Skip to Main Content

Library 100 (Not currently being offered as of Spring 2014)

Content, lesson plans, worksheets, and handouts for the course

What's the difference between a research paper and a book report?

 Help! I need to write a research paper, but wait ... what is a research paper?


Writing a research paper or doing research is a very different process than writing a book report. Here are two definitions to consider:


diligent and systematic inquiry or investigation into a subject in order to discover or revise facts, theories, applications, etc.: recent research in medicine. (from



an account or statement describing in detail an event, situation, or the like, usually as the result of observation, inquiry, etc.: a report on the peace conference; a medical report on the patient. (from


Another way to understand the difference between writing a report and doing research can be seen in the following scenario:

Let’s say there is an automobile accident and the police are at the scene. They will take measurements and photographs and will interview witness. All this information is documented and goes into what we refer to as a police report. The report is the facts about the accident that were gathered at the scene.

Later, detectives may continue with an investigation of the accident. They will gather more in- depth information and draw conclusions that may were not understood at the scene of the accident. Further investigative work results in a new discovery of the facts of the accident and a more detailed, in-depth account. This is research.

Doing research in order to create a research paper has a very specific process with very distinct progressive steps. The process begins with 1. deciding on the general subject of the topic, 2. choosing appropriate and reliable sources, 3. narrowing or broadening the topic to make the research manageable, 4. studying sources until you have increased your knowledge-base and have created a new understanding and awareness of the topic, and finally, 5. formally relaying your new understanding and your personal view point or opinion on the topic in the form of a research paper.  

Need more informtion? Check out The Owl at Purdue University: Conducting Reseach