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A dissertation or thesis is a document submitted in support of candidature for a degree or professional qualification presenting the author's research and findings. (International Standard ISO 7144: Documentation — Presentation of theses and similar documents).
For most universities in the U.S., dissertation is the term for the required submission for the PhD, and thesis refers only to the master's degree requirement.
The best source to find theses is ProQuest Dissertations & Thesis.Policies regarding theses and dissertation collections largely vary between universities. So check the library website of the university of interest.
NOTE: If you do not gain access to the electronic full text of a dissertation, useILLiad to request theses from other universities. The Carnegie Mellon Libraries subsidizes the cost up to $35.
Carnegie Mellon University
Carnegie Mellon theses are now ONLINE and can be searched through the ProQuest database Dissertations & Theses @ Carnegie Mellon University that enables access to citations and abstracts of all dissertations and theses, as well as the fulltext in PDF format. Scroll down and select Dissertations & Theses, then do a regular search. Print versions are also available in the libraries collection.
CAMEO, the Carnegie Mellon Library catalog, uses the term THESIS to denote both masters' theses and dissertations. However, the number of master's theses is limited. Within the libraries, theses are located in designated areas and are shelved in alphabetical order by the author's last name. The catalog treats theses and dissertations like books and they can be borrowed as such. Theses may be in print, microfiche, or microform.
In CAMEO use the Advanced Search: search by author, title, or keyword limiting to type THESIS.
For a list of theses from a specific department, use Advanced Search to combine a keyword search for the name of the department with location THESES. E.g., search for "Dept. of Computer Science" with THESES as the location.
This database offered by the British Library contains records for doctoral theses from UK higher education institutions and allows immediate download of an increasing number of electronic and digitized theses.
The database covers ALL UK theses so, in theory, could go back to the 1600s!