Every college student will write AT LEAST one research paper during their college career. Some students enter college with very litter experience writing research papers. You may have been more familiar with book reports prior to college, but, it is extremely important that you do not confuse book reports and research papers in college. Research papers require a different set of skills than book reports require. And if your experience is anything like mine in college, rarely will you ever be asked to read a book and simply write a report on it.
Book reports were popular in middle/high school, because they required you to analyze volumes of material and condense the main points into a concise report.
In college, you will be asked to RESEARCH more often than you will be asked to simply REPORT. And if you turn in a book report-style paper when you have been asked to write a research paper, your grade could really suffer.
Unless you are in English Comp. 101, your professor may not take the time to explain the differences between research papers and book reports. They will likely simply expect you to already know how to produce a college-level research paper.
So below, I’m going to explain a couple key difference between research papers and book reports:
Research Papers ANALYZE, Book Reports SUMMARIZE
When you were writing book reports, you were not really giving any type of opinion on what happened in the book. You were simply reporting the events or ideas contained in the book. You may have had to explore the symbolisms used by an author or try to decide what the author’s intentions were for certain characters, but you were still primarily focused on giving an account of the contents of the book. You were summarizing.
Research Papers require you to examine one or more sources and draw conclusions based on your analysis. For example, when your professor asks for a 1,000 word research paper on the Fall of the Roman Empire, he/she is not asking for a timeline of events. You are being asked to go a step further. Based on what you know about the events that lead up to the Fall of the Roman Empire, what would you say were the main reasons for that Fall? What factors caused the Empire to become weak and vulnerable. Why did the Empire fall at that exact moment and not decades before or after?
In a book report, the goal is to state the facts of a story. In a research paper, the goal is to use the facts to build a case for an explanation or argument. That is ANALYSIS.
Research Papers Require Multiple Sources
A book report is usually just focused on one book. There may be times where you need to compare two books or write a report on a series of books. However, usually, you can complete a book report by simply reading that book and writing your report.
Research papers will typically require you to use multiple sources. Because you are ANALYZING rather than REPORTING in a research paper, you are trying to draw a conclusion about a particular subject matter. In order to really get a full picture of the topic you are writing about, you will need to look at multiple sources.
(Click here to view the Elephant and the Blind Men analogy to get a better understanding of the need for multiple sources.)
In addition to giving you a full picture of your subject, using multiple sources adds credibility to your research. Unless you have obtained your PhD (I certainly haven’t!), in the academic world, you are not seen as an authority in your subject matter. But, you can use the ideas of those who have obtained their PhD to bolster the arguments you are making in your research paper (assuming you use proper citation techniques).
In book reports, you do not need to site outside sources, because you are only concerned with the book you are reporting on.
Research Papers Require Your Unique Perspective, Book Reports Simply Present Data
The final difference I will discuss here is that research papers offer the writer an opportunity to add a unique perspective to their topic while book reports do not offer that opportunity.
When you conduct research, analyze sources, and draw conclusions, you are making your own contribution to the understanding of the topic you are writing about. Every research paper is not “groundbreaking”, but the way you reason and analyze is unique to you. Your professor is looking for signs that you are thinking critically and presenting reasonable arguments when writing research papers. Depending on how YOU view the data you discover during your research, you may reach different conclusions about the same issue than your classmate. That is the beauty of research.
In a book report, the facts are the facts. If the main character lived in a blue house, then you must report that the main character lived in a blue house.
I hope this article made clear the differences between research papers and book reports. When you are assigned a research paper, make sure you are doing more than simply reporting facts. Be sure to draw conclusions, analyze sources, and make reasoned arguments.
Good luck on all your college writing endeavors. And if you have any questions feel free to email me at Jonathan@CollegeKidNowWhat.com and I’ll make sure I get back to you.
Until Next Time,
Stay Curious, Stay Motivated.