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What is the difference between a report and a research paper for science?

In the middle school and high school years, students frequently receive assignments for research papers or reports in science and history. But what is the difference? And how to you go about writing both of these?

In the middle school and high school years, students frequently receive assignments for research papers or reports in science and history. But what is the difference? And how to you go about writing both of these?

People often use the terms “report” and “research paper” interchangeably. Although both assignments require research, they differ in several ways.

In a nutshell, the student writing a research report does some research and churns out facts. The student writing the research paper analyzes a topic and forms an opinion.

What is the difference between a report and a research paper for science?

In the middle school and high school years, students frequently receive assignments for research papers or reports in science and history. But what is the difference? And how to you go about writing both of these?

What is a report?

A science report summarizes what the student has learned. They will explore 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, 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 report’s 3 to 5 paragraphs maintain an informational tone and do not include any opinions. It should be concise and to the point. For the 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?

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 a 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 six 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. It should touch on why he chose the topic and how it affects the writer as well as explain what he has found out about the subject.

Report or Research Paper?

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

I recommend beginning to assign mini-research reports during the late elementary years. This will give time for the student to develop good reading and writing skills. As the students get older, you can add to the length requirements of the research report. You can also increase the frequency of the assignment or advance the complexity of the material being studied.

We suggest reserving research papers 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 seventh and eighth grade, you can also assign a hybrid research project. The hybrid project will include all the components of a research report, but will add to a page where the student explains how the material affected him. This type of paper will ease the student into writing the more complex research paper.


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