Differentiating the Research Paper and Term Paper

A requirement students will tackle in school is to create either a research paper or a term paper.  Such projects are quite important, allowing students to gain in-depth knowledge about the subject that they will probably not learn in the classroom lectures.

However, since these projects are not assigned very often, many students are unsure about what to do.  Even more bothersome, sometimes students confuse the two, causing them to make mistakes when they begin their project.


– Both ask the student to pick a topic that they are interested in.  This should generally be something that has not been discussed before in class; or if discussed, the paper should aim to discover more about it.

– Both require a review of literature.  Since there are many related studies, it makes sense to learn what others have done, and then investigate something others have not tried.

– Both are formal papers, requiring academic language and good grammar.

– Both have a format to follow. If any element is missing, the final grade suffers.


– The term paper usually entails the comparison of knowledge learned.  The student’s result comes about after consulting multiple resources about the subject.  Different viewpoints are compared and contrasted to come up with the best answer.

On the other hand, a research paper often requires an experiment to test if the student’s hypothesis is correct.  If not an experiment, it may require surveys and interviews to learn more about the topic – things that are not required in a term paper.

– Time-wise, term papers must be completed within 1 to 2 months at the end of the term. This is because the data needed just come from books, journals, and other available sources. The research paper, however, usually takes much more time (3 months to more than a year), primarily due to the tests, surveys, or interviews that must be conducted.

Tips for both

1. Don’t procrastinate

The longer you wait to begin, the harder it will be to start.  And since both papers require lots of reading, analysis, and writing, you should start as soon as possible.

2. Choose a topic you love

Both papers require a lot of reading. This will be difficult to do if you do not like what you are researching.

3. Don’t be lazy with your research

Most teachers require multiple resources to be consulted, not just 2 or 3.  Consult books, journals, newspapers, and online sources.  Consider also different angles to your research which may lead you to more studies connected to your topic.  If not, your paper might be lacking, and you’ll have to work on it again.

4. Carefully check your work

As a major part of your grade, take time to recheck your work.  Aside from grammar, this means ensuring there is no ambiguity in what you are trying to say.  Sometimes students are in a rush to finish so they do not explain key areas properly. A final once-over is necessary to make sure all is okay.


The term paper and research paper are very helpful tools that teach students about the value of research and critical thinking.  Although scary at first, they can be done.  So take note of the similarities, differences, and tips to help you complete your task.