Procedure for Writing a Term Paper
Alton L. Raygor, University of Minnesota
A term (or research) paper is primarily a record of intelligent reading
in several sources on a particular subject. The task of writing one is
not as difficult as it seems, if you think it out in advance as a
process with definite steps.
The procedure for writing such a report consists of the following steps:
- Choosing a subject
- Finding sources of materials
- Gathering the notes
- Outlining the paper
- Writing the first draft
- Editing the paper
Now let's look at each of them.
Choosing a Subject
Most good papers are built around questions. You can find subjects in any
textbook. Simply take some part of the text that interest you and examine
it carefully. Ask yourself the following things about it to see if you can
locate a question to answer in your paper.
|- Does it tell you all you might wish to learn about
|- Are you sure it is accurate?
|- Does the author make any assumptions that need
|- Can two of the more interesting sections in the text
be shown to be|
interrelated in some useful way?
Your paper is an attempt to write a well-organized answer to whatever
question you decide upon, using facts for the purpose of proving (or at
least supporting) your contention.
The most common error made by students in choosing a subject for a term
paper is to choose one that is too general. (Even the most specific subject
will always have enough aspects to furnish a long paper, if you think about
it for a while.)
Finding Sources of Materials
||Limitations. Tradition suggests that
you limit your sources to those available on the campus and to
those materials which are not more than 20 years old, unless the
nature of the paper is such that you are examining older writings
from a historical point of view.
| A. Begin by making a list of
subject-headings under which you might expect the|
subject to be listed.
| B. Start a card file using the
| 1) Book and magazine
| b) Author
| c) Title
| d) Facts of
| e) Library call
| 2) News story:
| b) Facts of
| 3) Periodicals:
| a) Author
| b) Title
| c) Name of
| d) Volume and
| e) Month and
| Sort these cards into (1)
books and (2) each volume of periodicals. Then look up|
call numbers for the periodicals and sort out those for
each branch library. This
||Consult the card catalog in the library to
locate booksrecord author, title, publisher, date of
publication and call number.
||Consult guides to periodicals, such as:
These are aids to finding articles on any subject. They list
subject heading, with various titles of articles under them,
together with the location of each article.
- Education Index
- Readers Guide
- International Index to Periodicals
- Psychological Abstracts
Gathering the Notes
||Examine the books and articlesseveral volumes
at a time will save steps.|
Skim through your sources, locating the useful material, then make
good notes of it, including quotes and information for footnotes.
You do not want to have to go back to these sources again. Make
these notes on separate cards for each author, identifying them by
||Take care in note-taking; be accurate and honest. Be
sure that you do not distort the author's meanings. Remember that
you do not want to collect only those things that will support your
thesis, ignoring other facts or opinions. The reader wants to know
other sides of the question.
||Get the right kind of material:
| 1. Get facts, not just opinions. Compare
the facts with author's conclusion.
| 2. In research studies, notice the methods
and procedures, and do not be afraid to|
criticize them. If the information is not quantitative, in a study,
point out the need
quantified, well-controlled research.
Outlining the Paper
||Do not hurry into writing. Think over again what
your subject and purpose are, and what kind of material you have
||Review notes to find main sub-divisions of your subject.
Sort the cards into natural groups then try to name each group. Use
these names for main divisions in your outline. For example, you may
be writing a paper about the Voice of America and you have the
following subject headings on your cards.
| 1. Propaganda - American (History)
| 2. Voice of America - funds
| 3. Voice of America -
| 4. Voice of America - cost compared with
| The above cards could be sorted into
six piles easily, furnishing the following headings:
| 1. History (Card 1)
| 2. Organization (Cards 6, 7)
| 3. Cost (Cards 2, 3, 4, 9)
| 4. Future (Card 10)
| You will have more cards than in the
example above, and at this point you can|
narrow down your subject further by taking out one of the piles of
||Sort the cards again under each main division to find
sub-sections for your outline.
||By this time it should begin to look more coherent and
to take on a definite structure. If it does not, try going back and
sorting again for main divisions, to see if another general pattern
||It will probably help to organize the parts of your
outline in traditional form, with a
heading-subheading-section-subsection structure. But use these
designations only in the outline and not in the paper itself, or it
will look more like an extended outline than a paper.
Writing the First Draft
You are now ready to write.
||Write the paper around the outline, being sure that you
indicate in the first part of the paper what its purpose is. Follow
the old formula:
| 1. Tell the reader what you are going to
say (statement of purpose)
| 2. Say it (main body of the paper)
| 3. Tell the reader what you've said
(statement of summary and conclusion)
||A word about composition:
| 1. Traditionally, any headings or
sub-headings included are nouns, not verbs or phrases.
| 2. Keep things together that belong
together. Your outline will help you do this if it is well organized.
Be sure you don't change the subject in the middle of a paragraph,
and be sure that everything under one heading in your outline is
about the same general topic.
| 3. Avoid short, bumpy sentences and
long straggling sentences with more than one main idea.
Editing the Paper
You are now ready to polish up the first draft.
||Try to read it as if it were cold and unfamiliar to you.
It is a good idea to do this a day or two after having written the
||Reading the paper aloud is a good way to be sure that
the language is not awkward, and that it "flows" properly.
||Check for proper spelling, phrasing, and sentence
construction. Be sure that pronouns clearly refer to nouns.
||Check for proper form on footnotes, quotes, and
||Check to see that quotations serve one of the
| 1. Show evidence of what an author has
| 2. Avoid misrepresentation through
| 3. Save unnecessary writing when ideas
have been well expressed by the original author.
||Check for proper form on tables and graphs. Be certain
that any table or graph is self-explanatory.
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