A term paper is likely to be the longest type of paper that you would be required to write outside of master’s and doctoral programs. The general purpose of a term paper is to show what you have learned during a specific period of schooling. It could be required at the midterm of a class or be the final project of a class. Either way, you can expect to put in a lot of work on a term paper. They are often ten to twenty pages long, if not more, and require multiple sources. Really, though, there is no need to let the idea of a term paper make you uneasy or frightened. One can be accomplished by the same methods used to write an essay or a research paper. You just have to put a little more work into it.
Just like a research paper, you may or may not be given a specific topic on which to write your term paper. If you have to choose your own topic, you may want to choose a broader one than what you would choose for a regular research paper for the simple reason that a term paper has to have much more information in it. However, you still don’t want to pick anything too excessive. For example, if you studied the works of Shakespeare in an English class, taking on the whole library of Shakespeare would be far, far too much. Comparing and contrasting his comedy and drama plays or a few of his sonnets that follow a common theme would be much more practical and easier to handle. Once you choose or receive your topic, the next thing to do is to search out sources.
No doubt, you will have to come up with many more sources for a term paper than any other kind of paper. You can also be assured that a paper constructed fully of Internet sources is not going to work. You will have to come up with articles from scholarly journals, books, and the research section of your library. Don’t feel like you are lost in a sea of information. The purpose of the librarians, especially the research librarians, is to help you find what you need. If you need help, ask them. Once you have a selection of sources together, it is time to do some critical reading. What fits best with what you want your term paper to say? What sources have the least bias? Which are the best written by knowledgeable authors? After you have chosen the best, you will be ready to come up with your thesis statement. Your thesis statement is what your whole term paper will be based on, so be sure to choose something that you can back up and can talk about at length.
When the thesis statement for the term paper is decided upon, you can begin to take notes that help you expand on the thesis. Many people use note cards for this purpose. Write down the citation information, the quotes that you want to use, and the page numbers of each quote. While this takes time, some people find it easier to gather information in this way instead of flipping through sources trying to find a quote while typing the term paper. An outline can also help, and may be required. To construct an outline, write out your thesis statement or your full opening paragraph. Below this, write your major points for each paragraph. Follow up with your concluding paragraph, and you will have a good idea of what the final paper will look like.
Term papers are often required to have several drafts. While this is also time consuming, it will eventually help you to get a better grade on the final paper. Some instructors have students bring in drafts to discuss and work on during class. You may even get feedback from a fellow student. Don’t take criticism of your drafts personally. It is much better to have someone point out your errors early than to have those errors on your finished term paper. While writing drafts, you may find information that you want to leave out of the term paper, and you may find areas that you wish to expand upon. It is perfectly normal to have every draft you write be different in some ways. All those changes will add up to a better paper in the end. Don’t be afraid to edit as much as you need to. You may even find that you want to use a different thesis statement and have a different conclusion. This is also quite normal. The more you get into the information you gather, the more you learn about the subject. It is common to change your mind about certain parts of the paper as you learn.
Documentation and citations are important in any paper, but especially in a term paper. You will have many sources, and you need to make sure to credit them all. The most common types of documentation are the MLA and APA types, however there are many more, such as Chicago style, Harvard style, and specialized styles appropriate to the class you are writing the term paper for. Explicit instructions for each type of documentation are easily found on the Internet, and books on any style are readily available in book stores and libraries. More than likely, you will be placing parenthetical citations in your paper. Depending on the style of documentation, these will include the author’s last name, the date of publication, and possibly the page number. This is why it is vitally important to keep up with where you found your information. You may be required to put footnotes in your paper. In this case, you would place numbers next to information in your term paper, and the full bibliographical information would be at the bottom of the page, next to the corresponding number. Your word processor can help you with footnotes, and you should certainly take advantage of that. Otherwise, you may run out of room for the footnotes, and the paper would end up a mess.
Term papers may sound difficult, and to some extent they are, but taking plenty of notes, planning out your paper, and writing drafts will make a difficult chore into something you can take pride in.