution employing the word. This is North Dakota State University. They use it as an in-house umbrella term, covering dissertations, theses, and other master’s papers. The papers covered by this term have their own prescribed formatting and structuring guidelines. A disquisition does not, so it is more of a general than a specific term.

The Word Disquisition, Grammatically Speaking

Disquisition is a noun; it has no direct verb form, as there is for example with definition and define. The closest words in meaning to disquisition are examination, exploration, inquiry, investigation, and dissertation.

There is an adjective form; you can do a disquisitional piece of writing. But if you have a strict word limit, you would probably just write a disquisition.

How to Say it

We should point out that the pronunciation follows the same stress pattern as the words ‘disposition’, and ‘inquisition’ in that the third syllable is stressed (just note that the meaning of ‘disquisition’ is not a combination of those two words). As the word ends in tion, it adheres to the rule whereby the syllable that precedes ‘tion’ carries the stress, as in ‘information’, ‘evolution’, and ‘invention’.

Where is it from?

Those of you who know a little etymology will have observed that as disquisition ends in tion, it is of French origin. To be (fairly) precise, it is from late 15th century French Latin ‘disquisitionem’, meaning an inquiry or investigation.

Furthermore, this investigation is written as a formal dissertation or a long speech. Yes, a speech; one thing setting the disquisition apart from other studies into subjects is that it can be oral or written.

So, we have established what one is, where the word is from and how to say it. Let’s look in more detail at how its definition as a lengthy piece of work compares against other terms that refer to long academic works.

A disquisition, then, is a long and formal investigation into a subject. Does anything in that definition sound familiar? As a student, you might spend lots of time writing essays, theses, and dissertations. What if you then get asked to write a disquisition? Do not worry, this is not a new type of paper with its own prescribed structure and formatting rules. Let’s compare it with other works to see this.

Comparing Disquisitions to Other Texts

A dissertation is usually carried out as part of a Ph.D. programme and specifically requires students to assess the current literature on a given subject. They then carry out their own independent research, write up their findings, and add this work to the literature for others to refer to and build on in the future. Dissertations on a given topic can be seen as part of the evolution of the subject.

The layout of your dissertation and the order in which you present each part are strictly prescribed. It is not only the order that must be followed, there are certain parts that have to be included or it will be considered incomplete.

There are similarities here to theses, although one big difference between a thesis and a dissertation is length. A dissertation is usually much longer than a thesis and takes far longer to complete.

A thesis is usually the final part of a master’s degree course. It does not require writers to carry out independent research, or, as in the case of more scientific subjects, hands-on experiments, with the intention of leaving their own personal marks in the current literature on the subject. Instead, the writer chooses a narrow section within a topic and researches deeply into this area.

The writer creates an academic argument and uses the research they have carried out to prove their assertion. This is a key area where a thesis differs from a disquisition – the thesis sets out to prove or establish something, but the disquisition does not.

In producing a thesis, much of the material used for research will be suggested by the university. For a dissertation there may be hundreds of external sources to investigate.

There is understandably some confusion over the definitions and common usage of ‘thesis’ and ‘dissertation’ because some institutions use the terms interchangeably. However, it is generally accepted that the definitions outlined here are correct.

The Oral Part

As we have discussed, a disquisition can be completely oral, as in a speech. Dissertations and theses have oral parts, but purpose and context are different. The oral part comes after completion, when the writer has to verbally defend the paper to the faculty members.

For a dissertation this could take several hours, and for a thesis it could be just one hour. To be clear, an entire disquisition can be spoken, whereas the thesis and dissertation are written works only.

How to Understand the Differences Between a Disquisition and Other Texts

A dissertation, as we can see, consists of specific parts arranged in a specific order. The author is required to carry out research and even conduct experiments. A thesis is shorter but still requires deep research and should be presented in a prescribed way. A disquisition does not have any length attached to it and there are no universally recognized guidelines that say it should be laid out in any particular fashion, which sounds quite vague.

If someone were to ask you to read their dissertation or thesis, you would have some idea of how long it would take. But if someone asked you to read their disquisition, you could ask how long it is and be pleasantly surprised that you could have it done within an hour or two. Although you could find that it might take up a few hours a day for the next couple of weeks. The accepted length of a disquisition falls within a very wide range.

This range could be because as the disquisition investigates subjects thoroughly, and some subjects are much bigger than others. For example, if you were to compare an investigation into the best way to plant acorns against an investigation into the evolution of electronic communications, you know which will be longer.

Structure and Formatting

Length is not the only difference; when you start your dissertation or thesis, your university will provide you with recognized formatting and structuring guidelines. These are not available for a disquisition. Although, it would be incorrect to assume that this means a disquisition can be written in a random order or that the order in which you present your findings do not matter.

When reading any academic or even just informative text, the reader expects to be greeted with an introduction, provided with carefully organized information in a series of paragraphs and/or chapters, and to have everything neatly summarised at the end.


Another term that comes up when comparing disquisition, dissertation, and thesis is treatise.

How does a treatise differ from a disquisition? Well, a treatise is described as a long, in-depth investigation into, or a systematic discourse on a subject. When did you last hear a definition like that? A more detailed definition describes a treatise as a methodical, usually expository, but possibly argumentative or narrative work. Some dictionary sites will give treatise as a synonym for disquisition.

Wikipedia describes John C. Calhoun’s A Disquisition on Government as “a political treatise”. And we noted on an Amazon listing for Carl Friedrich Gauss’s Disquisitiones Arithmeticae, the description contained a quote from Asger Aaboe, who says “…Gauss’s Disquisitiones Arithmeticae surely belongs among the greatest mathematical treatises of all fields and periods.” So, we can see there is considerable overlap between these terms, at least in usage, but what about structure?

Tips for Writing an Amazing Disquisition

As there appears to be no formally recognized structure to a disquisition, we have to take our cue from those we can find that have been published and see how they were constructed. It is good to know that the usual formula, as outlined above, is the accepted standard. Let’s look at that in a little more detail.

Organize your Disquisition

If you have been asked to write a disquisition, you should ask for clarification about exactly what you are expected to produce. It is most likely the requirement is to write a more commonly accepted paper, such as an essay, of which there are several different types. We would recommend staying close to the usual essay or thesis style when arranging the parts of your disquisition.

This means starting with an introduction, then following with however many paragraphs or chapters you require to deliver the information. It all depends on the scope of your investigation. Depending on the depth of study in your disquisition, you might be able to tie it all together at the end with a concluding paragraph, or you might need a concluding chapter. The conclusion is, shall we say, proportional.

Maintain a Logical Order

Be sure to write in a logical and coherent order; it is something you can lose track of during the writing process. It is important to always bear in mind that you are writing for a reader, not just for yourself. At the time of writing, you will have all the information freshly gathered in your mind and your notes.

This makes it easy for you to fall into the trap of writing something your reader cannot grasp, but which you feel is a perfectly simple and clear explanation.

A good way to exemplify this situation is with the tapping-a-tune-on-a-table test. Think of a tune, then tap it as best you can on a table with a pen, and see if anyone can recognize it. It’s too hard because when you do this, you play the song from memory in your head, and only you can hear it.

As well as information on the subject, you need to give your reader some signposts regarding where you are leading them.

Tell Your Reader Why

Be clear about what you are saying and why. It might sound too obvious a point, but you should explain this from the start. If it helps, while you write, give each paragraph a heading, even if only temporarily, and check that you adhere to it. By leaving all the headings in place, you can read them from start to finish to make sure they describe your plan. You can also see if there are any gaps or if things are in the wrong order.

Use an Identifiable Structure

As your disquisition is likely to be an exhaustive delve into a subject, you have a choice of ways in which to structure the delivery of the material. If the subject charts the development or progress of something, you can do it chronologically in either direction.

If you are looking into an aspect of someone’s work, you can examine each work in turn, showing the progression, or examine them not in order but grouped by type or genre, looking at similarities and differences.

The important thing is that there is an identifiable structure and that you bring your reader along with you. At a basic level, you might use some excellent words and phrases, construct some brilliant sentences, and put together some beautiful paragraphs. But everything needs to be in the right order for it to make good sense to your reader, and you need to show which words are yours and which are from other writers.

Reference Other’s Work that you Use

All academic texts should reference where someone else’s work is used or referred to. This applies to disquisitions as much as to any other type of work. Not referencing the work of others, whether on purpose or accidentally, is called plagiarism. If you have not been assigned a referencing style, then you have the same options as would anyone else, such as APA, Harvard, Chicago, etc.

Examples of Disquisitions

For some real examples of disquisitions, here are some you could look at:

· Alexander Blackrie, A Disquisition on Medicines that Dissolve the Stone in Which Dr Chittick’s Secret is Considered and Discovered (London: 1766)

· John C. Calhoun, A Disquisition on Government (Charleston, S. C.: 1851)

· Carl Gauss, Disquisitiones Arithmeticae (Yale, 1966).

· William Robertson, The History of America, Book 9-10. An Historical Disquisition Concerning Ancient India (London: 1840).

In Conclusion

Disquisition is not a commonly used word. It is defined as an investigation into a subject or a specific section of a larger subject; as such, length can vary greatly. Where compared to dissertations and theses, disquisitions do not have specific and detailed rules on formatting and structure.

Although, it appears the usual academic practice is employed, whereby the topic is introduced, then explained in a logical order through a series of paragraphs and chapters, and summarised in a conclusion.

Moreover, any references to the cited works of others are done in-text and in more detail in a references list at the end. A disquisition, then, is a somewhat general term, that has fallen out of use, for an academic work.

Frequently Asked Questions

Choose between a disquisition and treatise based on your purpose and depth of exploration. A disquisition is more informal, exploring a topic, while a treatise is a formal, comprehensive analysis. Tailor your choice to your specific writing goals and audience.

A disquisition is a detailed and formal written or spoken discussion or inquiry into a particular subject. It involves a thorough examination, analysis, and presentation of ideas, often exploring various perspectives or aspects of the topic.

“Disquisitive” describes someone fond of inquiry and investigation, making it a perfect word for curious minds.

To pronounce “disquisition,” say: dis-kwuh-zish-uhn. Emphasize the first syllable, “dis,” with a short “i” sound, followed by “kwuh” and “zish” pronounced as written, and end with “uhn.” Stress is on the first syllable.

5What is eschew theological disquisition?

“Eschew theological disquisition” means to avoid engaging in in-depth discussions or analyses related to theology. It suggests steering clear of detailed or elaborate examinations of theological topics or debates.