Difference Between Articles And Research Papers

One of the questions students in a graduate course I teach called “Writing Educational Research” is: What is the difference between a manuscript and an article?

The simplest way to understand it is this:

Manuscript = Written paper pre-publication

Article = Written paper that has been published

Now, scholars love to debate and I’m quite sure that there are academics out there who would delight in a robust debate on this topic. I agree that my definition may be simplistic. My purpose here is not to be reductionist, but rather to demystify the publication process for graduate students and novice researchers.

Examples of manuscripts include:

  • Drafts
  • Writing-in-progress
  • Work submitted to a publisher that is under review or not yet published
  • Term papers or elements of your thesis that you are crafting for submission to a journal.

The term “article” usually refers to work published in:

  • Newsletters
  • Professional publications
  • Edited journals
  • Peer-reviewed scholarly or scientific journals

If you are looking at publishing your work in the proceedings of a conference, refer to it as a manuscript until the proceedings have been released.

There can be a delay between when your work is accepted for publication and when it actually appears in print. During this phase, you can call your work a “pre-publication article” or an “article in press”. At this point, you can call it an article because it has been accepted for publication.

Graduate students and novice researchers and scholars present themselves as uninformed and inexperienced when they run around referring to term papers and drafts of their work as “articles”, when the work has not yet been published. You will present yourself as more humble and knowledgeable about the publication process when you refer to your own work as a manuscript when it is in the pre-publication phase.

Related posts:

Readings for Writing Educational Research (EDER 603.23) http://wp.me/pNAh3-1OJ

12 Phrases to Avoid in Your Academic Research Papershttp://wp.me/pNAh3-1JX

Active vs. passive voice — How to tell the differencehttp://wp.me/pNAh3-1HX

Why APA formatting mattershttp://wp.me/pNAh3-1Hc

How many sources do you need in a literature review?http://wp.me/pNAh3-1Hu

What’s the difference between a citation and a reference?http://wp.me/pNAh3-1F9

Why “as cited in” should be avoided in academic writinghttp://wp.me/pNAh3-1BH

10 Great writing resources for grad students – http://wp.me/pNAh3-1Bc

How to create a research paper outline: 5 great resourceshttp://wp.me/pNAh3-1y6

Template for a 10-page graduate research paper in social sciences http://wp.me/pNAh3-1s2

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Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

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There is no definitive distinction between papers and articles that can be applied to all scientific disciplines. Usage varies between disciplines. and within disciplines it can vary depending on context.

Both the examples quoted refer to ‘writings’ that are surveys (in other areas often termed reviews) — one in the field of a social science (economics) and the other in a numerical science (computing). However the term science is also (and perhaps more) associated with the experimental sciences (physics, chemistry and biology), where the types of ‘writings’ are different and where different words are used to distinguish them.

Articles and papers in the Experimental Sciences

Let me illustrate this for the Biomolecular Sciences (biochemistry, molecular biology, molecular genetics and the like). As a practitioner in this area, when I hear these terms, e.g. talking to colleagues, I understand:

Paper: A report of a piece of experimental research work in which the original data presented by the authors was central to interpretation and conclusions regarding advancement of knowledge and understanding of the field.

Article: A review or commentary in which the author was discussing the previously published work of others (perhaps including his own) in attempting to provide a perspective of the field or to present a new theory/model/interpretation by integrating such work.

However, despite this professional conversational use of the terms, if I go to any specific journal — here the US heavyweight, Journal of Biological Chemistry (JBC) — I would find a somewhat different usage:

JBC publishes several types of articles but only two of those can be submitted as an unsolicited manuscript: regular papers and accelerated communications.

Thus, JBC regards all the ‘writings’ it publishes as ‘articles’, in common with other journals such as The Journal of Biophysics , and this is consistent with general non-scientific usage — “I read an article in the Financial Times yesterday…”

The way JBC uses ‘regular paper’, is consistent with my specialist conversational definition (above), and although it doesn’t actually say what types of ‘article’ are unsolicited, but if you look at a table of contents of the journal, you would conclude that for this journal it is ‘minireviews’ and historical appraisals of the work of individual scientists.

The Journal of Biophysics only uses the term ‘paper’ in describing only one of its categories of ‘article’:

Comments to the Editor | Short commentaries on a paper published earlier in BJ.

Again using ‘paper’ rather in the sense I defined above.

To conclude, in the extended sense used by peer-reviewed journals in the experimental sciences, all published ‘papers’ can be referred to as articles, but not all articles would be referred to as ‘papers’. (One wouldn’t use ‘paper’ for an editorial, a news item and generally not for a review.) This is exactly the opposite conclusion reached by @1006a from his reading of the OED.

Conflict with the OED and non-experimental sciences

How can one resolve the conflict with the OED, mentioned above? I think the OED describes more traditional usage in the non-experimental sciences and the arts. It is pertinent, in this respect, to consider the phrase “reading a paper”.

As far as my area of science goes, this is just a rather outdated term for presenting one’s results orally at a conference. The talk in itself is transitory, the abstract unreviewed, and the information conveyed will most probably be published elsewhere.

However for colleagues in computing science the talk is likely to be based on a ‘paper’ that has been submitted to the conference organisers, selected after peer-review, and will be published as conference proceedings or in a journal associated with the conference. This is more in line with traditional non-scientific academic presentations, although in this case the ‘paper’ might never have been published.

The difference would seem to derive in part from whether the field of science is one in which original work is in the form of ideas or in the form of measurements and their interpretation.

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