Research Project Vs Dissertation

This post is dedicated to all of those first year masters students who will come to that fork in the road at some point this year, when a decision must be made on which route to take on this academic journey. Will it be the project route, or the thesis route?

Some people know which route they’d like to take before they even begin their program. Others, like me, think they know what they should do and then have a breakdown breakthrough and decide to go the other way.

Since we’re always encouraging more voices on Gradifying, I’ve enlisted some help from students in the faculty of education to share their reasons for choosing either a project or a thesis.


Peter van Gestel is in his second year and nearing the end of his journey (project completion).

I pretty much knew what I wanted to do when I got here a year ago, although the work has gone through some changes as the year progressed. For the most part it has always been about making Shakespeare more accessible to students from a place of experience…in other words, the question I kept asking myself was, “If students experienced Shakespeare as an actor experiences Shakespeare, could a relevance or personal connection be made/found?”I decided ultimately on the project route because it just felt the right fit for me and what I wanted to accomplish while I was here.  Another primary reason for going project over thesis was the opportunity for creativity. Projects are not as regimented as thesis. There is more room for freedom of expression and in the end, the process of completion was simpler.”


Marijane Davis is also in her second year and is in the final stages of completing her project.

For me, knowing that I am returning to work in the public education sector, preparing a curriculum unit that will support student success and address the achievement gap just makes sense! The thought of sharing my project with colleagues and influencing their teaching practice pertaining to vocabulary instruction is highly motivating. Bottom line, I am a teacher. Creating a unit that uses evidence based instructional strategies will impact student performance. As a teacher, that’s my job, what I’m passionate about, and like I said- that’s the bottom line.



Heather Coe is in her second year of the masters program.

I wanted to have the option to do a PhD afterwards. I don’t necessarily think that choosing the project route cuts you off from doing a PhD but I think it might be more of a barrier. In doing a project you’d have to work against more barriers, whereas doing a thesis it opens more doors. However, if I didn’t want to do my PhD I think I’d want to do a project because I think it could be timelier. You’d have your own timeline whereas if you want to do a thesis for education and you want to go into the schools you are really limited on when you can do your research, so your year is basically dictated on when you can go into the school.


Sean Cousins is a first year masters student.

I’m building on my previous masters program in which I did a project. I have experienced what it’s like to do a project and I know how involved and comprehensive it can be. This time I want to enrich and deepen my understanding of the subject and I find the thesis route able to facilitate that. My decision has been constructed based on the environment here at Queen’s, where I can pursue what I’d like to do, which is diabetes care in schools. It’s not something that I just one day picked out and said, ‘I want to do it’. It’s from the conversations I’ve had and in reflection of the sources I consulted I decided that this is the best option for me at this point in my academic career.

And what about you out there? What are your stories? How does one decide which route to take?

How did you decide?


Posted in New Students, Thesis, Uncategorized

If you’ve been researching doctoral degrees, you may notice that virtually all PhD programs require a dissertation, while professional doctorates may require a doctoral project, much like Capella University’s Doctoral Capstone Experience.

While dissertations are fairly common, what is a doctoral capstone, and what’s the difference between the two?


Dissertation and Doctoral Capstone: Commonalities

All doctoral programs prepare students to apply research skills in the workplace and community.

Completing either a dissertation or a professional capstone requires intense preparation and a strong foundation in research. Both culminate in a final document that’s publication-ready and demonstrates academic rigor.


Learn more about the differences between a PhD and a professional doctorate. 


Dissertation and Doctoral Capstone: Differences

The dissertation always results in the traditional five-chapter written document.

The doctoral capstone is presented in two parts:

  • A deliverable, which could be a portfolio, a paper of publishable length, or a product such as a change management plan, policy manual, software, or curriculum.
  • A final report, which describes the creation of the deliverable and the learning that supports it.


Additionally, the focus for each is different.

  • A dissertation is an original contribution to the body of academic literature and theory in the field. It addresses a research problem, or a gap in existing research, that will contribute to the knowledge base of the discipline. At Capella, a PhD dissertation involves a quest for new knowledge that is intended to solve a real-world problem and be relevant to the field.
  • A doctoral capstone is intended to extend or apply research to immediately deliver a solution to an issue within a real-world setting. That’s why, unlike the dissertation, the doctoral capstone deliverable can take on so many different forms. It may be the writing of software to solve a specific technical problem, or a curriculum designed to solve a specific educational problem.

Time Frame to Completion

Time frames vary in both types of projects, but in general, a dissertation can take anywhere from 1-2.5 years or more, while a doctoral capstone can take anywhere from 6 months to a year or more, depending on your program.

However, the reduced time frame doesn’t mean the capstone is less rigorous; it’s a different type of project, a different undertaking, but it will be as demanding as a dissertation.


Capella’s Dissertation and Doctoral Capstone Experience



Capella University offers PhD and professional doctorate degree programs ranging from business to education and health to technology. Learn more about Capella’s online doctoral programs.

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Tags: dissertation, doctoral, doctoral capstone

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