Essay Verses Term Paper

The Difference Between a Research Paper and a Term Paper

A term paper is a written academic paper that needs to demonstrate the acquired essential skills and knowledge in the subject matter. Usually it is a task given to the students at the end of a term and accounts towards the final grade in the subject, sometimes it can even constitute as the only component of the final grade. The length of a term paper may vary but it is usually between three to five thousand words.

Helpful Links: Sample Research Paper Proposal (Annotated) -- Research Paper VS Term Paper -- Research Paper VS Thesis

A term paper can be a critical essay on a popular or current topic requiring author’s personal point of view of the issue and demonstration of good and accurate understanding of the subject. The author needs to establish compelling arguments accompanied by facts or other evidence supporting his/her point of view.

The topic of a term paper might be chosen by the student or sometimes it might be a prompt given by the professor of the subject. In the latter case the professor provides you a problem to resolve or a question to examine and sets the requirements for the paper. However, sometimes the professor might not give you very much information but just a very general task. For example in law studies you might be asked to choose one case in the relevant case law and analyse it critically. You are given a subject but not a topic nor any further information about the expected aspects or components of the term paper.

A term paper can also be a research paper on a topic chosen by the student and involving thus more thorough academic research in the chosen subject. However, it is very probable that you need to select a topic or subject that had been discussed in the class or in a relevant text book. In this case the requirements are basically the same as of a research paper, starting with choosing a feasible topic which interests and/or challenges you and that has a sufficient range of references available. The materials that are being used and cited in the term paper should be versatile, i.e. encyclopaedias, text books, journal articles and other documents relevant in the chosen topic.

Every research paper should contain a central statement that the research seeks to defend or support or discuss. It may be stated in the form of a question that needs to be discussed or even answered or in a form of a claim that needs to be defended. In any way it cannot be longer than one sentence and needs to be formed with clarity.

Creating a good outline is the key to a successful term paper. The outline is like the bone structure of the term paper. Thus it needs to reflect the overall purpose of your research, the introduction of the chosen topic and the statement, accompanied by the main arguments and conclusions.

When writing the term paper follow the created outline and make sure all the requirements set for the term paper are being met.

In conclusion a term paper can have the same features as a research paper but with certain limitation in its subject and purpose.

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Thesis and Purpose Statements

Use the guidelines below to learn the differences between thesis and purpose statements

In the first stages of writing, thesis or purpose statements are usually rough or ill-formed and are useful primarily as planning tools.

A thesis statement or purpose statement will emerge as you think and write about a topic. The statement can be restricted or clarified and eventually worked into an introduction.

As you revise your paper, try to phrase your thesis or purpose statement in a precise way so that it matches the content and organization of your paper.

Thesis statements

A thesis statement is a sentence that makes an assertion about a topic and predicts how the topic will be developed. It does not simply announce a topic: it says something about the topic.

Good: X has made a significant impact on the teenage population due to its . . .

Bad: In this paper, I will discuss X.

A thesis statement makes a promise to the reader about the scope, purpose, and direction of the paper. It summarizes the conclusions that the writer has reached about the topic.

A thesis statement is generally located near the end of the introduction. Sometimes in a long paper, the thesis will be expressed in several sentences or an entire paragraph.

A thesis statement is focused and specific enough to be proven within the boundaries of the paper. Key words (nouns and verbs) should be specific, accurate, and indicative of the range of research, thrust of the argument or analysis, and the organization of supporting information.

Purpose statements

A purpose statement announces the purpose, scope, and direction of the paper. It tells the reader what to expect in a paper and what the specific focus will be.

Common beginnings include:

"This paper examines . . .," "The aim of this paper is to . . .," and "The purpose of this essay is to . . ."

A purpose statement makes a promise to the reader about the development of the argument but does not preview the particular conclusions that the writer has drawn.

A purpose statement usually appears toward the end of the introduction. The purpose statement may be expressed in several sentences or even an entire paragraph.

A purpose statement is specific enough to satisfy the requirements of the assignment. Purpose statements are common in research papers in some academic disciplines, while in other disciplines they are considered too blunt or direct. If you are unsure about using a purpose statement, ask your instructor.

This paper will examine the ecological destruction of the Sahel preceding the drought and the causes of this disintegration of the land. The focus will be on the economic, political, and social relationships which brought about the environmental problems in the Sahel.

Sample purpose and thesis statements

The following example combines a purpose statement and a thesis statement (bold).

The goal of this paper is to examine the effects of Chile's agrarian reform on the lives of rural peasants. The nature of the topic dictates the use of both a chronological and a comparative analysis of peasant lives at various points during the reform period. . . The Chilean reform example provides evidence that land distribution is an essential component of both the improvement of peasant conditions and the development of a democratic society. More extensive and enduring reforms would likely have allowed Chile the opportunity to further expand these horizons.

For more tips about writing thesis statements, take a look at our new handout on Developing a Thesis Statement.

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