The Differences Between A Research Paper And A Dissertation

Writing GuidesResearch Paper
Jul 10, 2018

A dissertation is a research paper, but a research paper is not necessarily a dissertation. Many are the differences between a research paper and a dissertation. To give you a better grasp of this concept, here are the key differences between a dissertation and a research paper.

The Differences Between a Research Paper and Dissertation


Like a research paper, the process of writing a dissertation mainly revolves around research itself. A dissertation aims to put forward a new or a continuation study which is either made to prove or debunk a theory. Therefore, it entails a customized methodology that will best show the expected results. On the other hand, a research paper simply seeks to present all available facts about a given topic.


Another one of the differences between a research paper and a dissertation is that the latter requires the researcher to implement various research methods that will best gather the needed information, which means that although published researches are allowed to be used as a basis for theoretical and conceptual direction,  the results to be discussed must be a product of the researcher’s own data-gathering methods. 

In short, when writing a research paper , you can simply reiterate the results of the published dissertation, whereas when writing a dissertation, you have to interview your respondents, conduct a survey, or observe your subjects yourself. On top of doing the data-gathering, you also have to interpret your own data, and consequently, justify your results.


Since a dissertation requires the researcher to demonstrate original data and results interpretation on a very specific research topic, its scope of knowledge search is naturally more limited than that of a research paper to minimize errors.


Writing a research paper is a general requirement to pass any course, and usually, the more materials you read, the bigger scope you can discuss and the better chance to get a high grade. And while you submit a finished research paper direct to your professor, you cannot do the same with a dissertation.  

This is a significant difference between a research paper and a dissertation. Often, a dissertation is submitted in parts, and each part has to be defended against the inquiries of a panel—a group of individuals that are considered as experts in the field of your chosen topic. Accordingly, all corrections and recommendations from your panel must be addressed incorporated to your dissertation. 

Basically, if you wrote a sub-par research paper, you may still get a C, and you can improve your average by submitting a better paper for the next assignment. But, if what you did is a sub-par dissertation, you may have to repeat your data-gathering process—that is, if you are lucky. If not, you will have to find a new topic or re-position your angle, and then you will have to defend it again. To cut to the chase, you have to start from scratch. Of course, we do not want you to fail your research paper, so keep reading.


A research paper can be as short as a 600-word piece. On the other hand, a dissertation cannot go below 10 pages. This is because a research paper is simply a collation of established data, while a dissertation requires the researcher to go deep into every detail of the study to ensure that there is no loophole, and since topics for dissertations are mostly new, elaborate discussions are necessary. 

In addition, a research paper can be written as one long essay. You may also use subheadings in a research paper. On the other hand, a dissertation is written in chapters. Writing research papers is ultimately your best training ground for writing a dissertation. As much as they are similar in some ways, distinct are the differences between a research paper and a dissertation—you cannot write a dissertation if you do not know how to write a research paper. Think of it this way: you are writing a research paper to pass a course, and writing a dissertation to grab that degree.

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