Writing a Term Paper: 7 Things to Remember

  1. Add value. You should tell your readers something they can’t learn by merely reading the sources in your reference list. You may do it in a variety of ways: explain relations between pieces of material from different sources, examine a situation in a broader context, check arguments of others for logic and validity, or present your own point of view. The exact choice depends on the type of paper you have to write, but always remember to include it.
  2. Understand what you are writing about. Get to the core of everything you want to discuss or comment on. You should be able to explain it in simple words to a person who knows nothing about it.
  3. Do extensive research. You may need to skim about 50 to 100 sources to get an understanding of your subject and gather enough evidence.
  4. Allow yourself enough time. You will need at least 2 hours to complete a 3-5 page paper, 4 hours for 8-10 pages, and 6 hours for 12-15 pages. Add at least two hours for research and an hour for editing.
  5. Avoid pompous, ungrounded phrasing. “The first person who…” (You can’t be sure that no one did it before.). “The most important reason…” (How do you measure their importance?). “The most common belief…” (Was there a survey to determine it?). The use of superlatives and words like “exactly,” “obviously,” “basic,” and “essential” in a term paper can almost never be justified. They make claims you can’t hope to prove.
  6. Get rid of non-functional words. A common mistake of students is to fill their papers with superfluous words (“in the case that” instead of “if,” “be in possession of” instead of “own”) or unnecessary identifiers (“future developments,” “revolutionary breakthrough,” “a major turning point”). They may be striving either to meet their word count or to sound more academic. Both these purposes are better served by adding extra thoughts, not extra words. Do not be afraid of sounding too simplistic. Keep your language clear – your readers will appreciate it.
  7. Adopt your own style. Another common mistake is following the language and style of your sources too closely. If you do it without proper referencing, it may be considered as plagiarism. In many cases it just sounds ridiculous. Your task is to explain the things you have learned from academic sources in your own words. Would you use these words when answering a question from your teacher? If not, they are probably not a good fit for your term paper either.

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