Differentiating the Research Paper and Term Paper

College assignments are more difficult than those given in high school. Among the many projects given, students may be asked to create a research paper, term paper, or both. Although similar, there are differences that students should take note of.

If you are confused about the two, then read on to learn more.

The Similarities

Both papers are considered difficult by students because of all the research, reading, and writing involved. Teachers often require multiple sources (books, journals, online articles) that the papers must reference in the main sections.

Because of the thoroughness required, both papers will be quite long. Students need to discipline themselves as they write because it will take many weeks or even a few months to finish it. The first draft is also rarely the last one. Most teachers will want to view the first draft, give comments, and then expect the students to revise it before submission.

And as a formal paper, the language used must reflect this, with students avoiding colloquial terms and the first person point of view.

The Differences

  1. The timing of the papers

Based on its name, term papers are often due at the end of the term, which usually means at the end of the semester. Thus, students often have around two or three months to complete it. Research papers, on the other hand, may take much longer (4 months to a year or even more).

  1. Actions needed

Term papers often just need the discussion of the theories or arguments discovered in the different resources. Different sides are presented, and then the critical analysis is done to uncover the truth and determine whether the student’s thesis statement is correct.

In a research paper, the student usually conducts an experiment to test the hypothesis. Depending on the subject, the experiment may be scientific (chemicals and different tests), or it may test different procedures or materials on others (new methods for math or language learning). One other option is to do a detailed observation of something, which may include many interviews, focus group discussions, and surveys.

It is because of the experiment design, data gathering process, and subsequent analysis that the research paper takes longer to complete than a term paper.

  1. Sections in the paper

Since the research paper is more complex, it will have other sections that will not be seen in the term paper. One such section is the Methodology. In it, the experiment design and data gathering process are explained so that other researchers can determine its soundness. Another difference is the Findings. Here, the resulting data is shared, which is something the term paper will not have.

One more section that might not be in the term paper is the Literature Review. Said section is essential to a research paper as it mentions the different theories and researches that are relevant to the paper. This is generally not needed for a term paper, although some teachers might sometimes require it.


The term paper and research paper are challenges that most college students will probably face. But to avoid confusion, it is good to note the differences between - as seen above - so that you know what you are going to do.