Personal Essay Writing and Research Paper Writing: Know the Difference

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

We learn to express our ideas in writing very early in our academic career. During our school lessons and assignments, we have probably written a number of articles that require us to communicate our ideas, opinions, beliefs and thoughts. Such form of essay writing does not require the essay writer to explore the outer sources of information, however when we move beyond our prescribed syllabi, it becomes mandatory to move beyond our personal knowledge, experience and classroom learning towards exploring the outside horizons.

Exploring an idea, solving a problem or probing into an issue requires the writer to undertake research, seek out, investigate and use material beyond the personal resources. The findings of such a research take form of a research paper.

There are many features that make essay writing very different from writing a research paper. Some of theses are discussed below:

Types of Research involved: While a personal essay is solely based on primary research that requires recollection, firsthand observation, and investigation of a text, film or personal experience; a Research paper makes use of both primary and secondary sources in a combination.

Writing Process: As the resources vary from one form of writing to the other, so do their writing processes. While a personal essay writing requires the essay writer to delve into his/her experiences, observation and opinions and bring to use one’s experience, Research paper writing requires the writer to productively investigate the available resources, ideas, information before bringing them to his/her aid. 

Approach: Both forms of writing require different approach. While writing a personal essay is most about presenting one’s ideas on a chosen subject or topic, a research paper requires an academic approach that takes into account an extensive knowledge and understanding of the subject and the resources available on it.

Methodology: The research and writing methodology differ considerably in both forms of writing. Research paper writing starts fro choosing a suitable topic that has a wider and larger scope, conducting in depth research, taking notes, finding the research methodology that best suits the chosen topic, outlining and preparing the paper. In contrast, essay writing can be done on narrow topics without much research.

Framework: An essay has a basic five paragraph division, with introduction, analysis and conclusion. It does not require work cited list or parenthetical references. This makes essay writing less an academic exercise and more of a personal mode of communicating ideas. On the other hand, a research paper has some important components that make it stand apart from other forms of writing. It has proper parenthetical references, list of works cited, written and presented as per the standard style formats namely APA, MLA, and Chicago et al


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