Two of the biggest pieces of writing one might complete while pursuing their education, might be a research paper, and/or a thesis. These two works both take dedicated time, energy, and focus to complete, and should be taken seriously. But while they are both serious pieces of work, they also have some clear differences, which will become apparent fairly quickly. Here are some key differences between writing a thesis, and writing a research paper.
Research projects are considerably smaller and in both length and area of focus, than a thesis might be. In terms of literal word count a thesis will generally amount to 25,000 or so words in length, while a research paper can be much shorter, sometimes in the range of 10-15,000 words. Research papers are also looking to answer a specific question, while a thesis presents a larger, broader idea with supporting evidence as a result of individual study.
The findings and results of a thesis are designed to be a contribution to the field after extensive study. This is opposed to guided, focused research to answer a set question, which aims to fit within the existing realm of knowledge. Both theses and research papers can contribute to new knowledge or understanding, but their methods and background might vary.
Ultimately, the biggest difference between a research paper and a thesis, will be the usage of an open ended or closed ended question. The most basic premise of an open ended question will be one where "yes" or "no" are not the automatic answer, with supporting evidence. A thesis can be an educated interpretation given evidence, finding ways that new information or newer understandings are to fit within our pre-existing knowledge of a situation.
A thesis is designed to be presented after extensive time spent researching, examining, asking questions, and formulating new data and information to be shared with one's audience. A research paper is a much more concentrated contribution, which is typically completed over a matter of weeks or a couple months. Many have spent years completing a thesis, working to contribute their knowledge after lengthy, dedicated study.
One of the biggest differences between writing a research paper and writing a thesis, will come down to application. A thesis is expected to be presented as an addition of thought, knowledge, exploration into a new topic or idea, and is generally used to present adequate proof of your knowledge in a general field. A research paper differs, in that it asks and answers specific questions, with clear expectations. There is guided research, and the presentation is much more specific. Research papers might be written at any point during an educational experience, while a thesis is the collection of large amounts of knowledge, presented in a cohesive way.
Large or small, each paper takes time, dedicated focus and attention, and your knowledge and skill will be utilized, regardless of the final form. Best of luck with your writing!