What is a term paper?
A term paper is an academic paper that high school and college students are required to turn in at the end of a quarter or a semester. A student's term paper grade accounts for a large percentage of their final grade because it represents the learning curve of a student for the semester. Similar to a research paper, a term paper is a common requirement in various courses. The main difference is a research can address a single topic, while a term paper needs to represent a student's understanding of the entire term or semester, hence, the name "term paper". A term paper must synthesize all the learnings within one term. This is the main limitation of a term paper. The curriculum offered for a course lines up the topics you will synthesize and look further into, using the reading materials noted in the same curriculum. The failure to turn in a term paper inevitably results in a failing grade. Term papers that are turned in for academic credit must be exceptionally well-written and free of plagiarism.
What should a term paper do?
Depending on your professor’s prompt and the topic you choose to write about, your term paper could resemble a research paper, an argumentative paper, an expository essay, or a compare and contrast essay. If your professor provided a prompt, look for keywords that will give a hint on their expectations. Specifically, you can decide the purpose of your term paper to:
- Investigate. You will research deeper into a topic that is not yet well-researched. You can tap a topic within your course lectures and find more information or offer an insight to open up more doors for new information. This can be common on Sciences, but can definitely cover a lot more topics including History, Literature, and the likes.
- Organize. Similar to research, you find sources. But, you also seek out logical continuity to their content. You may choose to reorganize any specific flow of thought for better understanding of future researchers.
- Synthesize. You will research different materials, analyzing each one, and combining ideas to show patterns and relations. You may analyze or re-analyze the validity of ideas and knowledge available
- Clarify. You can elucidate on difficult material to make its arguments clearer to the reader.
- Argue a point of view. You can use evidences to prove or disprove an argument be it yours or another researcher's perspective.
The most common purposes of a term paper is to investigate and argue a point of view because this allows the the professor to better check the comprehension level of the student. Aside from the level of understanding, instructors also prefer to direct the students to write an investigative or argumentative term paper to check their research abilities in preparation of writing a thesis or a dissertation. In most cases, the topic of a term paper is assigned to the student. But, there are also cases where the student gets to decide on the topic among the many lessons they tackled during the term. No matter what the purpose of the term paper is, it is always best to start with an outline.
Choosing a term paper topic
How do you write a term paper? First, you need to have a topic. Your term paper topic is crucial to the quality of your output. In most cases, professors also factor the topic selection in the overall grade. While you can write about what you want in your term paper, there is a right and wrong topic. Here are some things to consider:
- A term paper is specific to a course you are taking, so it’s a requirement that you work on a topic that is part of your syllabus. However, you should not be limited by these. The topics in your syllabus should serve as stepping stones for your term paper topic.
- Your term paper topic should be specific enough. Simply writing about, for instance, about hate crimes in the US would not suffice. This is a general topic that would lead to an unorganized term paper. It would be better to write about, for example, how President Trump’s rhetoric fuels hate crimes in the US.
- Your term paper topic should not focus on your opinion. It should actively engage other scholars’ research and ideas.
- With the above statement in mind, your term paper should not be merely a summary of other people’s research. There should be ample analysis (note: analysis, not opinion) from you.
How to write a term paper outline?
The outline of your term paper is similar to the outline of research papers. The purpose also stands - to guide the flow of your paper. Next to understanding how to write essays or term paper that won't get flagged by Turnitin, understanding that drafting an outline before you begin writing is very important. Remember, you need to squeeze everything you learned in an entire term plus your own analysis in a few pages of paper. To start, you would want to begin with the basic composition of a term paper:
- Title. Deciding the title of your term paper is much like choosing the best and proper title for your essay. The rule in writing a title is simple - you need to highlight the gist of your term paper in the shortest way possible. Specifically, you cannot go beyond 60 characters. The ideal title begins with the type of your term paper followed by the subject of your term paper (e.g. A Comparative Analysis on Sociological Theories of Crime). Since term papers are a part of the formal academic requirement, stick to objective titles instead of creative ones. Vague ideas will just mislead your readers.
- Overview. Begin with finalizing the final topic of your term paper. Do not be surprised if your topic turns out to be just your title incorporated in a sentence e.g. "This paper aims to compare and contrast three sociological theories on crime". No need to worry about any elegant introductory paragraph for your outline. Consider this as creating the skeleton of your term paper, and it needs the outline to stand.
- Rationale. Why did you choose your topic? When thinking about the rationale, stay away from general ideas like "this term paper is made as a requirement for Course 101" - this is a common and unfortunately, a grave mistake. Going back to the purpose of a term paper, keep in mind that you need show your understanding of the entire term. Discuss the rationale of your term paper in a way that emphasizes the importance of your topic and the entire paper to the research realm of its respective field. For instance, you may have discovered something that can realign an old theory and make it more sound and applicable to a modern situation. It could be how the COVID-19 pandemic affected the behavior of adolescents toward committing crime. An excellent rationale will give you a big boost to get an A+ term paper especially if that rationale is significant and timely.
- Point-by-point. The best way to handle a term paper is to adapt the point-by-point discussion system, meaning, write in such a way that each discussion point gets its own paragraph. This is to make it easier for you to transition from one point to another, leading to a more cohesive term paper. In writing your body paragraphs, the topic sentence holds the key for clarity. It should be able to pass the message across to your reader smoothly. To do this, make topic sentence clear, concise, and complete. It should not give room for questions or inquiries that aims to debunk the statement right after reading. Instead, it should spark up interest that will lead to further reading. For instance, you can directly state that the mental pressure that COVID-19 brings to adolescents lead to a serious change in their social behavior. On the next paragraph, you can use a topic sentence such as "Disconnection is the common behavioral change found in adolescents during the pandemic". Next paragraph could be "Social disconnection is the most common behavior found in criminals." If you check the flow, you can see that we began by stating that there is a behavioral change among adolescents. Next, we stated that specific behavior. Finally, we deducted that the said behavior is common among criminals, which in return ties up your paper to your thesis.
- Source. List your sources. The best way to do this is to prepare an excel sheet where you can encode a quote in one column. The next column could be the bibliographical details of the information. This will save you a lot of time later on. Do not ever forget to cite the source of your information. Not citing your sources can instantly give you a failing grade plus a visit to your professor's, and perhaps the dean's office.
What are the parts of a term paper?
- Title Page. The title page should strictly follow the prescribed academic style of your course instructor. Regardless of the academic style, the title page should be able to let the reader know at least the title of the term paper, the name of the author, the course code, and the date of submission. These details greatly vary from one academic style to another. Learn more about academic styles through these quick guides:
APA Referencing Guide
MLA Style Guide
Chicago Referencing Guide
Harvard Referencing Guide
- Abstract. An abstract gives a quick overview on the entirety of the paper in terms of the research process. This includes the topic of the term paper, the aim of the term paper, and the research process of the term paper. Within these factors remain the differences of an abstract from an executive summary and introduction. Usually, professors prefer an executive summary because it immediately identifies all components of the term paper, including the results and the conclusion.
- Table of Contents. The Table of Contents represents the organization of your paper. This allows your readers to easily find the sections they need to focus on later on. It also provides a bird's eye view on the scope and limitations of your term paper. For shorter term papers, there will be no need for a table of contents. Just make sure that your paragraphs are well-organized.
- Introduction. The Introduction is your first impression on the reader, so it should be interesting as it is informative. Do not overwhelm this section with statistics and quotes, instead mention something that will spark the interest of your reader. This paragraph ultimately sets the tone of your term paper so it should embody your take on the topic. Your introduction should be able to balance between writing a great hook and giving them sufficient information about your topic. In a page or less, you should be able to clearly define your term paper’s topic and purpose, state its significance, and present your thesis statement. The thesis statement does not go outside the introduction section unless instructed.
- Literature Review. Discuss the research that has been done concerning your topic. This section should give your readers a clearer picture of where your term paper is going. In literature reviews, the standard practice is to start with general information or ideas towards specific or more complex ideas. Your literature review can be limited to the prescribed reading materials within your course curriculum. The best thing to do is to ask your professor if you can utilized outside readings that is related to your course. They may be able to give you great recommendations too. Beofre you begin writing a literature review section, check the format of your term paper first. Your professor may ask you to skip this as this is similar to your body paragraphs. This sections, however, will allow you to discuss first the premise of your topic, before diving deeper into your argument.
- Body Paragraphs. The body paragraphs are where you expound on your thesis statement and attempt to accomplish your purpose for writing a term paper. This is the essence of your term paper, so this is exactly where your outline will be most utilized. It should be easy to write the body paragraphs when you have a robust compass beforehand, as well as a directory of your information alongside its bibliographical details. Keep in mind that even if this is an extremely important part of a term paper, it is actually the easiest to accomplish. But that is only if you did enough research and an outline. The difficult part in writing the body paragraphs is trying to control the flow of ideas you are pouring in your paper. Too much information can lead to disarray, resulting to losing your reader's attention. So, keep it simple and always follow your outline. You can always insert more information later should a need arise.
- Conclusion. The conclusion is the final paragraph of your term paper, so it is the one to close the argument. Students typically summarize and restate their thesis in the conclusion—and there’s nothing wrong with that. However, in a term paper, you must end with a bang, not a whisper. How can you do this? Focus on presenting the bottom line of your term paper. Of course, the thesis of your term paper should still be reflected in your conclusion, but don’t stop there. What should your reader’s takeaway be after reading what you have presented? Furthermore, you can call for an action. Allow your readers to understand that your term paper can be expanded, even disproved. Recommendations also work well for a conclusion as it can help future researchers.
- List of References. This is where your sources will be listed. Make sure to follow the academic formatting prescribed by your professor. These should be accompanied by in-text citations or endnotes throughout the paper. Do not neglect or do this part haphazardly. Citations and citation styles are important in research to avoid plagiarism. Like your title page, your list of references should follow the prescribed referencing format.
- Appendix. Although not required, some topics may require the student to utilize a separate section to present important information that will eat up a huge space within the body of the paper. These information can be a graphical representation, lists, statistics, or anything that will disrupt the reading if placed anywhere in the paper.
Tips for writing a term paper
- Write for your reader. Although your intended reader is only your professor, it would help you to think of a layman or the general public as your reader. This way you will be able to explain ideas and concepts in a simple manner. Keep in mind that your term paper can be visited by future students for their own term paper reference. Also, you can always assume that someone will debunk your thesis statement, so make it as strong as possible.
- Do not imitate the language of your sources. This would result in an awkward term paper that may even be suspected of plagiarism. Adapt your own writing style. This will make it a lot easier. If you are not a good writer, you can always ask a professional to proofread your work or write the paper for you under your supervision. A custom term paper is a brilliant way to finish this requirement without having to worry about your grade and plagiarism.
- Diversify your sources. Do not rely only on internet sources. There is a wealth of information available in libraries that may not be available online, however, opt to utilize sources which are published no older than five years ago.
- Remember that your term paper is not a compilation of what you found in your research. Analyze, analyze, analyze! If you ended up summarizing your course lessons, it would be impossible for you to get an A.
- Always explicitly state or demonstrate the connection between your ideas. Do not imply connections because this is not a mind reading game. A term paper is a reserch paper, so keep your distance from vague implications.
- Use descriptive headings and sub-headings. Ideally, the heading and sub-heading titles should give the reader an idea of what to expect in the incoming section. It will also be easier for you later on when you proofread.
- Use transitional sentences and topic sentences.
- Make a clear distinction between your own ideas and those from your sources.
- Minimize direct quotations, and when you do, introduce the quote first.
- Proofread your work. We cannot emphasize this further. Of all people, you should be the one who is the most critical with your term paper. If you submit a term paper with which you yourself as the author has doubts, you can rest assured that there will be more doubts from your professor. If there is something amiss, it is highly likely that there really is something wrong. Always make sure that you have the answers to your own questions.
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