The word "paper" on this site seems to be extensively used to refer to serious scientific publications/articles by PhD students and other researchers.

Now I am coming across its use by students completing a diploma in legal executive studies — which is not even bachelor's degree level. Here are real examples:

  • I live in ... and will be continuing on with my Legal Exec papers from home, having completed two papers last year.
  • I have finished 3 papers and I hope to complete 3 papers this year.
  • Only 2 more papers towards completion!
  • I am hoping to complete my two final papers this semester (Business and Estate Law).

Never having been a student in an English-speaking country before, I am now struggling to perceive what exactly those "papers" are. Can someone please explain? The examples above are from New Zealand.

  • 2
    They mean examinations.
    – knzhou
    Commented Feb 20, 2018 at 10:50
  • @knzhou Really? Replacing "pass an exam" with "complete a paper" seems to be a really weird move. My initial thought was those papers were like essays or "toy" research articles — something that you actually have to write on a number of pages over a period of weeks/months.
    – Greendrake
    Commented Feb 20, 2018 at 10:56
  • 4
    For undergraduates and high school students in the U.S., "paper" usually means (or at least it used to mean) "term paper", which is an extended essay one writes for a class assignment, usually in non-science courses, and sometimes more than one such paper is required for a course. For instance, I wrote 3 or 4 term papers for high school courses (e.g. one was required for my 10th grade World History course) and quite a few while an undergraduate. On the other hand, the use of "paper" by students and teachers in England was for a test given in a course --- usually the final exam. Commented Feb 20, 2018 at 12:03

3 Answers 3


In this New Zealand context, a paper is a course and the terms are used interchangeably, usually with one or other being the formal label at any given institution and the other in common use as well. In either case, it is a single class that can be enrolled in individually, with its own final grade, that can be credited towards a degree, diploma, or certificate.

For reference, we can see this guide from Victoria University of Wellington:

Courses are blocks of work that are taught over one or sometimes two trimesters—they’re often referred to as ‘papers’ by other universities.

or this glossary from the University of Canterbury:

Courses are 'classes' or 'papers' that involve blocks of lectures usually taught over one semester.

as well as the University of Waikato's Catalogue of Papers, which lists all the courses they offer, or the similar "Search for a paper" page from the University of Otago, and similar items for the other universities.

It does not refer to an exam or to a term paper. "Exam paper" does refer to the physical document given in an exam and the set of questions on it, but never "paper" alone. All of these terms are often used differently elsewhere.


In the parlance used for undergraduate education at Cambridge, the word paper denotes a concept related to exams. Essentially, you complete a paper by sitting an exam. The exam might offer questions related to several courses, and expect you to solve a certain number of these. Often, students would not even have taken all courses appearing, so couldn't answer all of these.

It would not surprise me to see academic phrases used in the same style in New Zealand, Australia or South Africa.


In the context of the examples, I think "paper" is (rightly) being used as a synonym for "essay." Source: http://www.thesaurus.com/browse/essay.

Academics have a plethora of terms to describe their written outputs, e.g., journal article, conference paper, technical report, manuscript, ... Moreover, those terms can be used to describe a single body of work. For example, "I have submitted my manuscript to a conference. I'll publish it as a technical report, if it is accepted, to enable dissemination prior to publication of the conference paper. Hopefully, I'll publish an extended version as a journal article."

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .