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College Readiness

How to write a research paper

Types of Papers

The terms "essay" and "paper" are used by instructors to assign a writing assignment.   But is there a difference?  Yes, even though these terms are used interchangeably, there are some general difference.  However, always consult with your instructor for the specific requirements of the essay or paper.

An Essay is a shorter written assignement between 1/2 a page to four pages long.  You will develop a thesis by answering a questions.  Support your answer with evidence from research and readings.

Research Paper is a longer version of an essay and the most common type of assignment given to undergraduate students.  Often four to ten pages long.  The research you conducted should be more extensive than that for the essay.   You will most likely need multiple research source and may include, books, journal articles and other resources.  


Your instructor will decide the type of essay or paper you are to write.  Here are short explantions of th emost common types you may be assigned.

Argumentative - Convince the reader.  This is the most common type of paper assigned.  “The argumentative essay is a genre of writing that requires the student to investigate a topic, collect, generate, and evaluate evidence, and establish a position on the topic in a concise manner. … Argumentative essay assignments generally call for extensive research of literature or previously published material. Argumentative assignments may also require empirical research where the student collects data through interviews, surveys, observations, or experiments. Detailed research allows the student to learn about the topic and to understand different points of view regarding the topic so that s/he may choose a position and support it with the evidence collected during research. Regardless of the amount or type of research involved, argumentative essays must establish a clear thesis and follow sound reasoning.”  (The Argumentative Essay. Purdue OWL)

Narrative - Telling a story.  " These essays are often anecdotal, experiential, and personal—allowing students to express themselves in a creative and, quite often, moving ways."  (The Narrative Essay.  Purdue OWL)

Descriptive - Painting a picture.  “The descriptive essay is a genre of essay that asks the student to describe an object, person, place, experience, emotion, situation, etc. This genre encourages the student’s ability to create a written account of a particular experience.” (The Descriptive Essay. Purdue OWL)

Expository - Just the facts.  “The expository essay is a genre of essay that requires the student to investigate an idea, evaluate evidence, expound on the idea, and set forth an argument concerning that idea in a clear and concise manner. This can be accomplished through comparison and contrast, definition, example, the analysis of cause and effect, etc.” (The Expository Essay. Purdue OWL)

Literature Review is a paper that discusses published information in a particular subject area or on a particular subject within a certain time period.  It can be a simple summary of the sources or a restructure of the sources.  They are often used to trace the intellectual progession of the subject through time.

Annotated Bibliography is a collection of evaluated resources.  "Some annotations may summarize, some may assess or evaluate a source, and some may reflect on the source’s possible uses for the project at hand. Some annotations may address all three of these steps. Consider the purpose of your annotated bibliography and/or your instructor’s directions when deciding how much information to include in your annotations."  (Annotated Bibliography.  Purdue OWL)

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