Difference Between Essays and Research Papers

Not all writing assignments are created equal. We’re sure this is something that students around the world have discovered – the hard way. It almost seems purposefully unfair. One type of writing is difficult enough, but teachers want to throw all different writing brands, styles and formats into the mix. You’ve got APA paper, term papers, research papers, standard essays, reports, etc. Amidst all these writing assignments, two stand out as the most commonly assigned. Essays and research papers are, above all, the biggest and most common headache for students. However, understanding the crucial differences between these two assignments may help students to tackle them better in the future.

What is an Essay?

An essay is a simple composition with three basic parts: the introduction, the body, and the conclusion. The introduction is the first sentence of the essay, and works to introduce the topic of the piece, as well as the writer’s response. An essay could centers around a) the writer’s response to a question, b) an examination of a topic, c) a reaction to a text or d) an opinion supported be evidence. The evidence provided in an essay can center around personal experiences or unbiased factual support. The conclusion of an essay works to sum up the writer’s major points, opinion or position. In essence, an essay is a composition used to examine a topic in a brief but detailed and organized way. Most essays only span a few pages, and some only take on or two pages, depending on the size of the writing.

What is a Research Paper?

A research paper, while similar to an essay in some ways, has many key differences. Research papers, like essays, need an introduction and conclusion. However, in a research paper, the introduction must both introduce a research topic and a thesis. The ‘body’ of the paper must then provide factual, scholarly support for that thesis (as opposed to essays, which may use personal experience or non-scholarly material). Often, the body of a research paper is divided into sub-sections or chapters for better organization. The conclusion should sum up these findings in a meaningful way. A research paper is typically longer and much more involved than an essay, spanning at least ten pages, and requires a vastly more detailed amount of time, energy and research. Essays can often be written without searching through outside material; research papers cannot. Essays don’t always require a fully-formed thesis; research papers do. Understanding these key differences is crucial to your success in academic writing.


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