Term Paper vs Research Paper: How Do They Compare

November 14, 2022

It’s easy to confuse term and research paper for the same thing because they have a number of elements that easily overlap. However, there are features that set them apart. In this term paper versus research paper guide, we look at the similarities and differences so you never confuse the two assignments for the same thing ever again.

What is a Research Paper?

We can define a research paper as an academic piece of assignment that requires a student to investigate subject methodically and theoretically and present their findings on the topic. Notably, research papers focus on analyzing issues (or problems) within a specific course.

In other words, when your professor asks you to write a research paper, they expect you to study a specific problem. More often than not, the problem under investigation is one that either has had questionable results in the past or hasn’t had an extensive coverage in the already existing studies.

What is a Term Paper?

A term paper, on the other hand, is an assignment issued to test student’s knowledge on a given subject or themes after a given duration of studies.

The type of assignment you write in the case of a term paper will vary depending on your instructor’s preference. They may ask you to write an essay, complete a test, or do some school work linked to the theme you’ve explored in a classroom setting.

You will write a term paper near the end of a class, and what you score for the assignment will count in that specific subject’s final grades.

Term Paper vs Research Paper: What Are The Key Differences?

Many elements easily overlap between a term paper and a research paper, but that doesn’t mean they’re 100% similar to one another. You need to learn the differences so that you never confuse between these two types of assignments.

The table below indicates the apparent differences between a term paper and a research paper.

 Term PaperResearch Paper
Time AssignedAssigned in the middle or at the end of a given study or termInstructors assign this at the beginning of a term
FormatYou’ll need to write it using an outline for a term paperTakes the format of an academic work also known as the research paper outline
TimelineHas a shorter deadline, usually between a day to a weekA longer assignment that takes weeks or even months to complete
PurposeWritten to examine a student’s level of understanding on a topic or theme already discussed in the classroom.The assignment focuses on solving a particular problem.
What It SupportsIt supports a thesis statement Often written to support a hypothesis
Final GradesTerm paper influence a student’s overall gradeIt doesn’t always have an influence on a student’s final grades.
LengthA term paper can be as short as one pageThe length vary and it’s often not less than 5 pages

These differences may not be clear at a first glance, so it often helps to do a lookup when in doubt.

Let’s take this even further by explaining these similarities and differences in more details so that you have more insights on the same.

Term Paper Vs Research Paper: Similarities

Topic Selection

The criterion for topic selection is the same for term and research paper. Your instructor can either assign you a topic to work on or ask you to choose one yourself, with the option to identify your own topic being the most common option.

If your instructor has given you the freedom to choose a topic yourself, make sure the subject you pick relates to the discussion had and study material issued in class.


Both term and research paper need to adhere to academic formatting and referencing style. You’ll find these requirements clearly indicated in the assignments’ instructions. If your instructor doesn’t give you a formatting and referencing style to use, stick to MLA or APA.

A Term Paper Can Be a Research Assignment

We understand that this can bring a lot of confusion, but it’s important to note that a term paper can also be a research assignment. If your instructor has asked you to investigate a topic based on existing evidence by using a methodological approach in a 10-page term paper, they’re most likely asking you to write a research assignment.

Term Paper vs Research Paper: Understanding the Differences

Structural Differences

One clear difference between term paper and a research paper is the components that go into the assignment.

A research paper should have an introduction, literature review, methodology, results (or findings), discussion (or analysis), conclusion, and reflection (optional).

You won’t have a question to explore in a term paper and it doesn’t include a hypothesis either. The assignment doesn’t require appendices, but your instructor may ask you to include an annotated bibliography in the term paper.

Differences in Goals

The goal of a research paper assignment is to solve a specific problem. Often, you’ll have to study existing literature to find gaps or contradictions and then suggest solutions based on your findings. 

A term paper, on the other hand, seeks to test your knowledge on a topic. The emphasis is on testing your understanding of a given subject or theme discussed in classroom.

Differences in Length

A term paper can be longer than a typical essay, but it won’t be as voluminous as a research paper. In fact, term papers hardly ever go beyond 20 pages, and the shortest ones that Help for Assessment writers have worked on are as short as 1,000 words.

A research paper is longer than a term paper, with the number of pages ranging between 10 and 40 give or take, if not more at least.

Term papers tend to be shorter because, in part, they’re a bridge between essays and research works, and mostly because they don’t presuppose serious data collection and detailed analysis.

Differences in Deadlines and Grades

The word term, in respect to academic assignments, refers to a finite period within which a task should be complete. Therefore, in essence, a term paper is an assessment given at the very end of a course, and it often determines a student’s final grades.

A research paper may or may not influence your final grade depending on the instructions given – or your professor’s preference.

About the author 

Antony W is a professional writer and coach at Help for Assessment. He spends countless hours every day researching and writing great content filled with expert advice on how to write engaging essays, research papers, and assignments.

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