Writing a term paper is a common writing requirement in upper-division college courses. They usually count for a significant part of your overall grade and take up most, if not all, of your semester. Yet most students have never really received much instruction about how to write a good one. Here’s a great manual for writing a solid college term paper:
Your professor will give you specific instructions about what is to be expected from you in the assignment. Too often, students hand in work that doesn’t entirely meet the minimum requirements of the assignment. If you have any doubts about the assignment, ask your professor. You won’t be punished for seeking clarification. Start early. Last minute papers are often poorly written and are filled with errors. You need plenty of time to prepare, research your topic, think critically, write and edit your paper. Look at the due date and mark up a calendar with personal deadlines for each stage of the writing process. Make sure you plan for the unexpected – files can be erased, computers crash, printers break down, and there may even be a slight cold that sets you back a couple of days. Give yourself plenty of time.
The next step in writing a great term paper is choosing a good topic. Things to consider are paper length, research resources, and analytical tools. It’s generally a good idea to write about a topic that you are entirely interested in; it will be much easier to stay focused throughout the entire process from research to writing to editing.
Be sure to choose a topic that is narrow but has ample resources you can consult. A topic that is too large will usually mean that you can only treat superficially. Consider the databases and resources you can find at your local library or college library.
Good research is the foundation of a great term paper, and you are now ready to start. It’s a good idea to use a wide variety of up-to-date resources from academic journals and books. The first place to look is the library, by talking with a reference librarian. When you have located a few resources check their bibliographies for additional related sources you can use.
Start by reading up on some background information. Keep your notes organized and make sure you take down all citation information so that you don’t have to return to this work later on. You may consider photocopying some of your most important finds so that you could keep them handy as you write your paper
The most important keys to writing effective term papers are great organization and presentation of error-free technical skills and your ideas. Three organizational issues to consider are: the outline, the parts of your term paper and your approach.
No one would build a house without a plan. Unfortunately, too many students write term papers without a plan and they suffer tremendously for it in terms of grades. The best way to make your plan is organize your ideas in an outline, which you can use to guide you along when you write your paper. All papers will have three basic parts: an introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion. Imagine these three parts when you gather and organize your information. The last thing to consider is your approach. A common approach is chronological, but others you may employ are analytical and method-based. Choose the one that presents your argument most effectively.
Getting down to the nitty-gritty, and above all else, you must communicate your ideas clearly. Great writing is different from verbal communication. Choice of words, the punctuation, and other elements of writing should be carefully chosen. It’s a good idea to select a great writing guide to learn these elements. And be prepared to go through several drafts – a first draft, a revised draft and a final edited draft.
Be sure to take breaks in between each draft so that you can be more critical of your writing. Leave yourself enough time after your final draft to present your paper to a friend or classmate so that you can have a fresh set of eyes review your work and offer recommendations.
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