Term paper writing can be tricky! Read our simple guide to assist you in understanding term papers and their requirements. Our guide includes how to format paper, how to write an outline for it, a step-by-step guide, common mistakes, term paper language and useful tips. Read on and let no term paper trouble you anymore.
What is a term paper exactly?
The definition of a term paper is an academic assignment written at the end of a term to assess what a student has learned over the term or semester. Term papers normally take the form of a scientific report or discussion essay that will require research and technical writing ability to demonstrate the writer’s knowledge. Term papers present an idea or pose a question and an argument, position or answer to the idea or question.
Term Papers Vs Research Papers
Although, term papers have many similarities with research papers and the titles are used interchangeably, they are not the same:
- Term papers are around 3,000 to 5,000 words but research papers are much longer (5,000 words or more).
- Term papers test student’s knowledge in a topic covered during the term or semester whereas research papers involve a much broader aspect of a subject and a theoretical question.
- Term papers are given at the end of the term or semester after a particular topic has been covered, but research papers can be given at any time.
- Term papers critically analyze a thesis and include the writer’s opinion whereas a research paper requires a hypothesis or research question.
- Term papers tend to use scholarly articles, academic papers, and textbooks. Research papers generally use surveys, questionnaires, interviews, and observations.
- Term papers have a shorter deadline than research papers. Research papers usually take months, possibly years to complete.
- Term papers have a less specific structure than research papers.
Term Paper Format
How long should a term paper be? A normal length may vary depending on your course or subject. Usual term papers are normally around 10 - 15 pages of double spaced, font size 12 text with 1-inch margins. Be sure to check your colleges specific formatting style (APA, MLA, Harvard, Chicago, Turabian, AMA, etc.) for exact formatting specifications.
A typical structure is as follows:
Title or Cover Page: This page usually requires your name, course title and code, instructor’s name, and the submission date, all aligned centrally.
Abstract: The abstract is a summary of the whole paper and includes its purpose or issue and why it is significant. It is normally a few paragraphs in length but less than one page.
Introduction: A good term paper introduction starts with an unusual or captivating statement about the topic and an associated idea, argument, or problem. It then states how a solution or an answer to the problem (thesis) will be discussed. The introduction will normally be longer than the abstract but there is not a strict word limit. A rough guide for its length is around 5-10% of the total word count for the paper, so around 200-400 words.
Main Body or Method: A brief history of the idea, arguments or problem is written first, giving the reader some background. Next, the main points of the idea, argument or problem are backed up with citations and the impact and effects of the idea, argument or problem are provided with possible solutions. The reader is given different issue perspectives and an analysis of research findings. This section is the largest section of the paper and will account for around 60-80% of the total word count, approximately 2,400-3200 words.
Results: This section explains why the research findings answer the question or pose a solution. It is also explained if the writer’s proposed answer or solution (thesis) has changed or not and why. This is often similar in length to the introduction at around 200-400 words (5-10% of the total word count).
Conclusion or discussion: The conclusion includes a short, paraphrased summary of the main findings and conclusions about the answer or solution to the question or problem. It will normally end with a wider question or the writer’s conclusions in a broader context. Around 10-15% of the total word count would usually be acceptable for this section.
Bibliography: This is an alphabetical list of all the resources used or referred to in the term paper on a new page. It will not form part of the word count. It should be formatted according to the instructor's required citation style.
Note: The word counts provided in the article are generalized and approximate. Speak with your instructor at school or college to obtain accurate information relating to word counts.
How to Write a Term Paper Outline
Writing a term paper, it might be useful to come up with a plan for it first, an outline. An outline is a part of your paper that shows its structure and main points. Its goal is to help a student organize all the info the right way. You may even be asked to submit an outline first. If this is the case, the following information will normally be expected:
State the argument or position (thesis statement) that answers the essay title (research question). For example:
Essay title/question/idea e.g.,
‘How does attachment disorder influence child development?’
Answer or position (thesis statement) e.g.,
‘A child with insecure attachment will have trouble developing meaningful and secure relationships throughout their life.’
- History of the argument e.g., a description of ‘attachment theory’.
- Extent of the problem e.g., an explanation of children who have or are likely to have insecure attachment and why.
- Effects of the problem e.g., inability to develop meaningful and secure relationships and what difficulties this may lead to.
- Possible solutions e.g., explanations of therapeutic treatments and how these treatments can help a child with insecure attachment.
Summarize your main points and answer the thesis statement.
Even if an outline is not requested by your college, it is a good idea to create one anyway as it will help you maintain focus and structure in your term paper.
How to do a Term Paper, Step-by-Step Guide
1. Topic Selection: Select a broad issue relating to what you have learned during the term, then narrow it down to something more specific. Here are 10 term paper example titles to give you an idea:
- The influence of diversity on team effectiveness.
- How can developed countries support developing countries?
- How does immigration affect the economy?
- How can family law be improved?
- Dentistry improvements in the last century.
- Are all-female working environments effective?
- How can schools reduce bullying?
- The effect of globalization on politics.
- Can solar power be the source of all our power?
- The reasons for controversy surrounding abortion.
2. Literature: Locate relevant literature that agrees with or proves your thesis statement. Then create a bibliography page.
3. Facts: Note relevant facts and write them in your own words. Remember that you are aiming to convince the reader of your thesis.
4. Plan: Write out a rough plan or template. It is useful to begin with the main body as this forms the ‘bulk’ of your term paper. Then move on to writing the other sections.
5. Write your first draft with each of your main points backed up by a relevant citation.
6. Proofread and edit. Do not just rely on a spell and grammar checkers, you need to read it fully yourself as checkers are not foolproof.
7. Get a pair of ‘fresh eyes’ to read over it and make edits if necessary. Ask your parent, guardian, sibling, friend, aunt, cousin, or anyone willing to have a scan over your term paper! It is surprising what others may spot!
Term Paper Language
A term paper is an academic text so therefore it should be written formally by avoiding use of colloquialisms, idioms, slang, cliches, everyday abbreviations, contractions, and gender-biased language.
Also, avoid job specific jargon that will likely be unknown to the reader e.g., ‘atrial fibrillation’, ‘bucketize’, ‘synergy’, ‘thermodynamics’. Jargon can look impressive but if the reader does not understand, it is pointless.
Academic writing generally needs to be written objectively. When expressing a standpoint, it should be based on facts, measurable or quantifiable information. Exaggerations are not objective either, so do not use statements such as ‘A ridiculous number of dogs are euthanized in the US’. To remain objective state ‘670,000 dogs are euthanized in the US each year’.
Unless you are told otherwise, it is best to use an impersonal tone in a term paper. You can do this by refraining from the use of the first person (‘I’, ‘my’, ’me’, ‘myself’, ‘we’, ‘us’, ‘our’). Instead, use the third person (‘they’, ‘Dr. Williams’, it, ‘herself’, ‘their’, ‘Sigmund Freud’, etc.).
Formal, academic writing requires language that is clear and as definitive as possible. In doing so, it helps reduce the risks of errors or misconceptions. Look at the following sentences. They both mean the same and are grammatically correct, but the latter is clearer and direct.
‘Of all the vast possibilities new technology offers the engineering industry of today, the most promising by far is 3D printing’.
‘The most promising new technology for engineering is 3D printing.’
Be sure to use reliable, academic sources of information e.g., scientific books, journals, textbooks, academic databases such as Academic Search Premier and JSTOR, academic search engines like Google Scholar and websites that end with ‘.gov,’, ‘.edu’, ‘.ac’.
Try to avoid non-academic and possibly unreliable sources e.g., Wikipedia, blogs, social network posts, newspapers, magazines, and websites that end in ‘.com’, .’org,’ ‘.net’.
Your instructor may have a sample or example term paper available to help you. It may be worth asking for this if they have not already provided you with one.
Ensure you know how to format a term paper in the correct style required by your college for the whole document including in-text citations and reference lists/bibliographies.
Use a clear font such as Arial, Calibri or Times New Roman.
Writing a term paper or editing it, remove useless or ‘fluff’ words. Conciseness is of value in formal writing.
Try reading your paper aloud and you may find errors that you previously missed, strange but true!
5 Common Term Paper Mistakes
- Lack of focus: Make sure you have a precise question that you are attempting to answer before you start writing your term paper and keep reminding yourself of this question throughout the paper. It can be easy to lose focus in production of a large piece of writing so glance back at the title regularly and ask yourself if everything you have written is relevant.
- Poor Structure: A well-written term paper will flow or link from one sentence to the next sentence and from each paragraph to the next. A new paragraph is usually needed for each new point.
- Reader unfriendly: Keep in mind that the readers of your term paper are only familiar with your topic, so explain why you are providing them with details of an aspect of your chosen topic and examples of the importance.
- Failing to effectively wrap up: In the conclusion, the thesis needs to be restated and the main points of the term paper reviewed.
- Formatting, spelling, punctuation, and grammatical errors: Check that you have consistent spacing and consistent styles, fonts and sizes of headings and sub-headings. The term paper will look more professional if consistency is achieved. Spelling, punctuation, and grammar errors are very easy to miss (even for professional writers) so take a break before thoroughly proofreading.