What is Dissertation – Definition, Meaning And Examples

For most university students, their studies will culminate in the completion of their dissertations. Perhaps some of you might be wondering what a dissertation is! In this article, we’ll take you through some examples of dissertation topics, dissertation structures, and more.

what is dissertation

Dissertation vs. Thesis

You might have heard both words, dissertation and thesis, being used before. What are the differences between them? The fact is, the difference lies in the region where these terms are used – in the UK, a dissertation generally refers to what you would write at the undergraduate (Bachelor’s) and Master’s level, while a thesis refers to what you would write at the doctoral level. In the US, the usage of these terms is reversed. However, you’ll find that it is generally acceptable to use either term in speech as they are mostly interchangeable in meaning.

What is a Dissertation?

A dissertation is more than just a lengthy essay – it proves that you are capable of applying theories you have learned in the course of your university studies to a practical problem and that you have excellent research and planning skills. It also provides you with the opportunity to think of your discipline creatively and critically.

Dissertation Process


You are likely going to spend the majority of your final year working on your dissertation. Typically, you will be assigned a supervisor early in your first semester. You will meet regularly with your supervisor whose job is to oversee your progress and critique your work.

Dissertation Proposal

Depending on your course, you may have to submit a dissertation proposal which is a shorter essay or outline that details your research objectives and methodology. Your supervisor will then provide you with feedback – this is important! Getting good feedback early in the year ensures that you have time to fix your dissertation and your final work will meet course requirements.

Dissertation Submission

Once your work is complete, just as with your other assignments, it will be checked for plagiarism before it is submitted. 

Oral Examinations, Viva, Thesis Defence

This is less common for undergraduates, but postgraduate students may need to attend an oral examination, viva, or thesis defence. These oral examinations require you to give a presentation about your research. Then, a panel of lecturers and professors who have read your dissertation will ask you questions about your work. While it might seem hostile to be questioned in this manner, this process is just as constructive as getting feedback from your supervisor as you will be hearing from different perspectives. If requested, you will need to amend your work based on their feedback before your final submission.

Dissertation Grading

Finally, you are done with the dissertation! At this point, your work will be graded by your supervisor and will likely undergo something known as double-blind marking, which is a common policy in UK universities where there are two people grading your work and they will make grading decisions individually. Once you have passed your dissertation and other required subjects, you will officially be a graduand, awaiting your degree!

Dissertation Examples

Here are some examples of dissertation topics in the field of economics, courtesy of students from the University of Nottingham As you may have noticed, while these dissertations were written about economics, it is often interdisciplinary, which means that it involves some elements from other disciplines. Some of the examples below included gender studies and media studies as part of its central research focus.

  • Volatility linkages between oil, non-energy commodity and stock markets, Evdokia Harpa, BSc Hons Economics and Econometrics, 2018
  • The Impact of Donald Trump’s Tweets on Financial Markets, Krishan Rayarel, BSc Hons Economics, 2018
  • The Effect of Immigration on UK House Prices, Luke Green, BSc Hons Economics, 2018
  • Does the Gender Composition of a Board of Directors affect Firm Performance? Rebecca Moss, BA Hons Economics with French, 2018

Dissertation Length

Bachelor’s dissertations are usually around 9,000-12,000 words.

Master’s dissertations are usually between 15,000-20,000 words.

The length of doctoral theses will vary greatly depending on the university and course requirements. They are usually no shorter than 60,000 words and are usually around 100,000 words. However, some theses do exceed this number as it depends on the nature and scope of the research.

Dissertation Structure Chapters

There are five basic chapters to the structure of a dissertation. These are:

  • Introduction – a short introduction to the topic and scope of the study
  • Literature Review – overview of current research on the topic
  • Methodology – how the research is designed and conducted
  • Discussion – your interpretation and explanation of your research results
  • Conclusion – a short summary of your research

The name of these chapters may vary depending on your discipline, but this would be the most common way in which dissertations are structured. Postgraduate dissertations tend to be more complex as they have more subjects to cover and may have more than one chapter per section.

Dissertation Abstract

Abstracts are usually found on the first page of the complete dissertation. It is a very short summary of your research that helps your reader understand what your research is about. Abstracts are also usually found on the first page of journal articles which helps a reader decide if the research is relevant to their studies.

Dissertation Acknowledgements

Most universities allow students to include a page of acknowledgements in their complete dissertations. It is simply a page where the author acknowledges people who have shown them support and guidance relating to their studies.

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