The Key Differences Between A Term Paper and A Research Paper

Writing GuidesResearch Paper
Jun 30, 2019

Although there are different types of written projects, they tend to have overlapping aspects. For example, most written projects regardless of type include an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. Many written projects also require reading about the topics. So it is not surprising if students call an essay a research paper, a thesis a dissertation, a reaction paper, or a journal entry.

The terms research paper and term paper, in particular, are considered by many as the same. These terms are also used interchangeably. But, strictly speaking, a research paper and a term paper are two different items. Though a term paper can be a research paper and a research paper can serve as a term paper, this is not always the case. Are you confused now? This post explains the difference between the two.

Research Paper vs. Term Paper

Research Paper 

In order to explain the difference between a research paper and a term paper, we need to first define these two. In this section, we describe what a research paper is, explain the different types of research papers, and discuss when a research paper is required. This section should help you get a good idea about the research paper as a written project.

What is a research paper? 

A research paper, as the term suggests, is a written project that involves the research of a specific topic and the analysis of the information. This definition may seem broad, and indeed it is. That is because a research paper is a general type of paper. As we will see later, the information collected from various sources can be analyzed in different ways to support arguments and generate conclusions.

Although a research paper can be written using different approaches to analyzing information, there are also features common to all research papers. Such features are what professors look for when they read a research paper. It is important to remember that a research paper should contain these features, which are the following:

  1. Thesis statement.  A research paper needs a thesis statement. The thesis is the main idea or main claim of your paper. In other words, the thesis is the specific idea your paper attempts to convey. The thesis can be thought of as the backbone of your paper since everything else in the paper supports the thesis one way or another. The thesis is usually presented at the end of the introduction. Because of its importance, it is vital for every student to learn how to write a good thesis statement.
  2. Evidence from research. A research paper has to present information from sources. Thus, writing a research paper requires you to look for and read published material related to your topic. The information you acquire from the materials will be used as evidence to prove, support, or defend your thesis. For example, a paper about climate change should present data from studies and insights from experts in the field.
  3. Original discussions.  A research paper needs to present your own discussions. It should not rely on the repetition of information alone; rather, it should analyze information to come up with assertions or conclusions. At the least, a research paper should synthesize information. Synthesis means taking information from various sources and combining them into a coherent whole.

To better illustrate how these features come together, consider this example of a research paper with a topic on the Black Death. Suppose that your thesis is this:

“While the Black Death claimed up to a third of Europe’s population and left the continent in shambles, it also paved the way for the rise of the Renaissance Period by reconfiguring dominant hierarchies and power structures.”

As you can see from this example, the thesis has a definite claim. It asserts that the Black Death played a role in the emergence of the Renaissance Period. The thesis is also specific since it focuses the discussion on the plague’s effect on social hierarchies and power structures. Always remember that a thesis should not be too broad or too general; a good thesis needs to have a narrow focus.

The thesis statement alone cannot be taken as true. This is why you need evidence to defend or prove the thesis. This is where the information from your research comes in. For this topic, your sources would likely include both primary and secondary material. For example, you can cite information from the works of historians.

Finally, remember that your paper should have an original discussion. You need to present an analysis of the information rather than just recite them. A good research paper goes beyond simply repeating what the sources say. A research paper should explain, interpret, or synthesize information. For example, you can explain how a piece of information supports your thesis statement.

Types of Research Paper

A research paper is a general type of written project and therefore has various types. You need to know what kind of research paper you are writing since the type of the paper usually determines its purpose, goals, style, and content. For example, an argumentative research paper is different from a persuasive research paper. Some of the more common types of research papers include the following:

  1. Argumentative: The argumentative research paper, more commonly known as the argumentative essay, is one of the most common written projects. This paper requires the presentation of a claim and then backing it with facts and reasoning. In an argumentative research paper, the main goal is to make your reader consider the validity of your argument.
  2. Compare and Contrast: This type of research paper discusses similarities and differences between two or more subjects. To learn how to write a compare and contrast paper, you need to take note of where the subjects of your paper diverge so that you can contrast them and where they overlap so that you can compare them.
  3. Cause and Effect: This type of research paper discusses how specific factors eventually lead to specific consequences. This research paper is usually composed of three elements: the topic itself, its causes, and its effects. For instance, if your topic is climate change, you need to discuss what causes climate change and what its effects are. Learning how to write a cause-and-effect paper requires arranging the discussion in a logical manner.
  4. Definition: This type of research paper involves providing an extended definition of a given topic by synthesizing the various definitions available. For example, writing a definition paper for friendship should not be limited to presenting its dictionary definition; instead, you need to consider its definitions in other contexts including your personal perspective.
  5. Interpretive: Another common type of research paper is the interpretive essay. This type is quite similar to the argumentative research paper in that it also advances a specific claim. As the word itself suggests, this research paper usually involves the interpretation of a written work such as a novel, a short story, a poem, or an essay.

There are many other types of research papers and these vary depending on the area of study. For example, a paper for a health class asking you to discuss a cardiovascular disease can be a research paper. Meanwhile, a proposal for a business model based on business concepts can also be a research paper. These two have different requirements, but both can be called research papers. Also, the complexity and length of a research paper depending on the instructions.

When is a research paper required?

A research paper is required anytime during the term. A research paper is a common requirement. A student may encounter this project at any moment during the term or semester: early in the term, in the middle, or before it ends. A research paper may also be a minor requirement or a major one. For example, a short research paper detailing the causes of smoking may serve as homework for the week. By contrast, a long research paper on the impact of the French Revolution may serve as a final requirement.

Term Paper

In the previous section, we discuss what a research paper is, what it usually features, and when it is required. As the discussion shows, a research paper is a type of written project that presents a thesis and analysis of sources. Note that a research paper can be required anytime during the term, and so it can be a minor requirement or a major one. In this section, we now look at the term paper.

What is a term paper?

A term paper is a class requirement usually submitted at the end or towards the end of a term (or semester). The main purpose of a term paper is to show the student’s overall achievement over the course of the term. In other words, the term paper is designed to test if the student has acquired enough learning in the given course.

A term paper can come in various forms. For example, a term paper may require you to choose one prompt from a list and then use a number of class readings for your sources. Another example of a term paper would be if the professor required you to write a specific number of short essays corresponding with specific topics covered in class.

Note that the term paper is also a general term. Thus, the type of term paper you submit depends on the instructions. It can be an essay, a research paper, a journal, a reaction paper, a reflection paper, a lab report, or even a specific project.

When is a term paper required?

A term paper is required towards the end of the term. Students are often asked to submit a term paper towards the end of the term since the goal is to show the students’ progress over the course of the term. However, there are also times when a term paper is assigned more than once and in the middle of the term. For instance, a single course may have two or three term papers, which are assigned at regular intervals. Overall, a term paper is a requirement that serves as a milestone to mark your progress.

Research Paper Versus Term Paper

At this point, the difference between a research paper and a term paper should be clear. A research paper is a specific type of written project that can be assigned at any moment in class. It can be anything from a minor assignment like the week’s homework to a major requirement like a final paper. On the other hand, a term paper is a type of class requirement used to evaluate a student’s progress.

So when is a research paper a term paper?

You may be asking, can a research paper be a term paper? The answer is yes. If the research paper serves as the final or one of the final requirements and is intended to show overall achievement in a given term or part of a term, then it is a term paper. For example, your professor might ask you to write a research paper on the conservation of lions for your term paper. In this instance, the term paper is a research paper.

But when is a research paper not a term paper?

A research paper is not a term paper if it is not called as such. In other words, it is not a term paper if it serves as a regular requirement, such as a research paper for a class topic, or for the week, or for the month. For example, your professor may ask you to write a research paper in response to the week’s reading. Unless your professor calls it a term paper, then it should not be treated as such.

When is a term paper a research paper?

A term paper is a research paper if the instructions spell out that the project is a research paper. As stated earlier, a term paper can be an essay, a reaction paper, a journal entry, or even a lab report. So if the professor assigns a term paper and states that it should be a research paper, then it is a research paper that serves as your term paper.

When is a term paper not a research paper?

A term paper is not a research paper if the instructions make it clear that it is a different type of written project. For example, the instructions may say that the project is a journal, a personal reflection essay, or a special project (such as a script for a creative writing course or a manifesto for a rhetoric course). Thus, you need to pay careful attention to the type of written project your term paper is supposed to be.


In the end, a research paper is a type of written project that involves research on the topic. On the other hand, a term paper is a type of class requirement that usually serves as a final requirement that shows overall progress for the term. While they have different definitions, they are often used interchangeably, and this is acceptable considering how they are often used in the same context. Though many consider term paper and research paper the same, it is still important for a student to know the difference.

If you are confused about the type and purpose of your assignment, you may ask your professor for more clarification. Additionally, you may ask for help from experts at CustomEssayMeister. They have the know-how necessary to complete any written project you need. With over a decade of experience writing papers for customers around the world, CustomEssayMeister can write a great paper for you whether you need a research paper or a term paper, or any other kind of paper. Order your paper now!

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