What is the difference among the terms paper, thesis and dissertation? Which one should I use, for instance if I am completing a master's degree? Are they interchangeable ?

  • 1
    Use for what (e.g., in a CV or when talking to family)?
    – StrongBad
    Commented Jun 30, 2014 at 12:35
  • I like this Wikipedia quote.
    – StrongBad
    Commented Jun 30, 2014 at 12:38

2 Answers 2


A paper usually refers to a published article but can also mean a shorter written essay, for example as in term-paper. The thesis and dissertation is basically equivalent, at least in its use. Originally a thesis is more than the written work, it is the thought or thinking coupled to the problem as the original meaning of the word indicates. From this perspective the word dissertation is used for the written work that comes out of your degree work.

So for a master degree, you will see masters thesis and masters dissertation used interchangeably. I would suggest checking what is used in your department or university and use whatever is customary.


If I get your question right:

  • A paper usually refers to an article published either in a journal or presented at a conference. It is rather small in comparison to a thesis or dissertation.
  • A thesis generally refers to the final written work that leads to an academical degree, like a bachelor or a master thesis.
  • A dissertation is usually a general piece of written scientific work submitted for the requirements of a doctoral degree.

Depending on the language and on the user and on the context, the last two (thesis / dissertation) are sometimes interchangable. A paper is actually something distinct, although a dissertation can consist of published papers ("thesis by publication").

The "name" of the work for your master's degree usually is "master thesis".

  • Outside the United States, "master's dissertation" seems to be fairly common too.
    – Brian Z
    Commented Feb 11, 2015 at 16:33

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