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What Is the Difference Between a Doctoral Study and a Dissertation?

Doctoral-level degrees fall into two main categories: PhD degree programs and professional doctorate degree programs. Both represent the highest level of graduate degree. They share many similarities, including the encouragement of critical and creative thinking and an intensive, independent research component.

PhD candidates present their research findings in the format of a dissertation, while professional doctorate candidates present their findings in the format of a doctoral study. Both types of degrees are recognized equally by the U.S. Department of Education.

What Is the Difference Between a Doctoral Study and a Dissertation?

Whether you earn a PhD degree or a professional doctorate degree, you will become an expert in your field with the flexibility to move ahead in your current position, switch gears to an academic career, or pursue a position as a consultant or administrator.

Professional Doctorate Degree vs. PhD Degree

To better understand the difference between a doctoral study and a dissertation, it’s best to first define the fundamental differences between a PhD program and a professional doctorate program.

  • A PhD degree, also known as an academic doctoral degree, can be pursued by college graduates who don’t yet have relevant work experience or by working professionals who are interested in using their advanced research skills and dissertation to add to the existing body of knowledge in their field.
  • A professional doctorate degree is designed for working professionals with practical experience in their field. Professionals often choose a doctoral program to increase their knowledge, advance their careers, and translate their work experience into a higher position of credibility, leadership, and influence. The coursework and research allow students to connect existing theories with practice. Professional doctoral research focuses more on applying existing theories and knowledge to address real-world business problems. The estimated time for completing an online doctoral program is three to four years.1 Though, Walden students have up to 8 years to complete their doctoral program unless they petition for an extension.

Doctoral Study for Professional Doctorate Degree Programs

As a doctoral student, you will learn research methods, plan and design your research, and present your findings in a scholarly paper called a doctoral study. The study’s purpose is to make an original contribution to your field by creating a practical solution to a real problem.

In a doctoral study, you will identify a problem, present your methodology, describe your project, make observations about your findings, and present your practical solution. The doctoral study’s components demonstrate your competence in research and research design, your subject matter expertise, and your command of critical thinking and academic writing.

The capstone of the professional doctoral program consists of:

  • Creating a proposal that describes the problem you want to solve; the purpose of the study; and your research questions, methodology, and design.
  • Presenting an oral defense of your research proposal to the doctoral committee (a 20-minute presentation followed by a question-and-answer session).
  • Collecting data and writing the findings.
  • Presenting a final oral defense of your research findings to the doctoral committee.

One of Walden University’s online doctoral programs, the accredited Doctor of Business Administration program, even features a doctoral study option that allows students to work directly with a nonprofit or small business.

Dissertation for PhD Programs

As a PhD student, you’ll create a research project that reflects your interests and can have a real, significant impact in your community or your profession. At Walden, you are asked to engage in a research project that can make a positive difference in the world, reflective of our university’s mission of effecting positive social change. You will begin exploring and attempting to solve a real-world problem from day one.

The capstone of the program consists of:

  • Drafting a dissertation prospectus that outlines your research questions and data collection plan.
  • Presenting an oral defense of your research dissertation to the doctoral committee.
  • Completing a research dissertation that identifies a research problem; provides a literature review; defines your research methods; reveals your findings; and ends with a summary, conclusions, and implications.
  • Presenting a final oral defense of your research dissertation to the doctoral committee.

Review Doctoral Dissertations by Walden Students

Browse our archive of hundreds of doctoral studies and dissertations created by Walden University doctoral students.

By learning the answer to “What is the difference between a doctoral study and a dissertation?” you are in a stronger position to make the best decision for achieving your educational and career goals with an online university degree program.

Your Doctoral Journey

Earning a doctorate won’t be easy, but as the No. 1 granter of doctoral research degrees in the U.S.,2 Walden knows what it takes. We’ll guide you every step of the way with a comprehensive suite of support resources designed to help you confidently pursue the finish line. Learn more about the many benefits of beginning your doctoral journey at Walden.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering doctoral degree programs online. Expand your career options and earn your degree using a convenient, flexible learning platform that fits your busy life.

1Time to completion may vary by student, depending on individual progress and credits transferred, if applicable.
2Source: National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) Integrated Postsecondary Education Database (IPEDS) database. Based on the most recent year of completions survey data available, using all classifications of instructional programs (CIP) codes. A doctoral research degree is a PhD or other doctoral degree that requires advanced work beyond the master’s level, including the preparation and defense of a dissertation based on original research or the planning and execution of an original project demonstrating substantial artistic or scholarly achievement. Available at (Retrieved January 2021; may consist of or include provisional release data.)

Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,