Research Report or Research Paper?

The term research report and research paper are often used interchangeably. Although both of these assignments require research, they do differ in several ways. In a nutshell, the student writing a research report does some research and churns out facts, while the student writing the research paper analyzes a topic and forms an opinion.

Research Report or Research Paper?

What is a Research Report?

A research report is basically a summary of what the student has learned through their exploration of a topic in books, encyclopedias or the Internet.  The student will read the desired material, such as several non-fiction books on a specific subject matter, and organize the information. Then, they will summarize what they have learned in a well-thought out manner.

These reports should take anywhere from a week to a month to complete. The 3 to 5 paragraphs of the report should be written in an informational tone, devoid of opinion. It should be concise and to the point. For the research report, the student is basically delving into a topic, organizing the material he has found and sharing what he has learned in his own words.

What is a Research Paper?

On the other hand, the research paper contains the student’s analysis and opinion of a subject. He will still do a fair amount of research and his paper should still include some summary information. However, the writer will also offer his thoughts on what he has learned, and he will use quotes and authoritative opinions to back up his claims. This means that the student will also need to use some form of citation to show from where their quotes and support material have come, which will add to the complexity of this assignment.

These papers should take anywhere from 6 weeks to several months to complete.  A research paper must include a thesis statement which causes the student to form and defend an opinion about the material. The completed paper should be clear, comprehensive and at least 6 to 8 pages in length. It should touch on why he chose the topic and how it affects the writer as well as thoroughly explain what he has found out about the subject.

Research Report or Research Paper?

So, should you assign a research report or research paper to your student?

I personally recommend beginning to assign mini-research reports during the late elementary years, once the student’s reading and writing skills are firmly in place. As the student progresses, you can add to the length requirements of the research report, increase the frequency of the assignment or advance the complexity of the material being studied.

Research papers should be reserved for high school and above, as the student’s brain needs time to develop the skills necessary to write this type of assignment. However, around 7th and 8th grade, you can also assign a hybrid research project. The hybrid project will include all the components of a research report, but will add in a page or so where the student explains how the material affected him. This type of paper will ease the student into writing the more complex research paper.

So, far in our homeschool, we have done several mini-research papers as a part of our science and history studies. I call them “mini” because they have only been 1 to 2 pages in length and have taken a week or two to complete. As we dig further into the middle school years, I plan on increasing the difficulty and length of these assignments, so that by the time high school hits, we are ready to begin to tackle our first research paper!

by Paige Hudson