Research Paper vs Research Proposal v Thesis: 5 differences

Research Proposal vs Research Paper

Some students may be confused concerning the difference between a research proposal and a research paper. This is understandable if it is the first time a student is writing either of the two types of research.

This is because some students may have been used to writing essays that take a much simpler format and approach in writing the content.

Therefore, if you are one of those students who are not sure of the difference(s) between a research proposal and a research paper, do not worry.

Research Proposal vs Research Paper

Now, what is the difference between a research proposal and a research paper? This section will elaborate on the differences between the two while exploring their comparisons with other types of academic papers. 

A research proposal is a preliminary paper that is submitted to the instructor so that the researcher can be granted permission to proceed with the actual research paper. It proposes what the research project will be all about. On the other hand, a research paper is an academic piece that presents what one found out after in-depth research on a specified topic.

Let us understand each of them in deeper detail. What this means is that a research proposal “proposes” what the researcher will be going to tackle within the main paper.

As such, they should clarify or provide details as to what the main research paper will be tackling, the topic, the expected hypothesis and claims, the type of studies used, the methodologies, the population in which the research will be conducted, and the expected implications of the research. 

A research proposal needs to demonstrate the importance of the actual research to the discipline and society in general. Without this, then the research proposal would not pass and no actual research will be conducted to produce the research paper.

When it comes to the actual research paper, it can be regarded as the work that will be produced after the research proposal has been approved and a research go-ahead has been granted to the researcher(s).

Therefore, the research paper will be a complete paper that reports what has been researched, the findings of the studies conducted, and the discussions concerning the findings. It will not be like a research proposal that will be proposing things that will happen in the future.

It should be noted that this is a major or simplified difference between a research proposal and a research paper. The next sections of this article will discuss in detail the main differences between them, plus their differences with other types of papers. 

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What is a Research Proposal?

A research proposal can be regarded as an academic preliminary request for research that is meant to be submitted to the instructor before the writer or student is given the go-ahead to proceed with writing the research paper.

Research Proposal

What this means is that a research proposal will ‘propose’ what the research paper will be all about and the merits of the research to the discipline and society in general. 

Therefore, a research proposal is written before a research paper is written.

If a research proposal fails to be approved, then the researcher or student will not be allowed to write a research paper.

What is a Research Paper?

A research paper can be regarded as a formal academic piece of writing that is written by students or researchers after their research proposals have been approved by the instructor or academic committee to tackle a particular research topic on a specific discipline to find solutions through qualitative and/or quantitative studies. 

Therefore, a research paper is a long piece of academic writing that utilizes the research proposal’s topic and claims to test a hypothesis. The aim of the research paper is not to propose a study but to conduct the actual study that would benefit the discipline and society. 

Differences between a Research Proposal and a Research Paper

As we have noted above, there is a big difference between a research proposal and a research paper. Below are some of the major differences between the two:

1. The Time of Being Written

One of the most notable differences between a research proposal and a research paper is that a research proposal is written before a research paper. This is because a research proposal is meant to ‘propose’ what the writer, student, or researcher is going to write in their main research paper. As such, a research proposal has to be approved before a research paper is written. 

2. Purpose

The second difference between a research proposal and a research paper is the purpose of the two pieces of writing. The main aim of a research proposal is to present to the instructor what will be tackled within the research paper. 

On the other hand, the purpose of a research paper is to academically present research that has already been conducted by the writer or the researcher. A research paper is a final presentation concerning a particular topic. 

3. Use of Grammatical Tenses

Another difference between a research proposal and a research paper is that while the proposal uses future tense (will be, shall be, and so on), a research paper uses a grammatical tense that describes things that have already been done. This is because the research has already been conducted. When it comes to the analysis of the findings and discussions, present tense can be used because things are unfolding. 

4. Context and Audience

rhetorical triangle

The context of a research proposal is to present “proposals” of ideas that will be used to build upon a research paper.

As such, the audience will be the instructor or a research committee that is meant to gauge the relevance of the proposal to the topic. 

On the other hand, a research paper is not formulated to lead to research, but to describe the research.

Therefore, a research paper will target the instructor and any reader who is interested in the topic, discipline, or study. 

5. Length

Finally, the difference between a research proposal and a research paper is the length. A research proposal is considerably shorter compared to a research paper because of the content. A research paper will contain a lot of detail concerning the topic, the type of research, the findings, discussions, and conclusions because research has already been conducted. 

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Difference Between a Thesis and a Research Proposal

The main difference between a thesis and a research proposal is their purpose. A thesis is a formal academic piece of writing done on a particular topic that has not yet been explored. This is why a thesis has a prospectus stage where the student has to consult with a committee. on the other hand, a research proposal proposes the topic and the research to be done.

Therefore, a research proposal will not require a prospectus stage or a committee, and it can be written by any student within an institution of higher learning.

However, a research proposal can also be written by an undergraduate student to their instructor to ‘propose’ a research paper.

Difference Between a Thesis and a Research Paper

The major difference between a thesis and a research paper is that a thesis is a longer and more detailed piece of writing that is written by post-graduate students while a research paper will be comparatively shorter with lesser details because it is mostly written by undergraduate students.

Thesis vs Research Paper

As such, a thesis can take a very long time to write, for example, 20 years if it tackles socio-economic or environmental issues that may take a lot of time to unfold.

However, a research paper takes a shorter time to write. It may take even 3 months to complete a research paper because it does not explore very complex issues. 

The length also matters. A thesis is longer than a research paper by far. Check out the optimal length for a thesis compared to a research paper length and notice the difference.

Check out the guide on the differences in thesis vs theory vs hypothesis to get a wider idea of the three. This will help you know how these three are applied in a dissertation of a research paper.

Josh Jasen
Josh Jasen
When not handling complex essays and academic writing tasks, Josh is busy advising students on how to pass assignments. In spare time, he loves playing football or walking with his dog around the park.