For one more take on the distinction between these two different modes of writing formal papers, let's look at former Religious Studies professor David Barnhill's "Two Models of Papers." In it, he contrasts paper types that echo the essay vs. article contrast made above. David notes that whereas the "Thesis and Proof Model" (article) is the more common, the "Issues and Exploration Model" (essay) is the one he favors as a way to develop critical thinking. He does take care to point out, "As is usually the case in presenting models, these are simplified overgeneralizations."
1. Issues and Exploration Model
First paragraph: state the topic and identify a general, unifying issue as well as more specific questions that the paper will explore. Perhaps also state the way you will explore them and possible limitations in the exploration.
Body of the paper: engage various issues, often articulating multiple possible interpretations, wrestling with the problematics of each interpretation and showing the relative validity of each, all of which leads to more issues and questions to explore.
Conclusion: Reflect on what has been argued, which may not involve one tidy interpretation but a sense of relative validity in various interpretations as well as issues and questions left unresolved.
Goal: Probing analysis and a clarification of issues and problematics, showing the complexity of the topic and of your own thought.
- important topics are filled with complex issues that do not yield simple answers, firm conclusions, or singular interpretations
- the point of a paper is to enter a process of exploration and discovery, rather than to prove some thesis
- the ideal quality of a paper is intellectual openness, complexity of thought, and intensity of probing
2. Thesis and Proof Model
First paragraph: state topic and your thesis about it.
Body of the paper: clarify the different aspects of your thesis and prove it by evidence, argument, authority, etc.
Conclusion: restate your thesis in a way that incorporates your paper as a whole.
Goal: a clear, persuasive, and single interpretation of a topic, seeking the truth.
- there is one correct interpretation of the topic
- the point of the paper is to uncover, articulate, and defend that interpretation
- the ideal of the paper is correctness of interpretation and persuasiveness of presentation