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The Similarities of Term Papers and Essays

Which are You Writing?

A term paper is a lengthy written piece, often due at the end of a semester, which sums up an extensive body of student research. It often comprises a significant portion of a student’s grade in a given course, takes a great deal of preparation, and is many pages long. An Essay is a shorter, opinion-oriented writing assignment, usually between five paragraphs and five pages, outlining a view or responding to a prompt. Essays are usually written over the course of a week or two, or even in a single writing period (such as for an exam) and do not determine a large portion of a student’s grade.

That said, essays and term papers have more in common than they have different. Considering these similarities may actually make the task of writing one less daunting. Here are some of the commonalities:

Adherence to Style is Key

If you are writing a paper for a class, the length or breadth of the assignment has no bearing on the importance of following style guidelines. Both essays and term papers come with strict requirements that you adhere to the proper formatting, tone, and structure. Check your rubric or consult with your instructor to determine whether you are following MLA, APA, Chicago, or another style format.

Standard Written English is Required

In both essays and term papers, it is essential that you write in a professional, grammatical, and standardized form. This style of academic writing is typically referred to as Standard Written English (SWE), and it may be very different from how you normally speak or write conversationally.

Some hallmarks of SWE include that it forbids double negatives, does not use slang or colloquialisms, and avoids contractions, offensive language, and excessive jargon that might be unfamiliar to the reader. These requirements are consistent whether you are writing a long research report (a term paper) or a brief opinion piece (an essay).

Organization Will Help Your Reader

Whether your paper is a ten-page research article on a topic in the sciences or a five-paragraph essay on a piece of poetry, organization is equally important. Structure your paper like an hourglass: broad and general on the edges (the intro and conclusion), narrow and specific in the middle (the main section of the paper). Make sure to divide your sentences into coherent, brief paragraphs, and to progress your ideas in a way the reader can follow and make sense of. Ask someone else to read your paper and make notes about what doesn’t make sense.

The above tips apply to both lengthy term papers and brief essays, as well as every kind of paper assignment that falls in between. Follow these rules and your work will benefit.