What Is A Dissertation In The UK?

what is a dissertation
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Writing a dissertation is an important aspect of undergraduate and post-graduate education and can make or mar the effort you have put into your pursuit of higher learning.

So, If you are a student in the UK and you are trying to understand the ins and outs of a university dissertation, our guide will be of immense help.

It became pertinent to write this guide as we have come to understand that some students in the UK struggle with their dissertations.

For such students and others who might find themselves confused about what a dissertation is and how it differs from a thesis, our article will answer all your burning questions.

This article will also look at how long a dissertation is expected to be in the UK, the definition and types of dissertations word counts, research methods, and deadlines. 

What is Dissertation: Definition and Purpose

In the UK, a dissertation is a research project students undertake as part of their bachelor’s or master’s degree. It serves as an opportunity for students to delve deep into a specific topic of interest and demonstrate their ability to conduct independent research.

The dissertation is typically based on a question or theme that the student chooses, and the ultimate goal is to provide an extended academic report that answers that question.

The term “dissertation” originates from the Latin word “dissertare,” which means “to debate.” This etymology sheds light on the nature of a dissertation, as it requires students to argue for different ideas related to their research question.

Students must engage in critical thinking, analysis, and evaluation of existing research and arguments within their field.

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How long Is A dissertation?

The dissertation length varies depending on the academic level and the country’s norms but typically ranges from approximately 10,000 to 12,000 words for undergraduate studies, 15,000 to 25,000 words for master’s-level projects, and can extend to 50,000 words or beyond for Ph.D. dissertations.

Types of Dissertations in the UK

In the UK, there are two main types of dissertations: undergraduate dissertations and master’s dissertations. The primary difference between these two types lies in the word count and depth of study.

Undergraduate Dissertations: At the undergraduate level, dissertations are generally shorter in length, spanning between 5,000 and 15,000 words.

These dissertations provide students with an opportunity to apply the research skills they have acquired throughout their undergraduate studies. Although the word count is relatively smaller, undergraduate dissertations still require thorough research and critical analysis.

Master’s Dissertations: Master’s dissertations, on the other hand, are more extensive and intense. They typically range from 10,000 to 50,000 words, depending on the specific requirements of the degree and the university.

Master’s dissertations demand a higher level of independence and originality compared to undergraduate dissertations. Students are expected to conduct in-depth research, demonstrate advanced analytical skills, and contribute new insights to their field of study.

Approaches to Dissertation Research

When embarking on a dissertation, students have two primary approaches to consider: empirical research and non-empirical research.

Empirical Research: Empirical research involves collecting firsthand data to answer the research question. This may involve conducting experiments, surveys, interviews, or observations. Empirical research is commonly employed in scientific-based degrees, such as biology or psychology.

Students engaging in empirical research must carefully design their studies, collect and analyze data, and draw conclusions based on their findings.

Non-Empirical Research: Non-empirical research, on the other hand, relies on existing research and data. Students conducting non-empirical research analyze and evaluate pre-existing arguments, theories, and debates within their field.

This approach is often adopted in humanities-based subjects, such as history or literature. Students must demonstrate their ability to critically examine existing literature, synthesize information, and provide evidence-based arguments.

Both empirical and non-empirical research methods have their merits, and the choice of approach depends on the nature of the research question and the discipline in which the dissertation is being conducted.

Word Count and Dissertation Structure

The word count of a dissertation varies across universities and departments. However, it is crucial to understand how to structure your dissertation to meet the required word count effectively.

Undergraduate Dissertations: For undergraduate dissertations, the word count typically ranges from 5,000 to 15,000 words. This word count is broken down into specific sections that contribute to the overall structure of the dissertation.

The sections may include an introduction, literature review, methodology, data analysis, findings, and conclusion. Each section serves a specific purpose and helps students present a coherent and well-argued piece of work.

Master’s Dissertations: Master’s dissertations are more extensive and require a higher word count, often between 10,000 and 50,000 words. Similar to undergraduate dissertations, master’s dissertations follow a structured format.

However, due to the increased word count, students have more room to explore their research questions in greater depth and detail. In addition to the sections mentioned earlier, master’s dissertations may include a more extensive literature review, a theoretical framework, and a discussion of the implications of the research.

It is crucial to consult your university’s guidelines and faculty members to ensure that you meet the specific requirements for word count and dissertation structure.

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Importance and Weightage of Dissertations

Dissertations play a significant role in determining the final grade and academic achievement of students in the UK. The importance and weightage of dissertations vary depending on the level of study.

Undergraduate Dissertations: At the undergraduate level, dissertations typically account for a substantial portion of the final-year credits. They often range from 30 to 40 credits, which can represent 25% to 33.33% of the final year. The impact of the dissertation on the final grade depends on the university’s grading system, which may assign more weight to the final year compared to earlier years.

Master’s Dissertations: Master’s dissertations hold even greater significance as they contribute a significant number of credits toward the total requirements for a master’s degree. A master’s dissertation is usually worth 60 credits out of a total of 180 credits for the degree. The specific weightage of the dissertation in the final grade calculation may vary, so it is essential to consult your university’s guidelines for accurate information.

Dissertations provide students with an opportunity to showcase their research skills, critical thinking abilities, and subject knowledge. They are a testament to a student’s academic prowess and can have a substantial impact on their future career prospects.

Deadlines for Dissertation Submission

Dissertation deadlines vary from university to university and even across different departments within the same institution. It is crucial to familiarize yourself with your university’s specific deadline for dissertation submission.

Undergraduate Dissertations: Undergraduate dissertations often have deadlines toward the end of the second term. These deadlines provide students with sufficient time to conduct research, analyze data, and complete the writing process. However, it is essential to check with your department or faculty for the exact deadline to ensure you are working toward the correct date.

Master’s Dissertations: The deadlines for master’s dissertations are typically set in August or September. These deadlines allow students to complete their dissertations over the summer months after completing their taught modules. To ensure you meet the submission deadline, it is crucial to communicate with your supervisor and stay organized throughout the research and writing process.

Remember, meeting the submission deadline is critical, as failure to do so may result in penalties or even delay graduation.

Dissertation vs. Thesis: Understanding the Difference

The terms “dissertation” and “thesis” are often used interchangeably, causing confusion among students. However, in the UK, there is a clear distinction between the two.

Dissertation: In the UK, a dissertation is a research project undertaken as part of a bachelor’s or master’s degree. It involves independent research, critical analysis, and the production of an extended academic report. The word count for dissertations varies depending on the level of study, ranging from 5,000 to 50,000 words.

Thesis: On the other hand, a thesis is a research project conducted as part of a doctorate, such as a PhD. A thesis requires students to make an original contribution to their field of study through rigorous research and analysis. The word count for a thesis is generally higher than that of a dissertation, ranging from 70,000 to 100,000 words for a Ph.D. thesis.

It is important to note that the usage of these terms may differ in different countries. In some countries, such as the United States, the terms “dissertation” and “thesis” can be used interchangeably, and the word count and requirements may differ from those in the UK. Therefore, it is essential to understand the terminology specific to your educational institution.

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A university dissertation in the UK is a research project that allows students to explore a specific topic of interest in-depth.

Whether at the undergraduate or master’s level, a dissertation requires critical thinking, independent research, and the ability to present well-argued findings in an extended academic report.

Understanding the types of dissertations, research approaches, word counts, and deadlines is crucial for completing this significant academic endeavor. 


How long is a dissertation in the UK?

The length of a dissertation in the UK varies depending on the level of study and the subject. At the undergraduate level, dissertations typically range from 5,000 to 8,000 words, while at the master’s level, they can be 10,000 to 15,000 words. However, there is no hard and fast rule, and some universities may have different requirements.

What is the difference between a dissertation and a thesis in the UK?

In the UK, the terms “dissertation” and “thesis” are often used interchangeably. However, there is a subtle difference between the two. A dissertation is typically a research project undertaken by an undergraduate or master’s student, while a thesis is a research project undertaken by a doctoral student.

What exactly is a dissertation?

A dissertation is a long piece of academic writing that presents the results of original research. It is typically written by students at the master’s or doctoral level, and it is a requirement for graduation. The dissertation should be a significant contribution to knowledge in the student’s field of study.

Is a dissertation required for a master’s degree in the UK?

A dissertation is required for most master’s degrees in the UK. However, there are some exceptions, such as professional master’s degrees that are designed to prepare students for specific careers.

Do Masters students write a thesis or dissertation?

In the UK, master’s students typically write a dissertation. However, some universities use the term “thesis” to refer to the same thing.

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