As a college student, you’re most probably familiar with a research paper. But have you heard of its lesser-known cousin, the term paper?

Not sure what the differences are or if there is a difference at all? Though most students are skeptical, there’s a significant difference between a term paper and a research paper.

This post will discuss term paper vs. research paper and help you distinguish between the two. We’ll help you understand what makes each type of these papers unique so you can be confident when handling both.

What is a term paper?

A term paper is a form of academic writing that requires extensive research and focus on a particular subject. It’s an assignment that college students are expected to complete at the end of an academic term.

A term paper typically requires extensive research and strong analytical skills. It demonstrates a student's understanding of the topics studied and allows them to form arguments based on the information collected throughout the term.

Depending on the course and professor, term papers can take many forms, including reports, essays, or reviews but must always meet high academic standards.

Does a term paper need a thesis?

No. Unlike research papers, term papers don’t always need a thesis. While some instructors may require you to include a thesis in your term paper, others may be more flexible. If you're unsure whether your assignment requires a thesis, always ask your professor before you start writing.

What is a research paper?

A research paper is an academic document that involves the systematic investigation of a specific research topic. It requires comprehensive research to collect and analyze relevant data, form a hypothesis, and draw meaningful conclusions.

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A research paper may include primary research, such as experiments and surveys, or secondary sources, like published works and peer-reviewed journal articles. The structure and format of a research paper vary depending on the topic and the type of research undertaken.

Research papers are effective tools for establishing, discussing, and expanding upon current knowledge within the given field.

What is the difference between a research thesis and a term paper?

A research thesis is usually present in research papers and outlines the central argument or the claim the paper is trying to make, supported by evidence. A term paper may or may not have a thesis, depending on the assignment. It may also present an original argument or claim, but it will be shorter and based primarily on primary sources.

Term paper vs. research paper: 8 key differences

Let’s discuss the key components that set the two papers apart so you won’t confuse one for the other when writing.


One of the main differences between the two is in the purpose they serve.

The main purpose of a term paper is, to sum up the course material learned during the semester. It’s typically assigned at the end of a semester to evaluate what a student has known and understood throughout the semester.

On the other hand, the purpose of a research paper is to assess your understanding of a particular topic through original research. It requires you to conduct research and draw your own conclusions about the topic at hand. A research paper can be assigned as part of a larger project or as an independent assignment.


Term papers tend to be more general in nature, while research papers are more specific. Term papers require you to synthesize information from multiple sources, but they will generally not require you to conduct original research.

Research papers will require you to conduct your own original research on a specific topic. They may also require you to find and synthesize information from published research studies. Research papers are often longer and more comprehensive.

Topic selection

The topics for term papers are usually assigned by professors, while for a research paper, students choose the topics themselves. This can sometimes make it easier to write a term paper because you’re not responsible for researching and coming up with the topic. However, it also means you may have less control over the direction of your paper.

For a research paper, you can choose the topic you want to research and write about. The topic of a term paper may be broad, for instance, "the effects of social media on college students."

On the other hand, the topic of a research paper should be more specific, for instance, "the effects of social media on the mental health of college students."

Level of research

As mentioned, research papers require more in-depth research than term papers. This means you’ll have to spend more time gathering sources and evidence to support your claims in a research paper.

Since term papers are generally broad in nature, they require less research than a research paper. However, both papers require you to find and use outside sources to support your claims and arguments.

References and sources

A research paper relies heavily on primary sources and first-hand accounts of an event or phenomenon. Primary sources include interviews, surveys, or field research.

A term paper may only require secondary sources, which are second-hand accounts written about an event or phenomenon. It typically relies on information from lecture notes, texts, and class discussions.

You may also need to get more information to support your points from journal articles, dissertations, textbooks, political commentary, and biographies.

In order to write a successful research paper, you must have an in-depth understanding of the topic and be able to synthesize information from multiple sources. On the other hand, writing a term paper focuses on summarizing the materials already presented to you in class.

Paper length

Term papers are usually shorter than research papers. They often range from 1-3 pages in length, while research papers tend to be longer.

Research papers are often 5-10 pages or more, depending on the instructions of the assignment and the subject matter. This makes sense considering research papers require more effort, more in-depth research, and more content than a term paper.

Some research papers can go as long as 15 pages if the topic under investigation is broad and requires a lot of written content.

Structure and organization

A term paper typically follows one main structure with few variations. It involves an introduction containing your thesis statement, the body paragraphs which support your thesis statement, and a conclusion that summarizes your main points.

The number of body paragraphs may vary depending on the number of points you want to discuss in the paper. However, 3-4 paragraphs are usually enough.

A research paper may also follow the same structure but often has additional sections like the literature review, the methodology, data collection, data analysis, and the discussion.

Since you need to draw conclusions from different sources of information, an organization is a key factor to consider when writing a research paper.

Time of assignment

Another key factor that differentiates a term paper from a research paper is that they are written at different times during the semester.

Term papers are often assigned near the end of the semester or trimester. This is because they require students to demonstrate what they have learned throughout their coursework.

However, research papers can be assigned at any point during the semester since they focus on any particular topic or issue related to your coursework, regardless of the timing. That said, don’t be surprised when your professor assigns you a research paper towards the end of the semester.

Key takeaway

In the end, understanding the difference between a term paper and a research paper is vital to completing a successful academic paper.

While both a term paper and a research paper require research and analysis, each aims to uniquely contribute to a student's writing competency and understanding of a topic. You should always be aware of the expectations from your professor when writing both types of papers.

Even though they’re both different types of academic papers, our team of professional paper writers can help you with both. They are well aware of the requirements of these two assignments and can research, write, proofread, edit, and cite a high-quality, custom-written term paper and research paper for high school and college.

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Custom Essays:

Crafted from Scratch for You.

Plagiarism Removal:

Ensuring Your Work’s Originality.

Rewriting & Paraphrasing:

Transform Your Draft into Excellence.

Editing & Proofreading:

Perfecting Your Paper’s Grammar, Style, and Format (APA, MLA, etc.).