How to Write a Term Paper - Some Guidelines
Writing papers may well be the opportunity for you to learn more
about the subject you are studying than any other aspect of a
course. It is worth doing well. You not only learn more, you also
think more deeply about a topic when you have to put words on
paper. Finally good grades depend on good papers.
I. Collecting Information
Opinion is a fine thing, but in a college paper your opinions
are only worthwhile if they are backed up by facts and arguments.
You must collect information, and, since many topics will be new
to you, it is worthwhile looking at the work and opinions of more
than one author. You should certainly look at your textbook but
also at other authors. Your professors will always be willing
to give suggestions.
As well as your textbook, you should learn to use the library
as a source of information. Make it a top priority to learn how
to find a book in the Library.
II. Recording Information
It is no use to just read a book and then write. You must record
what you read so that you can review it before and during the
writing of the paper. There are a number of ways to do this:
- You can mark the book - only if it is your own copy or a photocopy
- with pencils or highlighting pens. You cannot use this method
on Library books and it is of limited use as it can be difficult
to locate what is really important if you have marked up half
a book. It also reduces the resale value of books.
- You can use 3"x5" index cards and note down one, or
a series of connected facts, on a card. You then use the cards
to organize the information in the way you want to use it in the
paper. One problem is that you may get bogged down in detail.
The other is that it can be difficult to review index cards at
examination time. In general this is the method that is successful
for most people. Make sure that you note down on each card the
source of your information or you lose track of what each card
- Finally you can try to summarize a chapter on letter or legal
paper. You can note down both facts and arguments at length. This
system can be cumbersome if you take a lot of notes, but is very
good for reviewing before exams.
III. Thinking About the Topic
After you have read as much as you need, DO NOT just start to
write. Think about what you have read, mull over it on a walk,
or discuss it with friends. The professor already knows about
what you are writing and is looking to see how well you have understood
a topic. It is no use at all to just present your reading notes
stuck between an introduction and a conclusion.
Thinking about it is the most important stage of writing a
IV. The Plan
Sketch out on paper several ways of presenting your topic and
your thoughts. You might think of doing this as a connected argument,
or as a series of related headings organised in a way that makes
sense of what you read. Another useful approach is to state, prove
and defend a thesis.
You must always write out a plan. It will help you to
be clearer both in papers and in tests. It is in fact another
way of thinking about your topic.
V. Writing and Editing
You cannot expect to just write out a paper and hand it in. Typo's
alone will demand at least one re-type. So why not throw out the
idea that what you write must be perfect first time?
It is a good writing technique to just WRITE down your thoughts
as they come into your head (always keeping an eye on your paper
plan). Do not stop to edit or correct spelling and grammatical
mistakes. WRITING and EDITING are different skills. Even though
you may think what you are writing is bad or plain stupid, once
you have got it down on paper you can go back and look at what
you have written. At that stage you can begin to knock it into
shape, correct spelling and grammar and improve your style. Almost
everybody thinks that what they are writing is bad at the time
they write it: your aim is to find a way around this mental block.
You should note that in an exam, conditions force you to write
and edit at the same time, however, the technique described here
should help to improve your confidence in writing.
VI. Finishing Touches
Before you hand a paper in make sure it looks good - use the
Stylesheet handed out separately. Eliminate spelling and grammatical
errors. Make sure all your references are noted. Add a booklist.
Type the paper cleanly.