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Learn about the Difference Between Research Paper and Essay

The purpose of this guide is to help you understand the difference between essay and research paper writing tasks as you encounter them. We shall study the features, see relevant academic definitions, and analyze the key elements that help set them apart. Learning about the differences and similarities, we shall identify the elements required for an essay or research paper. 

What is an Essay?

When you are a high school learner or a college student, the chances are high that you will encounter both essay writing and conducting your first research paper. The majority of essays that students encounter often have a creative element to them and require the presence of good writing skills. It's a reason why these are often seen as an easier task since research papers require a synthesis of available information and, as the title implies, researching.

Starting with the small essays that you encounter in school to persuasive college writing to help your readers choose a certain point, an essay can be defined as a piece of academic writing where the writer's opinion is presented with the use of at least three pieces of evidence to support these thoughts. They are not as complex as research writing and are usually only up to five paragraphs in length.

Speaking of the key research paper vs essay elements that help to set an essay apart from other types of writing, these are the rules to remember:

  • An essay is usually a piece of writing that is up to 1,000 words or shorter. 
  • Writing an essay usually relates to a particular subject or so-called 'essay prompt'. 
  • In certain cases, essays are written as a response to a proposition or a question set by the college professor. 
  • Essays are not complex in terms of headings and sub-headings, which are typical for research papers. 
  • Essays, however, do require the use of quotes and references for anything that is not your personal opinion. 
  • The use of a subjective tone is often met for this type of writing. 
  • The purpose is to analyze and criticize the given topic. 
  • The use of photographs and multimedia elements is not that frequent in essay writing.

In most cases, an essay’s structure will contain an introduction with a thesis statement, three body paragraphs, and a conclusion part where an author has a right to write one’s thoughts down as a reflection, analysis, or a part of the creative writing task. Unlike a typical research paper where a methodology and samples data must be used, essays do not require these elements. 

What is a Research Paper?

Although it is technically an essay, it has a different purpose and structure when compared to classic essay writing. It's necessary to include information and synthesis based on specific data by turning to external sources that may include books on the topic, scientific articles, interviews, web sources, and first-hand surveys. Exploring the difference between research paper and essay, remember that the main purpose here is to bring a selection of the different academic views on a subject by turning to facts and concepts as you also interpret information to create an accessible, readable framework.

The research paper should always contain the following elements that are not typical for general essay writing:

  • Every research paper contains a methodology, which can be either qualitative or quantitative. In certain cases, it can be a mixture of both, depending on your subject. 
  • There is a conceptual framework with the implementation of a school of thought, theoretical, or model-based writing. 
  • An introduction part will implement at least one research question. 
  • A literature review must be included to explain what kind of information you have used. 
  • Your methods and objectives must be set clear. 
  • It's necessary to include the results of your findings by talking about what aspects have been achieved and what has proved helpful for your take on things. 
  • The conclusion part also contains the author's discussion of the outcomes and a list of possible recommendations. 
  • Unlike an essay, research papers talk about limitations that have been encountered during the process of writing and researching. 
  • Research papers set the problem and provide certain solutions or assumptions that may be helpful as you address a particular issue or an event. 
  • The presence of good sources is essential for a successful outcome of any academic research.

In addition, research papers also use references, endnotes and footnotes, appendices for those large chunks of information, acknowledgments, and the author's short biography paragraph for some Master's or Ph.D. works. As a rule, such research papers are quite lengthy and can take up to fifty pages or even more. Since almost every research paper these days is composed independently, it usually sounds challenging for college students when it only requires a different approach and more time to get things done right. 

The Key Differences Between Essay and Research Paper

Let’s sum up the key aspects as we explore the difference between essay and paper meant for research. The table below compares things and points out the major differences that will help you understand the purpose of each academic paper type:

ESSAY

RESEARCH PAPER

It aims to represent your personal point of view.

A good research paper focuses on researching and exploring various points of view, depending on what topic you set while adding a personal touch and the author's voice regarding ideas and concepts mentioned. 

Essays are mostly short in length and often contain five paragraphs (introduction, three body paragraphs, and the conclusion). 

Research papers are almost always lengthy and can reach up to eight pages on average. 

The majority of essays do not ask for a deep understanding of a particular topic. For example, dealing with creative writing, you may use only your personal opinion. 

It's necessary to study the subject in advance to gain a comprehensive understanding of a certain topic by exploring what is available. 

The essays tend to help writers build their writing skills and address a particular topic individually. 

 

The purpose is to help an author gain better knowledge of a particular topic. 

 

An essay provides you with an opportunity to improve your writing skills as you have to present your thoughts by using style, academic formatting, logic, and other mechanics of writing. 

As a writer, you must compare various chunks of data or publications dealing with your problem as you present a clear, readable, and cumulative analysis of the findings. 

Essay writing also includes various types of academic writing, yet it can also be narrative and philosophical, which is rarely met with research writing. Academic essay writing can be met among high school students and college learners in most subjects. For example, dealing with a literature review is often used as a type of evaluation as your writing skills are evaluated. 

Research papers usually include these types of writing: compare-and-contrast research, argumentation, analysis, cause-and-effect writing, and subject-based tasks. Dealing with a particular subject usually helps to tell a research paper apart. When you choose a subject or a certain topic, you must start with an exploration of what is already available. 

An essay requires putting your thoughts into writing as you focus on the essay-type specifics and consider your target audience. Your writing skills and the use of examples are essential. 

When you research a particular subject, you have to compile information and evaluate it before writing things down. Your task is to restructure and present it through the lens of your methodology and research objectives. 

The use of external sources is not always a requirement. 

The use of a literature review is an obligatory part. 

- What is the most important difference between a research paper and a simple essay?

Comparing research paper vs essay, the most important difference is the use of a strict methodology and research objectives that no research paper can get through without. An essay can be a personal reflection with no sources per se, yet every research paper should explain a problem and set the methods that help to address and, possibly, solve it efficiently. 

Exploring the Similarities

It's only natural to find it hard to differentiate an essay and a research paper, especially if you plan to do some research in either case. So why things are so challenging then? The truth is that both research papers and essays will require the following with a subsequent study of the given grading rubric and will have at least three points that must not be altered in any way. These are:

  1. Organizational structure. Both types of papers will have an introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion part. While there are certain differences when you are planning to conduct research, there are certain similarities as you have to introduce your subject correctly.
  2. The presence of a strong thesis statement that poses an opinion, an argument, or an assumption. This part will always remain relevant as your task is to provide a thesis that will be supported by the facts, real-life events, or statistical data. While it may not be obligatory for an essay, the inclusion of this part will help your essay paper sound even more confident.
  3. At least basic research is still required! This is where things can easily get confusing, yet the major point is the use of external information. While you may get by with an essay by just checking things, starting with a research paper, you must provide more sources to show that you are researching, not just touching upon the subject in a superficial way!

The other essay vs paper research similarities that you will find helpful include the use of a clear and concise formatting system where your grammar skills must be used to deliver the information. Turning to references and summary in the conclusion is another point that makes research paper writing similar to most essay types that are encountered these days. For example, as you learn how to write an autobiography essay, you may not use any external sources or references, which instantly sets it apart. Still, you may have to use additional statistical data or references, which can make it challenging while still remaining a type of an essay, not a research paper!

If you are still confused about the difference between essay and research paper tasks, the general rule is to look into the structure of the homework paper that you have to complete. When you see the words like “Literature review”, “Methodology” and “Samples” in the structural part of your grading rubric and the length goes beyond 1,500 words, it’s most likely a research paper you are dealing with! 

Get Your Academic Writing Under Control

As you are striving for the best grades, the most important is to choose your essay or research paper title correctly as it will help you to narrow things down and keep focused on your subject or research problem. Those students that take their time to explore and check things twice always win as they are able to keep their writing structured throughout by wasting no minute of their precious time! Remember to take notes, write down the list of helpful sources, and always check your grading rubric twice to ensure that you address every important point as you write! 

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