Terminologies like thesis, dissertation and project are common in academic and research practice. Although, these terms are used synonymously by students and some faculty they have different implications.
The word ‘dissertation’ is derived from the Latin word “dissertare” which means ‘to discuss’. Oxford Dictionary defines dissertation as ‘a long essay on a particular subject or topic especially written for a university degree or diploma’. In Merriam Webster dictionary, it is defined as “an extended usually written treatment of a subject; specifically: one submitted for a doctorate”. The Cambridge dictionary defines dissertation as “a long piece of writing on a particular subject, especially one that is done to receive a degree at college or university”. It is clear from these definitions that the emphasis in a dissertation is on a review and write up on a subject rather than the novelty of the research.
The origin of the word “thesis” comes from the Greek word “tithenai” which means “to place or to put forth”. The early Greek word “tithenai” metamorphosed into ‘thesis’ which in Greek refers “to put forth something” like a proposal. The Oxford English dictionary defines a thesis as “a long essay or dissertation involving personal research, written by a candidate for a university degree”. In Merriam Webster dictionary it is defined as a “dissertation embodying results of original research and especially substantiating a specific view”. The Cambridge dictionary defines a thesis as “a long piece of writing on a subject, especially one based on original research and done for a higher college or university degree”. In some countries, a dissertation is also referred to as a thesis. However, in contrast to dissertation thesis is an in-depth study of a topic that contributes novel information in the field of research.
The word project is derived from the Latin word “projectum” from the Latin verb “proicere” (before an action), which in turn comes from “pro” (precedence), and “iacere”(to do). Thus, the original meaning of the word “project” is to plan of something and not to the act of carrying out the plan. The Oxford English dictionary defines project as “a piece of research work undertaken by a school or college student”. In Merriam Webster dictionary, it is defined as a planned undertaking: such as a formulated piece of research. The Cambridge dictionary defines a project as “a study of a particular subject done over a period, especially by students”.
The word project is often used in the engineering field and various government plans. A research project can be a short-term (less than a year) or long-term project. A short-term research project is usually undertaken by the undergraduate students and a long-term project is usually undertaken by faculty working in research institutes. A short-term research project is an abbreviated form of the dissertation where the focus is on research methodology and not the outcome of the research. In the long-term research project, the focus is on the novelty of research in addition to the methodology like a thesis.
Source: Subhash Chandra Parija and Vikram Kate (2018). Thesis, Dissertation and Project in Thesis Writing for Master’s and Ph.D. Program. Springer Nature Singaporer Pte Ltd.