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Difference Between an Essay and a Research Paper - Every Nook and Cranny

Jul 27, 2018

The differences between the personal essay and the research paper are pretty clear and apparent. These two types of academic papers require different approaches that are, though, similar to a certain extent. The writer is required to adhere to some basic rules, as this task aims to verify whether that the student possesses exceptional writing skills and ascertain their overall competence. In particular, the rules include complying with the length requirements (e.g., a one-page essay, a 5-page research paper), formatting requirements (APA, MLA, Harvard, etc.), citing requirements (proper punctuation), etc.

Sometimes, especially after performing a lot of different writing tasks, some students still do not understand what is the difference between a research paper and an essay. These are the two most common assignments they are required to do both in high school and college. Unlike formal and academic papers which should be devoid of any slang or offensive terms, the personal essay provides the writer with an opportunity to use a more relaxed, sophisticated and entertaining language. Research papers, on the other hand, should not contain any 'colorful' adjectives that don't really say much or are simply used to create an image. The wording should be clear and direct, showing an apparent connection to the evidence presented.

What is an essay?

This is a type of academic paper students get taught how to write as early as the junior school. Being an opinion paper (not in all cases), it usually consists of five paragraphs: the Introduction, Body, and Conclusion. Essays can be descriptive, personal, persuasive, critical, etc., with each type requiring to utilize different writing skills and implement different details. The main goal of writing the essay is to engage the reader by arousing their curiosity.

Once you understand the basic structure of the essay, you should choose a topic which is easy to write about and which will require little time and effort to explore. Once the basics are firmly grasped, you can concentrate on more pressing issues, such as improving the quality of your content and final presentation.

As stated before, every individual writing an essay should follow some basic rules or a structure. If you feel that you lack skills, consider sticking with the basic five-paragraph-essay setting. This format provides you with a simple and straightforward template for constructing your essay. The traditional five-paragraph-essay consists of the following:

  1. Introduction.
  2. Body (1st paragraph).
    Narration. This section, which may be combined with the introduction, 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. Body (2nd paragraph).
    Affirmation. This part is very crucial to your paper because it provides the clear evidence and support to defend your claim.
  4. Body (3rd paragraph).
    Negation. The negation merely handles any counter-claims when necessary. It discusses possible counter-arguments that may arise in opposition to your stance and explains them accordingly. Depending on your topic, you may find that this section does not need to be very lengthy.
  5. Conclusion.

Quite simple, right? The essay structure types may be slightly different, depending on the kind of essay, but you should keep in mind that each section of your essay carries a different argument, opinion, viewpoint, information, or idea. The five-part-essay is ideal for writing argumentative, critical, persuasive, and expository essays.

Basically, what is included in the body depends on the type of essay. The conclusion summarizes the introduction and restates the body. No new ideas or information are included here.

What is a research paper?

This is a typical academic paper that aims to assess the student's analytical skills. The student is to provide in-depth research on information by presenting all the acquired facts, statistics, figures, and data, before carrying out the subject topic assignment. It involves conducting comprehensive research in a selected field for the sake of either informing or explaining something to the reader in a manner they can easily understand.

The research paper may involve thorough and investigative research through the use of literary or other available sources, as well as original research, such as an experiment or case study.

Apart from allowing the student to be judgemental and critical, research paper gives them an opportunity to present their own point of view to the reader in an easy-to-understand way. It also aims to engage the reader by arousing their interest. The research paper should be impersonal, so avoid using personal pronouns such as "I" or "you" in your statements. The reader is usually presented with a new viewpoint at the end, but like in the case with an essay, it's also important to find a way to engage them by inspiring their curiosity.

Just like the essay, the research paper also comprises various paragraphs. The structure is somewhat different, but the information provided in each of the paragraphs should be in an easy-to-follow sequence so that the reader does not waste their time trying to sort out some irrelevant facts and ideas.

The student can choose any type of structure that they feel can be interesting to the reader. Let's have a look at the basic structure of the research paper:

  1. Page title - lets the reader know of the purpose of the paper.
  2. Abstract - a summary of your research. It is similar to a mini-thesis in which you clearly explain your main objectives and related points.
  3. Introduction - helps the reader decide whether they want to continue reading or not, which is why it should be catchy, grabbing their attention at once.
  4. Background/Literature Review - provides the reader with more detailed information on your topic, explaining the work done in the area and demonstrating that you've read and researched the topic considerably and are aware of the relevant issues.
  5. Body - divided into various sections, e.g., materials/methods, results, discussion, etc.
  6. Conclusion.
  7. Acknowledgments.
  8. References.

The structure of a research paper is pretty much similar to that of the essay, which makes them the two most popular types of academic papers.

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