Research Paper vs. Thesis Paper

image source: ms. farris

I received a great question from a rising Senior: “What is the difference between a research paper and a thesis paper?”

Here is my answer:

A research paper is a logical, engaging summary, peppered with cited facts from multiple sources, of an interesting topic. It is backed by reputable, balanced information and full of thoughtful analysis. A research paper is the result of a process focused on the joy of learning – acquiring new information, synthesizing ideas, and making fascinating connections. A research paper is wonderful. But it is not a thesis paper.

A thesis paper starts with research, but the information found is organized into evidence to support an argument, claim, or course of action. Implicitly present in a thesis paper are two other people: the person who has a credible opposing viewpoint to yours, and the undecided reader whom you are trying to persuade to your side. A research paper does not have these two people, but you need to think about them to focus your reading, interview, and original research for senior thesis.

A research paper has facts, but a thesis paper organizes those facts into a point of view. Another way to think about it is: “what, vs. so what”. A research paper does a great job of explaining the “what” – an interesting topic. But the thesis paper needs to go a step further to answer the question “so what?” What do you expect the reader to agree with, or disagree with, after thinking about your paper? What do you expect them to do? How can you ensure your that your argument is more persuasive than than other credible interpretations? Taking this extra step is an important one on the path to a great senior thesis that really makes an impact.

A BLUNT WARNING: A research paper is not sufficient to pass Senior Thesis. Seniors must write a 20+ page MLA style thesis paper to be eligible to graduate.

Do you have questions or feedback about how to turn your research topic into a thesis? Email Ms. Farris anytime!

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