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A thesis/dissertation is a substantial piece of research that a student has undertaken. The thesis/dissertation is the result of a student's independent work, carried out under the guidance of a supervisor.  Different subject areas may follow different conventions in relation to the production of dissertations.

The terms dissertation and thesis are often used interchangeably, however a dissertation in the Irish context is more commonly used in relation to undergraduate and taught Masters (where minor thesis is also used), whereas thesis is generally associated with PhD level research.  This section focuses on the dissertation and minor thesis only. 

(Note: Projects are dealt with separately)

What can it assess?

A dissertation/minor thesis, in undergraduate and taught Masters, is an excellent approach to assessing students' ability to undertake research and in assessing higher order skills such as critical thinking, analysis and synthesis. 

The assessment criteria often include outcomes relating to carrying out research such as: the ability to construct a coherent argument; critical analysis of the relevant literature; development of an appropriate methodology; engagement with research findings; discussion and recommendations. Disciplines may have different emphasis, such as scientific writing in the sciences and creative writing in the Arts and Humanities. 

For more detail on PhD and Research Masters degree assessment, see UCD Graduate Studies and UCD Regulation, Section 7.

Advantages and Disadvantages


  • A dissertation/minor thesis  allows students to generate content and go deeper into an area of interest
  • Students can develop a sense of professional/subject identity
  • Can support students’ transferable skills of research and enquiry
  • Allows for individual and/or group supervision learning opportunities


  • A lengthy dissertation/minor thesis  can be time consuming to grade 
  • Student workload can be a concern, especially for those new to self directed learning
  • There may be inconsistency in grading across and between different graders

Design and Online Assessment Considerations


The assessment criteria for dissertation/minor thesis need careful consideration. Holistic criteria, which supports the broader use of grade descriptions, can be useful as they allow students to produce different types of outcomes, but give some overarching direction. Consider whether it is appropriate to give some weighting to the process of the thesis, i.e. engagement with supervisor and peers, presentation to the public/colleagues, etc. Given the challenge with reliability, it is useful to develop a community of practice of graders to support more consistent approaches to the grading (Herbert et al, 2014). Students also need opportunities to receive feedback on early drafts and/or opportunities to self and or peer review their dissertation/minor thesis. School norms may guide the length of the final output. 

Some disciplines are moving to a high quality article length to replicate the outcomes often associated with research outputs; this can also address the staff workload issue associated with corrections. A dissertation/minor thesis requires an extended period of time to allow for the elongated research process. To support a more inclusive approach, consider if there are different formats that might suit diverse learners, for example, audio/video as an alternative or to complement the writing tasks.  

For minor theses in Taught Graduate Programme, see UCD Policy on Theses in Graduate Taught Programmes

Online Assessment

Ensure students have advice on how to submit their dissertation/minor thesis online if appropriate.  Tools and technologies to support this assessment type include: 

Preparing Students

Students will need guidance on the criteria required and a discussion based on previous exemplars can be very beneficial. Student cohorts may find the self-directed nature of the dissertation challenging and support structures may need to be put in place to scaffold the process. Peer review and self assessment can assist in clarifying expectations. 

Educate students on academic integrity, including what is meant by plagiarism. Make them aware of the UCD resources on these, such as UCD Plagiarism Policy-Student Guide, FAQ for Students on PlagiarismUCD Library guide on Academic Integrity.

Learn More 

The following are some key resources that are currently available if you would like to learn more about this key assessment type.