Essay vs. Research Paper: Similarities and Differences

Academic writing is not an easy style to master. It poses a challenge for students with its numerous requirements to structure, formatting, tone, evidence, and conciseness. Yet, the fundamental thing is to understand the difference between various paper types and learn their characteristic features. Essay vs. research paper — it is a common problem for students even though they get to write such tasks pretty often. To draw a distinction between these types of academic assignments correctly, you need to know their features and requirements. Let’s see what makes an essay and a research paper distinct.

What Is an Essay?

An essay is a short piece of writing where an author discusses an idea or concept from a certain perspective. The purpose of an essay may vary depending on the writer’s intentions.

What Is a Research Paper?

A research paper is aimed at gathering and analyzing information regarding a certain subject matter. It entails using primary and secondary sources and offering a specific perspective on a topic, supported by qualitative and quantitative research methods.

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Differences in Purpose

Essay writing is a creative process, which allows students to express their thoughts in a more open and free way than a research paper. Assigning essays, teachers check students’ progress in analysis and critical thinking. Besides, they also pay close attention to the basics of writing, such as word choice, grammar, and style. In an essay, a writer needs to express his or her personal view on the problem and support this perspective with evidence from other sources. Research is always welcomed, but it is not a must for essays. This distinguishes them from research papers where deep analysis of sources is a core of a successful paper.

Research papers are more formal and thus do not allow as much of the creative freedom as essays do. Teachers and professors require students to conduct rigorous and thorough research on the topic. The result should present a central idea deduced from different reputable sources. You can get a good grade only if your research paper meets this requirement. Your perception of the discussed issue is not as highly prioritized as in essays. That is why many students seek for help online on sites like where they can get a good, quality research paper that will meet their requirements.

Differences in Length

Essays are usually short and take 1-3 pages. However, it is not a rule because your teacher may have his or her own length requirement.

In contrast, research papers usually include from 4 to 15 pages. This allows you to explore the researched question in detail. Apart from the content of your paper, you should also leave space for your sources (books, articles, websites, videos, etc.). All of them must be properly documented at the end of your paper. Format them according to one of the citation styles.

Differences in Structure

Essays usually include 5 paragraphs, namely an introduction, three body paragraphs, and a conclusion. Yet, they can take different forms. The choice of a suitable structure depends on the type of essay and its content.

The outline options for a research paper vary. There are no strict rules concerning their organization, as in the case of other writing assignments. Planning the paper, think about the most relevant factors and present them using the most appropriate form. If you have a basic-level research paper, it may look like an essay, including:

  • Introduction
  • Body
  • Conclusion

Yet, such a structure is mostly used for lower academic levels. If you are a college or university student, requirements for your research papers will be more complex. You might need to develop a more sophisticated outline. Here is how it may look like:

  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Literature review
  • Methodology
  • Results
  • Discussion
  • Conclusion
  • References

Differences in Methods

Essay writing is often reflective and does not require you to gather data or formulate a hypothesis. Therefore, teachers do not require you to use a specific methodology. However, this is not the case when it comes to research papers.

When you work on a research paper, you need to use one or several research methods (qualitative or quantitative), determine dependent and independent variables, work with research questions and hypotheses. Now you know why the mention of the phrase “research paper” makes students anxious. It is a huge chunk of work. Some students delegate such tasks to, which saves them a lot of time. Expert writers know how to conduct in-depth research and discuss a problem from a unique angle. This is exactly what you need to get an excellent grade for a research paper.

Common Features

Students find it hard to differentiate between an essay and a research paper, not without reason. Indeed, they have some common characteristics that make the distinction complicated. Here are some of them:

  1. Both types require critical thinking skills as you need to develop your argument and establish links between ideas.
  2. Although the structure of an essay usually differs from the structure of a research paper, both should be consistent and systemic.
  3. Both papers must be focused on one particular question or problem.
  4. Both types require you to research and use outside sources (books, scholarly journal articles, newspaper articles, websites, etc.) and their correct formatting.
  5. A thesis statement is important for both types of assignments.
  6. An essay and a research paper must be concise and to-the-point regardless of the chosen writing techniques or aim of the piece.

To Sum Up

Despite some common characteristics, an essay and a research paper are different in their purpose, preparation stages, length, and methods. When an essay focuses more on the author’s point of view, a research paper is concerned with the exploration of existing evidence and its presentation from the writer’s perspective. The former usually provides a single perspective on the issue. In contrast, the latter explores a problem from multiple angles based on various scientific findings. Additionally, an essay is aimed at improving writing skills, whereas a research paper is directed on building one’s knowledge. To know such fundamental features of these two types of writing assignments is the first step to achieving high grades.