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Essay and research paper writing

Essay and research paper writing: comparing structure and general guidelines

Oct 22, 2012 - Posted to  Essay Writing
Essay writing and research writing are the two most common forms of writing in academia. Almost every student will formulate at least one of these writing forms by the end of their academic studies. Knowing the key similarities and differences to both will aide you in most, if not all, of your writing assignments.

What is essay writing?

Essay writing is a form of writing that is very hard to avoid as a student or a professor (many occupations utilize essay writing such as psychologist, doctors, lawyers etc.) By definition, its a short and concise piece of writing on a particular subject matter.
There are a variety of essays to write from descriptive to personal, to persuasive and critical. Despite the many types, the makeup and structure of each is generally the same. Once you understand the basic structure of essay writing you should find each assignment easy to construct with little time and energy spent on formation. The good news is that once the basics are firmly grasped you can concentrate on the more important issues which are improving the quality of your content and your final presentation.

What is research paper writing?

Research paper writing is required in most educational programs and involves conducting comprehensive research in a selected field to either inform or explain something to the reader. Depending on the knowledge base of the student and the requirements of the assignment, a research paper may involve investigative research via literature or other available resources or original research such as an experiment or case study.

Essay structure

If you're new to essay writing or need to brush up on your skills consider sticking with the basics with the five-paragraph-essay structure or the five-part-essay structure. Each format provides you with a simple, straightforward template for constructing your essay. The traditional five-paragraph-essay consists of the following;
  1. Introduction
  2. Support (Body) Paragraph 1
  3. Support (Body) Paragraph 2
  4. Support (Body) Paragraph 3
  5. Conclusion
Simple right? The hard part is filling in numbers 2-3! The main objective here is to provide you with a sound structural base to utilize when writing and a guide to ensure that your paper is properly formatted and easy to read and understand. Alternatively, you may choose the more complex five-part-essay which essentially is just a more specific form of the five-paragraph-essay. Instead of the generic 1,2,3 slots for each paragraph, the paragraphs are provided with specific names to assist you developing a more precise argument. The five-part-essay is ideal for argumentative, critical, persuasive and (some) expository essays. The outline is as follows;
  1. Introduction
  2. Narration - This section may be combined with the introduction but basically provides a snapshot of the background information on the topic or argument and briefly explains the connection to relevant issues (that will be addressed in the essay).
  3. Affirmation - This part is very crucial to your paper because it provides the clear evidence and support to defend your claim.
  4. Negation - The negation simply handles any counter-claims when necessary. It addresses possible counter arguments that may arise in opposition to your position and explains them accordingly. You may find that this section does not need to be very lengthy depending on your topic.
  5. Conclusion

Research paper structure

The research paper is similar to the essay in essence in that it includes a clear introduction, body and conclusion. The main differences you will find is in the breakdown of the body of the paper and in the traditional additions or subsections of the research paper. Unlike the essay, the research paper is a more restricted form of writing and has set of documentary expectations for each paper. Depending on whether you are conducting theoretical or experimental research or whether you're an undergraduate or graduate student your research paper outline will vary. Though the basic outline of a research paper is as follows;
  1. Abstract - A brief summary of your research; similar to a mini-thesis in which you clearly explain your main objectives and related points.
  2. Introduction
  3. Background/Literature Review - This section provides the reader with more detailed information on your topic; beyond the introduction. It should explain other work done in this area and demonstrate to the reader that you've read and researched the topic considerably and are aware of what's been tried and tested in the field as well as the relevant issues currently being addressed.
  4. Body
  5. Conclusion
  6. Bibliography
The body of your paper obviously is a significant area to pay attention to. If you are conducting a scientific or experimental research report your body will most likely consist of (a) methods (b) findings or results (c) discussion or analysis. For theoretical research papers in which you will not be actually conducting any actual experimentation you may substitute these sections for an analysis, evaluation or examination of specific theories and explanation of your solution to the posed problem presented in your introduction.
As you can see in the outlines provided both essays and research papers are in need of the three main areas mentioned; introduction, body, and conclusion. Its important to explain these key components in further detail as they are all very essential to both forms of writing.

The Introduction

The introduction is sometimes the hardest thing to write. Along with the conclusion it is also one of the most crucial parts of your essay. A poor introduction can turn away potential readers and provide little direction or confidence in your ideas. A thorough, well-structured introduction will provide readers with the information they seek (such as who? how? and why?) and a suitable segway to your ideas.
A great introduction should accomplish the following key aspects;
  1. grab the readers attention
  2. clearly state what you plan to cover (a thesis)*
  3. answer your readers questions
  4. and provide an easy transition to your subject matter
*Your thesis statement does not necessarily have to be placed directly in the beginning of your paper. Some people enjoy a delayed thesis statement or an indirect one. The placement of your key sentence may depend on the type of essay you are writing. For example, in a personal essay you may want to hold your readers hand and guide them through some of your experiences before providing them with your exact realizations or final conclusion. On the contrary, in an argumentative essay you may choose to be very direct in stating your main objective clearly in the introduction of your paper. You may find that this approach is more effective for an argumentative essay because it allows the reader to more easily comprehend stated evidences and support statements.

The Body

Your support or body paragraphs are the 'meat' of your paper. To avoid being overwhelmed with sufficiently filling in these three paragraphs simply tackle each, one at a time. Your body paragraphs should be broken up in the order explained in your thesis statement. This is why its very important to know what your main objective is before you begin writing.
To further understand this section you may decide to use the TRI method; Topic sentence, Restatement, and Illustration.That is, start your paragraph off by stating the main idea or topic sentence of the paragraph, then re-state it by explaining it in a more detailed, descriptive or alternative way and wrap it up with a clear example or illustration. This last section of your paragraph is very important because it shows some of the evidential support of your main argument. Remember that your body paragraphs are support paragraphs and therefore they should accomplish their objective-to support your main idea.


People often stumble more so with the conclusion due to unclear expectations of this section. We know that you should revisit or summarize your main ideas - but what else to include? The following target areas are great to tackle in your conclusion whether in essay or research paper writing.
  1. provide a brief summary of your main points
  2. incite the reader to act
  3. propose questions for further discussion
  4. relate your topic to the 'big picture' or what it signifies as it relates to the broader issue at hand
  5. identify the overall meaning of your paper, why its important
  6. logically and tastefully share your final thoughts on the topic and overall benefits.
Essays and research reports are like distant cousins. They have a common connecting line which is their popularity in the academic world and basic writing structure. They also have aspects of remoteness such as differences in examination and investigative approaches and writing objectives. For instance, some essays such as argumentative or definition essays quite effectively mirror research papers in terms of style and evidential support. While other essays (that may be written formally or informally) such as narrative essays, are more distinct in their form and have less in common with research writing structure and format.
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