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Differences Between a Disquisition, Thesis and a Dissertation

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This guide will look into the differences and similarities between disquisitions, theses, and dissertations. You may be familiar with theses and dissertations, but disquisitions might be new to you. Whatever your area of study or the type of course you are following, it will be beneficial for you to understand these different terms – how they were used in the past, and how they are used now.

Definitions of the Three Terms

How is a Thesis Defined?

A thesis (theses is the plural) is commonly defined as a proposition that is stated or put forward for consideration, especially one that should be discussed and proved, or defended against objections.

It is a long piece of writing on a particular subject, usually based on the original research of the writer, who is most often a candidate for an academic degree. As well as written work, it is also described as the main idea, opinion, theory of a group, or content of a speech.

How is a Dissertation Defined?

A dissertation is commonly defined as a long piece of writing on a subject, almost always in order to gain an advanced university degree – usually a Ph.D. or doctorate. It often contains a new point of view, and is based on, and challenges, the existing literature on the subject.

Definition of a Disquisition

We will give a brief definition here, as per the previous two terms. As you may be less familiar with this term, a more in-depth definition can be found in our article on disquisition and writing tips.

A disquisition is generally defined as a long piece of writing on a given subject. At this point then, there does not appear to be much difference between a dissertation, a thesis, and a disquisition. But there are several important differences, which we will come to.

A History of the Three Terms: Some Etymology

The word thesis has other meanings, connected to music and poetry, which are unconnected to its use as formal text. Where it describes a written work, Wikipedia says that Aristotle (384-322 BC) defined thesis as a stated claim that is in opposition or contradiction to the general opinion. The thesis may or may not be true, which is why the person making the claim has to provide evidence in support. This evidence and reasoning as to why the author disagrees with the general opinion, when organized and presented, is called a dissertation.

Otherwise, thesis is said to stem from Latin, then Greek, and its first recorded use is from the late 14th century. Thesis, with the meaning of something put forward to be discussed, proved, or defended was first seen in 1579.

Use of thesis where it specifically refers to ”a dissertation required for an academic degree”, came about in the late 17th century. You might not have expected such a history lesson, but it helps to show that thesis and dissertation have been used together, almost interchangeably for some time. The definitions and usage of dissertation and thesis were not always interchangeable though.

Usage of the Three Terms Over Time

At ancient universities, after the teacher had given his lecture, it was traditional to conduct a disputation. This was where students could pick out certain points from the lecture and argue them, pushing the teacher to defend his position. And this position that one would take was called the thesis. The dissertation was the line of reasoning one would use to support that thesis.

The meanings of words can change over time, and there are many reasons for this. It was in the 1650s when dissertation began its use as a way to refer to a formal piece of written work. And the first recorded use of it meaning a research paper for the final project of a Ph.D. or other doctoral degree, was in 1877.

The first recorded use of disquisition was in the 1640s and it meant an inquiry or investigation, delivered as a long speech or formal piece of writing. Let’s look at how these words are used today.

Current Uses of Dissertation, Thesis, and Disquisition

Many universities use thesis and dissertation interchangeably – as synonyms, and you are probably quite familiar with both. More often, a thesis is the final written work for certain types of degrees, and a dissertation is a specific paper that is required to attain a Ph.D. or other doctoral degree.

It is worth noting here the use of the term thesis statement. This is one to three sentences in the introduction of an academic essay outlining what the essay is about; it is a term applied generally to academic essays at various academic levels. Most people are unfamiliar with disquisition; this is the least used of the three terms. But why is this?

Where thesis and dissertation point to specific papers with their own requirements and rules, disquisition does not, and has largely fallen out of use, except where it has undergone a revival at North Dakota State University. This is not to say that there are no rules regarding the structuring and writing of a disquisition; it is just not so commonly used in academia.

Dissertation and thesis are used differently in the USA and Europe. In the USA the difference between the two is quite clear: a dissertation completes a Ph.D. program, and a thesis concludes a master’s degree.

In Europe it is not quite so straightforward: A Ph.D. program might require a doctoral thesis, and a dissertation may be required to complete a broader post-graduate research project.

Structural Differences Between the Three Papers

Where there are very clear guidelines on how to structure a thesis and a dissertation, it is not the case for a disquisition. If you carry out an internet search on how to structure or write a thesis or dissertation, you will be spoilt for choice. There are countless pages on the subject and swathes of videos. Try the same for disquisition writing and you will find very little, if anything.

There are many different sections to a dissertation. In brief, these are the front section, introduction, literature review, research methodology, results, summary, references, and appendices. Each of these sections will contain up to seven subsections; it is really a very detailed and thorough piece of work.

A thesis can be around 100 pages, and a dissertation can be 2-3 times longer. However, the lengths of disquisitions can vary immensely, ranging from a few pages to hundreds.

The structure of a thesis is similar to that of a dissertation, but there are far fewer parts. For example, the front section of the dissertation might contain a title page, acknowledgments, abstract, table of contents, lists of figures and tables, list of abbreviations, and a glossary; this is all before the introduction. The thesis may only require half of these, or even just the abstract.

How do I Structure a Disquisition?

The only guide to the disquisition structure you might find is our own. So, there will be no detailed explanation in this guide; we will just point out that although a disquisition differs by its lack of a prescribed written format, it still follows the basic pattern of introduction – body – conclusion. This is one of the biggest differences between the three papers, a disquisition does not come with a specific set of instructions for assembly.

Depending on whether you have chosen or been instructed to write a disquisition, you will either have to find out for yourself or ask whoever has instructed you, to tell you what they expect. As there does not seem to be a formally recognized layout, if you have not been given instructions, then our guide (Link 2) will help.

What are the Purposes of the Different Papers?


A university will likely require a dissertation at the end of a Ph.D. course, or another doctorate program. In some countries a dissertation is required for the completion of postgraduate and undergraduate degrees. The exact topic is not dictated by the university, the student chooses it. It will of course be related to the student’s studies.

A dissertation is a research project that allows students to present the findings to their chosen question or proposition. The purpose of the dissertation is to allow students to showcase the research skills they have acquired during their time at university. There may be some assistance and guidance from tutors, but for the main part, the work is independent. Producing a dissertation can be a huge undertaking, requiring months or years of work. For this reason, the content is mostly attributed to the student as the author.

Dissertations can be divided into two types: empirical and non-empirical. In an empirical dissertation, data is collected and presented. This data supports the proposition. A non-empirical dissertation critically analyses the work of others. It requires researching deeply into a given subject, analyzing the existing research and material, and then presenting the results and conclusion.

Whichever type is chosen, the dissertation’s author states a hypothesis and sets out to prove it. And once this is completed, it’s still not over.

As mentioned in the section on usage, there will be a disputation, or at least a discussion about the work, in which you have to orally defend your argument. This is called the viva, which is short for viva voce (live voice). The viva begins with the author giving a presentation of the work to two or three professors.

After this the professors will ask the author questions about the dissertation, and this can last up to three hours.


Similar to a dissertation, a thesis, sometimes called “a final thesis”, often conclude a master’s degree program. However, there are some bachelor’s and master’s courses that are ‘course only’, requiring no final thesis.

A thesis allows students to display their knowledge and understanding of the subject matter they have been studying. It is likely that students choose their own final thesis topics, as with dissertations.

The big difference between a thesis and a dissertation is that the thesis is based on current research. So, students do research on existing research, choose a position to take, and buttress it with their findings. The dissertation writer also carries out research, but this is likely ‘fresh’ research, possibly ground-breaking, and it should add value to the existing material on the subject.

As with dissertations, when theses are completed, they often require an oral presentation, which also includes a question-and-answer period. For a thesis though, this can all be completed within an hour.


Unlike the other two papers, you are not likely to be asked by your university to write a final disquisition to conclude your degree. Or are you? Where the definition of disquisition describes it is a long academic investigation into a given subject, isn’t that what theses and dissertations are?

Moreover, as a disquisition has no formally recognized structure, it means it can safely be used as an umbrella term over the other two. When it comes to the oral presentation of a disquisition, the whole thing can be delivered as a speech.

So, you could say that at the end of either a Ph.D., doctorate, or master’s degree, you will be required to write a disquisition. And then depending on the particular course, or even where in the world you are, this will either be called a thesis or a dissertation.

Structural Similarities

These three types of paper are academic works, and as such follow a similar basic pattern of introduction, main body, and conclusion. This is of course, an oversimplification; those of you familiar with the construction of a dissertation know that it contains many specific sections.

But still, the reader has to be introduced to the topic, the bulk of the information needs to be organized in a logical and coherent way, and after it has been delivered, the reader deserves to hear the author’s conclusion.

All three works will refer to and quote the work of other authors, and will of course list those works in a references section. This avoids plagiarism, allows the other authors credit for their work, and gives readers the opportunity to source the publications mentioned so that they can do their own research or further reading.

If I do not Have a Topic, How do I Come up with One?

Similar to the previous point about whether you have elected to write something or you have been required to, you will either have a topic ready to write about or you will need to come up with one. Do topics for dissertations, theses, and disquisitions differ? No, it would appear not. Your paper can be on any subject as long as it has some academic value to prospective readers.

If you are free to write on any topic whatsoever, too much choice can make the decision difficult. To narrow down the range of subjects, the first thing to do is separate things that interest you from those that don’t. If you want others to read your work with interest, then pick something with some appeal. You can’t appeal to everyone, so do not try to.

If you are writing any of these three types of paper as part of a study course, it can still be difficult to find a topic to write on. This is because you need to find that ‘angle of entry’ into the subject that will catch your readers’ attention; a topic or a discussion no one has approached so far. We look much more deeply into the practice of coming up with disquisition topics in this guide.

Differences and Similarities – in Conclusion

If we could spread one of each of the three papers out on a (massive) desk, we would see that they are all serious pieces of academic work making deep investigations into certain subjects. The thesis and dissertation are almost always the final parts of study programs, whereas it is very unlikely you will be directly asked to write a disquisition. All three refer to the work of others and will thus have reference sections.

The different papers vary in length; a thesis can be around 100 pages, a dissertation is almost always longer, often three times longer, and a disquisition can be as short as a few pages, or extend to several hundred, being published as a book.

Where the completion of a thesis or dissertation includes an oral defense by the author, this is not the case specifically with a disquisition, but it can be delivered as a speech.

In terms of content, the thesis considers and analyses existing material, and the dissertation pushes the scope of material on the subject via the author’s own research into new areas. You may think you will never write a disquisition, but as essays, theses, and dissertations all take their place under the umbrella term disquisition, you might have already written one.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1What is a disquisition?

A disquisition is a detailed and formal written or spoken examination of a subject. It involves thorough exploration, analysis, and presentation of ideas, often delving into multiple aspects or perspectives. Disquisitions are scholarly in nature, aiming for a comprehensive understanding of the topic.

2What is the difference between a disquisition and a dissertation?

While both involve in-depth exploration, a disquisition is a broader, more general inquiry or discussion, often less formal. A dissertation is a formal, structured document presenting original research for an academic degree. The latter is typically more specialized and rigorous in scholarly conventions.

3What is the difference between a disquisition and a thesis?

A disquisition is a detailed examination or discussion of a subject, often less formal, while a thesis is a specific claim or proposition, typically presented in a formal academic context. A thesis is a concise statement supporting an argument, theory, or research.

4What is the difference between a thesis and dissertation?

In many contexts, a thesis refers to a focused claim or proposition in academic writing, often for a bachelor’s or master’s degree. A dissertation, typically for a doctoral degree, is a more extensive, formal document presenting original research, including an in-depth literature review.

About Nicolas

Alvin Nicolas is a specialist in disquisition writing, editing, and proofreading, adept at refining and perfecting written works with precision and expertise.