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Thesis vs. Research Paper: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Harlon Moss || Updated on November 21, 2023
A thesis is a lengthy document representing original research and findings for an academic degree, while a research paper is an analysis or argument based on existing literature.

Key Differences

A thesis and research paper both pertain to academic writing but serve different functions. A thesis is typically the culmination of a graduate program, representing original research and findings that contribute new knowledge to the field. It's often required for obtaining advanced degrees. On the other hand, a research paper can be a stand-alone work or part of a course, analyzing a particular topic based on existing literature, without necessarily offering new primary findings.
While a thesis demands extensive research leading to novel contributions, a research paper often revolves around synthesizing existing studies to present an argument or analysis. The scope and depth of a thesis generally surpass that of a research paper, given its purpose of demonstrating the author's capacity for independent academic research.
Moreover, the process of writing a thesis involves rigorous oversight by academic advisors, ensuring its quality and relevance to the field. A research paper, while also subjected to scrutiny, might not have as intensive a supervisory process. One might encounter a research paper in undergraduate or graduate courses, while a thesis is more associated with postgraduate studies.
The essence of these distinctions lies in their purpose and depth. A thesis is a significant undertaking that showcases an individual's ability to conduct original research, while a research paper emphasizes the skills of analysis, synthesis, and argumentation based on existing knowledge.

Comparison Chart


Represents original research for an academic degree
An analysis or argument based on existing literature


Typically more in-depth due to new contributions
Focuses on synthesis and analysis of existing studies


Rigorous oversight by academic advisors
Might not have intensive supervision

Associated with

Postgraduate studies
Both undergraduate and graduate courses

Primary Contribution

Offers new primary findings or knowledge to the field
Often presents arguments based on existing knowledge

Thesis and Research Paper Definitions


A statement or theory that is put forward to be maintained or proved.
The main thesis of the book is that society is inherently unequal.

Research Paper

An academic work discussing a particular topic based on existing literature.
His research paper on renewable energy sources was well-received.


An original piece of research and findings in a specific field.
He defended his thesis in front of the committee with confidence.

Research Paper

A written document presenting findings after investigating a specific topic.
She received an 'A' for her research paper in her history class.


A long piece of writing on a particular subject for an academic degree.
Her thesis on climate change won numerous accolades.

Research Paper

A scholarly piece, often part of academic courses, focusing on a certain subject.
Submitting a research paper was a requirement for the sociology course.


The foundational idea guiding a piece of written work or argument.
The entire essay revolved around one central thesis.

Research Paper

A detailed study or examination of a subject matter.
The research paper delved deep into the history of the Renaissance.


A document submitted in support of academic qualification.
She submitted her thesis to the university's archive after graduation.

Research Paper

An analytical work that argues or presents a perspective based on literature.
The research paper made a compelling case for urban sustainability.


A proposition that is maintained by argument.


A dissertation advancing an original point of view as a result of research, especially as a requirement for an academic degree.


What is the purpose of a thesis?

The purpose of a thesis is to demonstrate the author's research and findings in their chosen field of study.

What is the difference between a thesis and a dissertation?

In the US, a thesis is usually written for a master's degree, while a dissertation is for a doctorate. In the UK, the terms are used interchangeably.

How long is a typical thesis?

The length of a thesis varies by field and degree level, but it is typically between 40,000 to 80,000 words.

How is a thesis graded?

Theses are usually graded on a pass/fail basis, but some universities may use letter grades or other systems.

What is a thesis?

A thesis is a long piece of writing based on original research that is submitted as part of a university degree.

Who reads a thesis?

A thesis is typically read by the author's academic advisor, a thesis committee, and other scholars in the field.

What is the purpose of a research paper?

The purpose of a research paper is to contribute to the academic community and demonstrate the author's knowledge of the subject.

How long is a typical research paper?

The length of a research paper varies by field and assignment, but it is typically between 5 to 20 pages.

What is the difference between a research paper and an essay?

A research paper is based on original research and analysis, while an essay is usually a shorter piece of writing that presents the author's personal opinions.

Can a thesis include personal opinions?

A thesis should be based on evidence and research, but the author's interpretation and analysis are also important.

What is a research paper?

A research paper is a piece of writing that presents the author's original research and analysis.

Who reads a research paper?

A research paper is typically read by other scholars and researchers in the field.

How is a research paper structured?

A research paper typically has an introduction, literature review, methodology, results, discussion, and conclusion.

How do you cite a thesis?

The citation format for a thesis depends on the citation style being used, such as APA, MLA, or Chicago.

How is a research paper graded?

Research papers are typically graded on a letter grade or percentage basis.

How do you cite a research paper?

The citation format for a research paper depends on the citation style being used, such as APA, MLA, or Chicago.

How do you choose a topic for a research paper?

The topic should be relevant to the field of study and of interest to the author. It should also be feasible to research.

How is a thesis structured?

A thesis typically has an introduction, literature review, methodology, results, discussion, and conclusion.

Can a thesis be published?

Yes, some theses are published as books or journal articles.

Can a research paper be published?

Yes, some research papers are published in academic journals.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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