What’s the Difference between a Research Paper and a Term Paper?

As a student, you’re going to write many essays and other types of papers. On top of multiple-choice tests, papers are the most common way for teachers and professors to test your knowledge, competence, and comprehension during any course.

No matter what level you’re at, your class might require you to write a research paper, term paper, or sometimes both. While you might think they’re the same — and they do share similarities, for example, the use of vetted reference materials and a works cited section — there are some differences you need to know before starting either type of paper.

Based on class topic

The term term paper is a general reference to a paper assigned in class that is based around the class lessons and readings. A term paper is assigned usually more than halfway through a course or toward the end, and it’s main objective is to test what you’ve learned throughout the semester. As a result, a term paper tends to be worth a significant part of your grade, much like a final examination, and it sometimes takes the place (or a portion) of a final exam. While every class is different and every institution has its own curriculum, term papers tend to be between 3,000 and 5,000 words.

The term paper adheres to the specifics of the class lessons as far as content but, unlike a research paper, it can have a variety of structures. It could be in the form of an essay, annotated bibliography, or even a research paper. While it is based directly on the class content, the student can sometimes choose a topic from a list of choices and/or its form.

Stricter structure

A research paper is as much about form and structure as it is about the topic it addresses.

Whereas a term paper is usually assigned at a later stage in the course, research papers can be assigned at any point, they can also be a form of term paper (which adds to the confusion of definitions!). It can also be 5,000 or more words.

Typically, a research paper has an introduction, which justifies the paper by identifying the specific problem you are researching, the thesis or main argument, and the methodology you use. The body of the paper consists of elaborating on the intro, listing the detailed evidence supporting each of your claims, and writing a conclusion in which you restate your thesis and tie everything together. It also usually includes a more extensive reference section. Most research papers stick to some version of this structure.

Both are challenging

A quality paper of either type will often take a lot of reading, note-taking, outlining, rewriting, and general mental effort, which is why some students might purchase a term paper from Ultius if they need help. This is a way to practice writing papers with an experienced writer or editor.

The class syllabus will hopefully explain any and all of your extensive writing assignments in detail, tell you how long the papers are supposed to be and what type of sources you need to use.

While there are clear differences between the concept of a research paper and a term paper, it’s still easy to confuse the two; given both their overlapping qualities and that they can sometimes be one and the same. It’s always best to check with your teacher, as well as refer to the written directions, to fully understand the type of paper you’re supposed to write and what’s expected of you.

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