Term paper vs Essay: Differences and Similarities

Writing is a continuous process if you are a high school or college student. And among the many writing pieces, your instructor may require from you are term papers and essays.

And while term papers and essays may look similar at face value, the two are different. In fact, so different are the two that if you confuse them, they may impact your grades. Therefore, a good look at them is a must if you are to avoid confusing, writing, and submitting one over the other.

But what are the differences between these two writing pieces? We look at their differences in the definition, structure, length, and other aspects.

Term paper vs Essay: Differences


A term paper is a longer, more in-depth piece of writing that you would typically work on over several weeks or months. Term papers are usually assigned in college courses, and they’re often written in response to questions like “How does this book relate to the course material?” or “How might this concept be applied in the real world?” 

Term papers are typically assigned at the end of a semester so that students can synthesize everything they’ve learned into one comprehensive document. The focus is on analysis, synthesis, and evaluation; thus, you must thoroughly research your topic and develop a thesis statement before you begin writing.

Also see: Hire someone to write your term paper 

Alternatively, a term paper can be assigned by a professor at the beginning of the semester so that students can begin researching their topics as soon as possible before any deadlines start approaching. Essays are usually assigned on an ongoing basis throughout the semester or year so that students can add new material whenever it becomes available or relevant to their research topic at that time in

Similarly, you can view a term paper as a much more in-depth assignment than an essay. In fact, it is often so long that it takes up most of your class time to complete. A term paper can be done on almost any subject and at any time during the semester or year.

Also, due to their comprehensiveness, term papers take considerable time and effort, so you should be extra careful when looking for a reliable source to write a paper for you.

On the other hand, an essay is a shorter piece of writing that can be written quickly. Essays are typically assigned as homework for high school classes or as a way for students to demonstrate their mastery of specific skills when applying to colleges. Essays often have an argumentative component, though not a must as you’re trying to prove something or argue against something. 

Further, an essay is usually shorter than a term paper and is meant to be completed in one sitting. Essays are typically short pieces of writing that focus on one idea or theme consisting of an introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion while using specific resources such as books, magazines, or newspapers.

Structure and Length

Even though both pieces have a relatively similar structure, there are some key differences.

A term paper is a research-based assignment usually consisting of 10-20 pages, but it can go up to 30 pages in length for some classes. This assignment allows students to learn how to conduct research by themselves and present their findings in an organized way. Further, an essay is shorter than a term paper because it is written on a specific topic or idea, whereas a term paper has a broader approach. 

The structure consists of a title page, abstract, although not mandatory, table of contents, body, conclusion, references, and appendices. All these parts are detailed and may run into several paragraphs and pages.

On the other hand, an essay is short and can even be a one-pager. Essays have an introduction, body, and conclusion, all seemingly conjoined and not necessarily labeled, unlike other marked parts of a term paper.

Subject Matter

The subject matter is another key difference between the two. Generally, a term paper is broader than that of an essay. While the former refers to an academic discipline, the latter uses a specific issue or problem as the basis of its discussion.

A term paper requires more in-depth research on the part of the student because there are usually strict guidelines for how to write a term paper. The student needs to choose an appropriate topic, then find sources that will support their thesis statement. Once they have found these sources, they must evaluate them and decide which ones will support their argument.

Also see: Why you should hire us to write your essay

An essay, on the other hand, is usually written on topics that are personal or chosen by the writer. Essays should also follow specific rules regarding format, but they are not as rigid as those used in term papers because they are open-ended topics that leave room for personal opinion and creativity from the author.

A typical essay will discuss only one topic. In comparison, a regular term paper discusses more than one topic related to its field of study.


The purpose of a term paper is to help you learn more about a subject. The topic may be something you are interested in or not, but you should research thoroughly to help you understand more about the issue.  

In comparison, an essay’s purpose is to develop your writing skills and express your personal views on various topics. You don’t need to follow any format or structure while writing an essay. However, it should be clear enough for the reader to understand what you want to say. An article can be written from perspectives like first-person narration and third-person narration.

Further, the primary purpose of a term paper is to analyze an issue or topic, while an essay’s primary goal is to persuade readers to adopt your point of view. While both types of academic writing require you to do some research, a term paper should include more in-depth analysis than an essay.

Use of Resources 

With a term paper’s purpose being to help students learn how to research, gather information, and organize it into an academic writing format, resource use and citation are necessary.

You must use specific sources and resources to support your thesis statement. You must also find credible sources that back up your point of view on the topic being discussed in the paper.

In contrast, essays do not require citations. And even where your professor requires such, they are not necessarily looking for their authenticity, but if you know the different citation styles. This is because essays are not evidence-based but rather personal.

Essay vs Term paper: Similarities

Need for Basic Research

Both term papers and essays require thorough research on the topic given by your teacher or professor. You must gather adequate information regarding the particular topic before you begin writing your paper or essay to write an original piece of work consisting of facts and arguments based on the research.

Similar Structure

Although not entirely similar, both pieces have a relatively similar structure. Term papers and articles have an introduction, body, and paragraph.

Key Takeaways

There are significant differences between term papers and essays, although they also have similarities. While an essay is short, more opinionated, and requires relatively less research, term papers are the exact opposite.

And now that you can distinguish the two, go forth and in the knowledge and handle them as required.