What Is a Term Paper and How to Write It: Tips for Beginners

Writing a term paper is one of the most common assignments college students will see in a number of disciplines. A term paper is simply a research paper based on readings and coursework that a student writes over the period of a school quarter or semester. Surprisingly, many students arrive to college without really having grasped most of the basic elements of a standard term paper.

Here are some beginner’s tips for writing a quality term paper:

Read the Assignment Prompt: Instructors will often provide you with specific guidelines or requirements for each term paper assignment you receive. You’ll have an idea of the length, focus, format, and more. If anything is unclear, take the time to ask your instructor questions so you don’t spend too much time doing the wrong thing.

Pick the Right Term Paper Topic: It’s a lot easier to write about something you are interested in rather than choosing something you only think will score you a higher grade. Don’t just pick the easiest looking question; by the time you finish with all of your research and writing, you might be genuinely sick to death with your assignment and won’t be willing to follow through with the all-important revision and editing stages.

Carefully Research Your Topic: Be sure to skim your syllabus ahead of time and look for readings that may be related to your topic. Develop a list of books or articles you need to read ahead of time and check them out from the library early. Feel free to ask your professor or T.A. for recommended readings; often times they will have a list of 3 – 4 resources you can use for your research.

Develop a Thesis Statement: Your thesis is the single most important component of your term paper because it clearly states what it is your topic is about and what position you are taking when discussing it. You should develop a draft thesis statement early on during your research so that you can stay within a certain topical framework, rather than jump around between a number of larger topics. As you go you will find yourself gradually narrowing your topic down to a single argument.

Organize Thoughts in an Outline: Students will usually skip this step, but readers of essays will have no problems determining just which essays where written without an outline. By forcing you to come to terms with what it is you have to write in your term paper, you are afforded the opportunity to make revisions to your logic and layout long before committing several hours to writing your essay. Outlining is a blueprint for our final product. Don’t try to build your term paper without one.

Write Your First Draft, Revise Thesis: Now that you have your outline in order, you can start writing your first draft. It’s important to try to write all of your ideas down as freely as possible (using your outline as a guide) and not get bogged down with correcting all of the little mistakes you make along the way. It’s okay to be repetitive, misspell words, or forget punctuation. These are all elements you should fix in your revision.