Analytic Quality Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2004-21, Analytic Quality Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 18 June, 2021 , © Lee Harvey 2004–2021.


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core definition

A dissertation is an extended (usually written) project involving research by the student, which contributes significantly towards a final assessment for a degree.

explanatory context

Dissertation implies different levels of study in different countries. In the US, dissertation is used to refer to the principal outcome of doctoral level study. In the US the PhD research document is called the PhD dissertation, while in Europe it is usually referred to as a PhD thesis.


In most Western European countries, Australia and New Zealand, a dissertation implies master’s level study. It might even be used to refer to an extended piece of written work at bachelor’s (undergraduate) level. However, this is more often referred to as an undergraduate project.

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In the US, NTNC (2002) defines dissertation as:

The major research project normally required as part of the work for a doctoral degree. Dissertations are expected to make a new and creative contribution to the field of study, or to demonstrate one's excellence in the field.


Pepperdine University (2003) elaborates:

The doctoral dissertation is an opportunity for students to demonstrate their ability to bridge theory and practice through research or evaluation. Students are encouraged throughout their coursework to identify salient issues and relevant organizational concerns they might wish to investigate as a basis for producing a dissertation, the final requirement for the doctoral degree.

The dissertation is a scholarly work conducted independently by the student, under the direction of a full-time GSEP faculty member… After obtaining approval of a dissertation proposal through the Preliminary Examination process the student implements the methods, produces results, and identifies conclusions and recommendations. A Final Defense is held when the student's committee feel the student is ready…. Acceptable projects include but are not limited to:

·               An empirical study, using quantitative and/or qualitative methods of analysis;

·               Program or product development and evaluation projects;

·               An original theoretical analysis of an existing issue;

·               The development of a new model for organizational and/or leadership interventions;

·               An in-depth case study with findings which explain the theoretical and/or practical.


Long Island University (2000) has a similar definition:

A dissertation is an extended written treatise, in which the author exposits original research results and interpretations of a unique investigation.  At base, the dissertation is an essay that demonstrates excellence in scholarly ability, intellectual acuity, and erudition.  The dissertation stands as the culmination of the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.  A dissertation in Information Studies must add substantively to understanding in the discipline.  To qualify for the Ph.D.:

·               A dissertation must be demonstrably original work.

·               A dissertation must be the student's own work.

·               A dissertation must never have been previously submitted for college credit or used for any other academic purpose.

·               A dissertation must never have been published (including on the Internet see below).

·               A dissertation must demonstrate mastery of written, standard American English.

·               A dissertation topic must be sufficiently important to be approved by the dissertation committee, the methodology must be efficacious and acceptable to the dissertation committee.


In the Netherlands, Hogeschool Zeeland (2002, p. 7) situates the dissertation with master’s framework:

The dissertation is the key element of the course that differentiates between the Post Graduate Diploma and Masters of Science Award…A dissertation is a special type of document that is unlike any other you will have had to write. It is sometimes said that an essay, short story or novel in English is like a fish - it has a head, a body and a tail. What is meant is that there should be an introduction (the head), the main part of the composition (the body), and a summary or conclusion to bring things to a natural end (the tail). We can develop the analogy to cover a dissertation; a dissertation is like a centipede, it has a head and a tail, but  these are separated by a body divided into a number of segments of equal importance that follow each other in a logical sequence.



In the UK, the Lancaster University (undated) sees a dissertation as a Master’s-level activity:

In all of the Institute’s MAs the dissertation is an extended study that constitutes the culmination of your academic work at the Master's level. The dissertation should be an in-depth study and counts for 40% of the whole course. It is completed over period of study but mainly in the summer with individual supervision from a member of the Institute.

An answer to the question, ‘what is a dissertation?’ is hard to formulate. In one sense it draws on similar skills to those of essay writing but calls for a lot more. The main differences are: length, scope, depth, and independence. The dissertation is really where you can use the knowledge and skills you have gained during more structured study of modules and go further by demonstrating, in a piece of independent work, that you can address a specific, well formulated and circumscribed topic, and develop a substantial, coherent and well argued piece of writing. The dissertation is best focused on a question that is part of a wider discussion in the relevant field.


The University of Glasgow (2003–4) differentiates between Diploma and MPhil dissertations:

A dissertation is (usually) an original piece of written work of some substance, in which a problem, hypothesis or question of importance to the author is subjected to analysis and elucidation by an explicit method or methods.  Conclusions are drawn about the problem and also perhaps about methods chosen and the contextual value of the findings. The originality of the dissertation lies in it being the new work of an individual author tackling an issue of practical or academic significance. 

The requirement for the contribution to knowledge means that your research must be satisfactorily linked to what is already known about the topic.  This requires a thorough review of the literature which already exists about the topic in journal articles, books and reports.  Such a review should normally appear as an early chapter in the dissertation.  In addition, you must demonstrate expert knowledge of, and insight into, you chosen topic.  Working at the MPhil level also calls for higher standards of research design, implementation and analysis than called for by a Diploma dissertation.  You should include a detailed discussion of your research methodology in a separate chapter or appendix.


Warwick University’s (2012) advice on a master’s dissertation in history suggests:

The dissertation is 15,000 words long — roughly the length of two academic articles or book-chapters — and you will need to identify a topic which can be dealt with inside that length whilst showing originality. It is not a book, nor an essay. You should view it mainly as an opportunity to develop research techniques and methodologies and to present the research in an appropriate format. You will need to follow the Postgraduate Style Guide and the Graduate School’s conventions for presentation, and make sure you have these documents at all times.


In Ireland the term dissertation is applied to undergraduate studies as well.

All senior sophisters taking history alone are required to write a dissertation, carrying the weight of two papers in the Moderatorship examination. This enables all students to experience the excitements, and frustrations, associated with original research. What is a dissertation? It is an extended essay based on independent research, involving critical study of primary sources. It allows you to apply the techniques taught in special subjects to sustained investigation of a topic of your choosing, free from the constraints imposed by your normal class schedule. The dissertation must be your own work, in that you must do your own research, construct your own argument, and write it yourself. (Trinity College, 2004)


This also applies in Australia, for example, Charles Sturt University (2004), in reference to Bachelor of Applied Science (Equine Studies) states:

A Dissertation is a written report of the Honours Research Project that the student submits and the end of the year.


Hamilton (1996) suggested that a professional dissertation differed from an academic one:

A professional dissertation, therefore, is more likely to be judged against the question ‘Does this work enhance the candidate’s professionalism?’ than the question ‘Is this an addition to the existing corpus of knowledge?’


The (Corey, 2008) website states:

Definition of a dissertation, finally Explained in simple English!

Dissertation according to oxford dictionary, "Dissertation is a long essay, especially one written for a university degree or diploma".
Dissertation according to Britannica Encyclopedia, "Dissertation is an extended usually written treatment of a subject; specifically: one submitted for a doctorate".
Dissertation according to ISO 7144,
"A dissertation is a document that presents the author's research and findings and is submitted in support of candidature for a degree or professional qualification"

How Different Regions Define Dissertation:
Dissertation has different connotations in different countries and entails different levels of study in different countries. In the United States of America, dissertation is defined as the main product of doctoral level study. In the US the PhD research document is defined as the PhD dissertation, whereas in Europe and UK it is typically referred to as a PhD thesis.

In the majority of Western European countries like Australia and New Zealand, a dissertation means Master’s level study. It might even be used to define an extended piece of written work at bachelor's (undergraduate) level.

United Kingdom
At universities in the United Kingdom, the word thesis is normally connected with PhD (doctoral), at the same time dissertation is the more widespread expression for a large project submitted as part of an undergraduate or taught Master's degree.

United States of America
In a number of United States doctoral programs, the word "dissertation" can refer to the most part of the student's overall time used up (along with 2 or 3 years of classes), and may take years of permanent work to finish.

At nearly all universities, dissertation is the term for the required submission of the written researched document for the doctorate degree and thesis refers only to the Master's degree requirement.

Dissertation is an extensive (typically written) assignment requiring an in-depth research by the student it can be a long essay, Research and findings of the author. Dissertation is normally given for graduates, undergraduate and Masters degree candidates in UK while in US candidates normally call it a thesis. However what your problem is you can find a comprehensive help on

associated issues

related areas

See also



bachelor’s degree

master’s degree

doctoral degree



Charles Sturt University, 2004, School of Agricultural and Veterinary Sciences, Bachelor of Applied Science (Equine Studies), What is a Dissertation?,, page undated accessed November 2004, no longer available 2 March 2011.

Corey, D., 2008, 'What if you ask, what is a Dissertation or how to define dissertation?' Dissertation Writing And Learning Centre, Issue 7, 17 April 2008, available at, accessed 21 September 2012, not available 20 June 2019.

Hamilton, D., Expectations and Anxieties in the Preparation of a M.Ed. Dissertation,, accessed 14th  November, 1996, no longer available 2 March 2011.

Hogeschool Zeeland, 2002, Master of Science in Supply Chain Management, Course Document SCM  Appendix D Dissertation Manual, 22 November, 2002

Lancaster University, undated, The Distance Mode of MA in Values and the Environment at Lancaster University: The Dissertation., page undated but pre Novemember 2004, accessed 21 September 2012, still available 26 June 2019.

Long Island University, Palmer School of Library and Information Science, 2000, Doctor of Philosophy in information Studies: Dissertation Manual Fall 1999,, updated 12 May 2000, no longer available 2 March 2011.

Northeast Texas Network Consortium (NTNC), 2002, Distance Learning College Glossary. , accessed 21 September 2012, still available 3 January 2017, not available 20 June 2019.

Pepperdine University (2003) Graduate School of Education and Psychology: Student services; Education Dissertation Support, no longer available 2 March 2011.

University of Dublin, Trinity College (2004) Undergraduate History : Course Materials, Guide to Dissertations, Department of Modern History, Arts Building, Trinity College, Dublin, last updated, 30th August, 2004, no longer available 2 March 2011.

University of Glasgow, 2003–4, Faculty of Social Sciences: Graduate School, Preparing a Masters Dissertation, no longer available 2 March 2011.

Warwick University, 2012, Centre for the Study of the Renaissance, Code of Practice on Taught MA Dissertations (including ‘The Research Proposal’), page contact, Julie Moreton; last revised,11 June 2012, (the entry on dissertaion has not changed since at least 2006), accessed 21 September 2012, page not available 3 January 2017.

copyright Lee Harvey 2004–2021

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