Undergraduate vs. Masters vs. Ph.D. Thesis

Whether an undergraduate or postgraduate student, differentiating undergraduate vs. master vs. Ph.D. thesis is critical, however, the three writing pieces are constantly confused due to their many similarities.

But to stand out and be an excellent academician, you must differentiate them. But how can you do that, and what are their differences? This detailed post gives you an analysis of the three to help you out.

And while many will use the three interchangeably, it can be somewhat confusing because these theses are totally different. So, here is a rundown of undergraduate vs. master vs. Ph.D. thesis.

What is an Undergraduate Thesis

An undergraduate thesis is a research paper you will write as part of your degree program. It’s one of your final projects before you graduate, and it’s a chance to show off your skills and knowledge in the subject matter you chose for the paper.

It can range from about 10-30 pages, and it usually has to do with the topic of your major. For example, if you’re an English major, you might write about the role of religion in literature. Similarly, if you’re an art history major studying medieval European art, your thesis might focus on how women were portrayed in the paintings from that period.

However, in most cases, you do not have to defend your thesis before judges because it aims to test your understanding, and critical, and research skills.

  Undergraduate Thesis
Master’s Thesis
Ph.D. Thesis
Length 10-30 pages Longer, several hundred pages Several hundred pages
Research Level Basic research More extensive research Extensive and groundbreaking
Time Required About 12 weeks 4-8 months Varies, around one year or more
Purpose Show mastery of undergraduate coursework Gain hands-on experience in research and analysis Add to a knowledge gap, demonstrate mastery of advanced concepts
Data sources and collection procedures Books, journals, publications, reports, verifiable data Undergraduate sources plus government data, published statistics, interviews, questionnaires Undergraduate sources plus government data, published statistics, interviews, surveys, abstract reviews e.t.c

NB: Please note that this table provides a general overview of the differences between these types of theses and may vary based on individual programs and institutions.

What Is a Master Thesis?

A master’s thesis is a project you must complete to graduate with a master’s degree. It typically involves researching, analyzing data, and writing about your findings.

Additionally, it is more advanced than an undergraduate thesis because it involves data collection and defending and must fill a knowledge gap. Therefore, as a master’s student, you must prove your expertise in researching, collecting data, analyzing, and defending your findings.

What Is a Ph.D. Thesis?

A Ph.D. thesis is the culmination of your studies you must write to get your doctorate. It’s not just a simple piece of writing, either—it’s an exhaustive and exhaustive research project that takes years to complete.

The thesis is meant to culminate all the work you’ve done at school. Furthermore, it should demonstrate your ability to synthesize information, develop original ideas, and solve problems. In short, it shows what you’ve learned while getting your Ph.D.

The Similarities and Differences

Now that we have defined the three, let’s jump into more apparent similarities and differences. This will help you tell them apart quickly. Apart from following the same basic introduction, thesis statement, body, and conclusion format, they require research, formatting, and referencing.

1.      Writing Format

All three theses typically have a similar format, although slight differences may exist. Regardless of the topic and thesis, all will have an introduction, body, and conclusion. The introduction will contain background information, thesis statement, abstract, and other essential information depending on whether it is an undergraduate or postgraduate thesis.

Similarly, the body will have a literature review, evidence, and research. This is the most significant part of your thesis, especially if you are an undergraduate student. Conversely, the conclusion will entail your observation, findings, and recommendations. Whether it is an undergraduate, master’s, or PhD thesis, the section lengths vary, but they largely remain similar.

2.      They Require Research

Research is a primary component of whichever thesis you write, especially if you want to develop a stellar piece. And despite the differing research levels, you cannot write one without looking for more information to build up your argument.

Research is crucial in writing a thesis, as it helps drive the argument and create original work. To do this, you need to be familiar with the subject matter, which means reading up on the topic beforehand and developing your ideas.

Beyond this, there exist differences which we cover below.

1.      The Length

One of the fundamental differences between undergraduate, master’s, and Ph.D. theses is their length. Ideally, as you advance from undergraduate to postgraduate studies, the sizes of these theses increase.

An undergraduate thesis will be between 10-30 pages depending on the university, topic, and other preferences, although it might be longer or shorter. On the other hand, master’s and Ph.D. theses often run longer into hundreds of pages, depending on the same factors.

One of the reasons for more pages is the level of research involved. While the undergraduate requires basic research, the other two require deep and conclusive research. In fact, in master’s and PhD studies, there is more emphasis on research methods because of the anticipation of using them in your thesis writing.

2.      Research Level

Despite the undergraduate master’s and PhD theses needing, the level, scope, and depth of research differentiate them.

In an undergraduate thesis, your professor will ask you to conduct primary research and provide verifiable information. The aim is to test your knowledge of your course and how you tie up information from other sources. Thus, even the thesis is not so much about the content but rather about following instructions. However, this does not mean presenting a half-baked thesis.

In contrast, master’s and Ph.D. theses require deep and extensive research. This is because you have to defend yourself before other academicians. Additionally, your paper may be quoted by future students doing their theses.

This means your research and the information presented should be verifiable and accurate. And if you need to build up your study in the future, your primary thesis should also be valid to avoid any misleading.

3.      Time Required

Time is another distinct difference between an undergraduate master and a Ph.D. thesis.

The time it takes to complete an undergraduate thesis depends on your major, but it’s generally about 12 weeks for most majors. Some schools may have more specific requirements regarding the length of your thesis and other factors which can make your thesis take longer.

On the other hand, finishing a master’s thesis varies quite a bit depending on your study program and what research you’re doing. For example, if you’re working in biomedical engineering and conducting research on human tissue engineering, you might need more months than someone studying literature or history.

Generally, a master’s thesis will take somewhere between four and eight months for most programs. Again, this depends on the program requirements and how much reading needs to be done beforehand.

For PhD students, several factors affect how long it will take them to finish their degree requirements. These factors include their university or department will require them to do fieldwork or research outside.

However, the general timeline may be from one year and above. Nevertheless, doing a dissertation, different from a thesis, will take up to seven years.

4.      Purpose and Component of the Thesis

An undergraduate, a master and PhD thesis differ in their purposes. Primarily, the former differs from the latter, even though the postgraduate ones are also slightly different.

The undergraduate thesis is a research paper that is supposed to be submitted as a part of your graduate degree requirements. It is your final project for your major course, and the main idea behind it is to show that you have mastered everything taught during your undergraduate studies. Therefore, it does not add new knowledge to the field and is similar to a literature review.

A master’s thesis is similar to an undergraduate thesis but with more research and data analysis. You can choose any topic that interests you if it includes some research component, usually involving data analysis or experimentation.

The goal is to gain hands-on experience in researching and analyzing data. However, unlike the undergraduate thesis, there is a more defined purpose. The aim is to show your mastery of the concepts and research methods and defend your conclusions. Also, this thesis makes you more responsible for your work than they would in an undergraduate setting where professors still guide you throughout the entire process

In contrast, a Ph.D. thesis differs in purpose and component. This type of thesis aims to add to the knowledge gap. Ideally, it involves conducting groundbreaking research to help shape new theories or concepts in your field.

Additionally, a doctoral dissertation demonstrates you have mastered advanced concepts in your field and can apply them creatively in new ways—that is, it demonstrates originality. While some are based on existing research or theories, many are original works.

5.      Data Sources and Collection Procedures

The main difference between an undergraduate vs. master vs. PhD thesis is that the data sources and procedures differ. Further, the data collection procedures are different.

In an undergraduate thesis, you do not need to use any specific method or technique for collecting data. In most cases, there is no requirement to specify all steps to conduct a research project as long as you have enough information to support your claim or argument. Some sources of information include books, journals, publications, reports, and other verifiable data sources.

On the other hand, in a master’s thesis, you are required to use specific methods and techniques when collecting data. This is because you have to show how you collected the data, how many participants were involved in the research project, and whether any ethical issues were involved during data collection. Data sources include all undergraduate sources plus government data, published statistics, and survey reports. Additionally, you can use interviews and questionnaires.

Similarly, for a PhD thesis, the requirement goes a notch higher. Even though it is similar to a master’s thesis, it goes deeper in that laboratory experiments, surveys, and interviews are involved. In this thesis, data sources are all those used in previous theses and abstract reviews, unpublished ut verifiable data, and conference presentations.


Undergraduate, master and Ph.D. theses are similar and also different. Firstly, they are all a requirement for the award of various study levels, meaning it is impossible to graduate without completing the specific thesis. Also, they require research, formatting, and referencing depending on the styles your professor or school provides.

Nevertheless, some differences set them apart, such as the length, research level, and purposes. Typically, an undergraduate thesis is used to prove your understanding of the course, and the topic, in most cases, is provided. However, for the master’s and Ph.D. thesis, the purpose is to prove your understanding of research methods and at least contribute something to the study. Nevertheless, this may not be a must for a master’s thesis.

Also, the research levels are different. The undergraduate needs basic research skills, whereas the postgraduate thesis needs advanced research skills. It will also take more time to complete a Ph.D. thesis than a master’s and an undergraduate thesis. But in all these differences and similarities, following your school’s and professor’s instructions is crucial to ace your thesis writing assignment.