A term paper is one that explores a particular theme and is written as a culminating exercise after having spent a term exploring a particular area of a given discipline. The requirements of a term paper involve the demonstration of deeper inquiry on the part of the student regarding an area that had perhaps been alluded to or covered in a cursory manner within a survey course. As a result, term papers generally demonstrate a high level of independent research on a focused topic and gives evidence of the writer's familiarity with scholarly work connected with the topic. The following is an explanation of the basic steps for completing a term paper.
Inquiry is the primary method of generating a good topic for a term paper. The process of answering thoroughly a particular question that arises about a given topic is precisely the one that produces an informative and substantial term paper. Once the student has a question in mind, it is customary to choose texts and journals that answer the question. Reading in this area should be wide, involving upwards of ten, twenty or even more articles and books-depending on the desired length and breadth of the term paper.
- Focusing the Topic
It is always a wise idea to narrow one's topic so that the subject of the paper might be a manageable one. A big mistake that students make is in choosing too general a topic that generates far too much information to be organised into the limited aspect of a term paper.
- Source Selection
When choosing sources, it is a good idea to stick to scholarly research and to pick the most recent of all source materials. Such a strategy is imperative in such research disciplines whose information is constantly being updated and refined. Therefore, it is customary to choose sources that are no more than twenty (20) years old. In certain disciplines, however, such as information technology and other scientific fields, it may be necessary to find sources no older than five (5) or fewer years. Regardless of the discipline for which one writes the term paper, it is always wise to choose sources that are themselves grounded in research and that are published by reputable organizations. University libraries now include electronic journals and search engines that make finding sources easier. Books, magazine articles, and newspapers are also possible sources of good information. Be sure to retain information such as author(s) name(s), title of article, volume and page numbers as well as journal name for citation within the body of the paper and on the reference page.
- Note Taking
When taking notes, it is wise to organise these notes on separate cards or pages that are arranged according to author. Take all the information you need from a given source at a single sitting in order to avoid having to return to that source at a later date. It is also important to be accurate in representing the ideas put forth by the author. Avoid misrepresenting, misquoting, or any use of the author's material that distorts his/her original meaning. However, do not be afraid to criticise these ideas during your own analysis of the question.
- Creating Outlines
Outlining the paper provides an opportunity for organization that will scaffold the construction of the term paper and make the writing easier. A quick review of your notes will identify the major subdivisions into which the paper naturally falls. Each section of the outline will address one aspect of these divisions using a topic sentence as its header and bulleted or numbered points below that contain the materials that support each topic sentence.
The rough draft will generally follow the outline closely, with the introduction pointing out the direction of the paper, the body expounding on the major related ideas, and the conclusion reiterating the main points of the paper. However, once complete, the rough draft must be thoroughly revised to remove logical or structural errors, as well as omissions that reduce the completeness of the research paper. Grammar, punctuation, spelling and diction must also be revised.
The major citation styles are MLA, APA, Harvard, Chicago, and Oxford. Each style has its own domain. For example, MLA was developed by the Modern Language Association, and is used primarily in language and history departments. APA was developed by the American Psychological Association and is used primarily in psychology and education departments. However, the other styles may also be used depending on the preference of the professor who assigned the paper. Despite their differences, all styles follow specific rules for the identification of authors and their ideas within the main body of the term paper as well as on the reference (or works cited) page. While the details of how the citation information is arranged usually differs depending on the style, all are concerned with pointing the reader toward the precise place in which in cited material can be located should it be necessary for him/her to look it up. Therefore, the name of the author(s) and the articles, as well as the book or journal in which they might be found will be represented in all citation methods. Page numbers and the year of publication are also important in these reference styles.