Similarities Between Essays & Research Papers

Research papers and essays are similar in that they both are often required assignments in secondary and post-secondary schools. Typically, both follow a similar organizational structure, however, research papers focus on answering a research question, while essays often defend a thesis statement.


Both essays and research papers have a similar structure. Both begin with an introduction and include body paragraphs and a conclusion. In each written assignment, the thesis statement or the research question is placed prominently at the beginning of the work, usually at the end of the introduction. This serves dual purposes. Placing the topic or thesis statement early in the paper ensures that readers know what to expect before getting too deep into the text. It also helps the writer to focus his or her paper and keeps writers from going off track.


While the type and amount of research may vary between essays and research papers, both assignments require research of some kind. Research papers usually require more in-depth research as well as a bibliography of sources at the end, while an essay may have more targeted or limited research. For example, a research paper on the history of football may utilize research from several books, periodicals and scholarly journals, while an essay may hone in on just one or two sources to defend its thesis.

Research Questions

Research papers focus on a specific topic and also require the formulation of a research question. A research question is a question that is formulated in several stages. First, you chose a topic and then make sure it isn't too broad or too narrow. For example, if a student wants to do a research paper on the pyramids, he or she will have to narrow the focus as the topic of the pyramids is too general and would make writing a paper laborious. Asking questions helps to narrow a topic’s focus and create a research question. “How were the pyramids made?” or “What were the pyramids used for?” are questions about the topic that narrow the focus and allow for the next step in formulating a research question, conducting preliminary research. Once writers gather preliminary research, they can formulate an even more specific research question that will in turn form the topic and body of the research paper.

Thesis Statements

Thesis statements are slightly different in form and method. A strong thesis statement is authoritative and forms the basis of the essay. The body of the essay cites examples, statistics and opinions that support the thesis. This is similar to a research paper’s research question in that the thesis statement is about a specific topic that the essay will expound upon and provide more analysis on. Essays focus more on the analysis of a specific topic, while research papers are focused on the research that supports and answers the research question. (See reference 1)

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