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The differences between a dissertation and a regular research paper are substantial. This paper will discuss these differences and examine the elements of a dissertation. The primary distinction between the two is the amount of research performed for each type of paper. Research for a dissertation, compared to a regular paper, is substantial. The second difference is that the dissertation proposes an original investigation of a topic. The third difference is that the arguments in support of the dissertation's thesis must be sufficiently thorough to withstand critique from a dissertation committee. So important is the quality of arguments presented by a dissertation, that it undergoes review by a committee consisting of the dissertation advisor and other professors. This is called the dissertation defense. Finally, two elements of the dissertation not present in a regular paper are the literature review and suggestions for further review. In addition, other elements shared by both types of papers are taken to a higher level of critical thinking, analysis and development in the dissertation. The PhD dissertation is one of the most important requirements needed to achieve a doctoral degree. This alone should tell you that writing a dissertation is a painstaking and very involved process.
Imagine if you will, the expectation attendant with writing a custom college paper. Conventionally, the average college paper is ten pages. In contrast, the average dissertation is two hundred and fifty pages. This alone should tell you that a significant difference separates the two. The number of pages required indicates the breadth and scope of the research necessary to complete a dissertation. For a regular paper, it is only necessary to conduct enough research to answer the paper topic. For a dissertation, it is necessary to conduct research that thoroughly investigates the issues and themes concomitant with the thesis and to pose either a new question or a new answer to a valid topic. Thus, for a dissertation, the amount of research necessary for its completion is significantly more substantial than the research necessary to complete a regular research paper.
Moreover, for a regular paper, the professor chooses the topic while for a dissertation research topic is chosen by the PhD student. Not only must the PhD student perform substantial research, but the topic investigated must be unique. A dissertation, in short, is an "original contribution to human knowledge (Unsw.edu)." This means that the topic must break new ground and offer a thorough examination of hitherto undiscovered information. Choosing a topic alone is a daunting task.
The arguments presented in a regular paper need not be painstakingly thorough nor delve deeply into the subject matter. One only needs to answer the question at hand. A dissertation, on the other hand, demands that research be fully supported by the arguments made by the PhD student. A dissertation is defined as "a formal document that argues in defense of a thesis (Purdue.edu)." After the dissertation is completed, the PhD student must subject his/her dissertation to the scrutiny of his/her colleagues. In the defense of the dissertation, the PhD student presents his/her dissertation for discussion by his/her dissertation advisor and a group of professors selected by him/her. Thus, the arguments must not only be up to par with one's personal expectations but also be up to par with the standards set by a dissertation committee.
A dissertation demands that the PhD student offer information that is not only accurate, valid, and thorough but that is also structurally sound. A regular paper consists of the title, introduction, body paragraphs and conclusion. A dissertation consists of the title, acknowledgements, table of contents, introduction, literature review, the middle chapters (that usually consist of materials, methods, results and discussion), conclusion and suggestions for further research (Unsw.edu). The two elements present in a dissertation that are not present in a regular paper are the literature review and suggestions for further research. The literature review shows a thorough grasp of knowledge of the research done in the PhD student's field of inquiry. It consists of an analysis of arguments and information discovered previously by other experts in the field. Suggestions for further research are not required by a regular paper. In the dissertation, the suggestions for further research are meant to demonstrate critical thinking and to offer to other experts' possible directions for further research. Sometimes a research paper requires that a student include a section on materials and methods. For a dissertation or PhD thesis, these chapters are meant to show how he/she answered the question or, in other words, proved his/her thesis (Carleton). The conclusion, in a regular paper, may simply re-state the information covered. It does not necessarily demand a higher level of critical thinking. In the dissertation, the conclusion consists of a set of inferences procured from the information discussed (Carleton). The dissertation, essentially, explains "what it all means" and offers "key ideas to apply to areas of concern (LearnerAssociates)." Thus, the dissertation consists of more elements and discusses elements present in a regular paper in greater detail and with a higher level analysis.
In conclusion, the dissertation demands originality, thorough research, and a more developed sense of critical analysis. A regular paper also requires research and critical thinking; however, research and critical thinking at the dissertation level is much more intense. The dissertation is necessary to fulfill the requirements of a doctoral degree. Typically, it takes four to five more years of graduate study (and practice) beyond the bachelor's degree to achieve it. That explains why expectations for a dissertation are so high. Thus, writing a dissertation, being the arduous process that it is known to be, is qualitatively different from writing a regular research paper.
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