For those who have only ever worked on essays, writing a term paper can become an insurmountable challenge. It requires research, critical thinking, writing, and editing skills, along with time management and self-discipline. If it’s your first time dealing with a term paper, this detailed guide will help you wrap your head around the assignment. We’ll share an actionable algorithm on how to write a term paper in manageable chunks you can complete on your schedule to turn in the paper on time.
What Is a Term Paper?
A term paper is the biggest assignment of the course that spans 10+ pages and affects around 50% of the final grade. If you don’t submit this paper on time or get a failing grade, you risk failing the class. Term papers may focus on literature research, hands-on studies, surveys, or reports. The specific requirements depend on your course, major, and school.
How to Develop a Term Paper Format and Structure
Essays comprise an introduction and conclusion with a few body paragraphs in between. Term papers require a more complex structure, though its specifics depend on the class, topic, paper type, and professor’s requirements. The traditional outline includes:
- Title Page. The cover of your paper with identifying information.
- Abstract. A one-page summary of the paper with a list of keywords.
- Introduction. An explanation of the study’s relevance, goals, and expectations.
- Literature review. An overview of recent publications on the subject.
- Methodology. A description of the scientific methods used in your research.
- Results and Discussion. Raw data and its analysis.
- Conclusion. A summary of core points and the impact of the study.
- Reference list. An alphabetized list formatted according to APA or MLA guides.
- Appendices. Supplemental data and visual media that don’t fit in the main sections.
Remember, the term paper format above is malleable. You can skip one or several sections if they do not fit your assignment’s requirements. For instance, MLA formatting does not require a title page, and if your study is purely theoretical, you may leave out the methodology and results sections. Some professors may not even need an abstract, so get the professor’s approval of the outline before you start writing.
How to Write a Good Term Paper
How to Choose a Term Paper Topic
Start with a broad idea you’re interested in that fits the class’ syllabus and have a couple of alternatives handy. Step by step, narrow down the general concept to a specific issue that aligns with the subjects covered in class. The topic should be narrow enough to be fully covered in a term paper and broad enough to be researchable. If you’re drowning in sources, your issue is too broad. And if you can’t find five sources to cite, your topic is too narrow.
To find hot, relevant, and controversial term paper topics, browse the latest news, social media feeds, non-fiction and scientific publications. A quick skim should be enough to draw your attention to specific issues you can develop from there, such as:
- The long-term consequences of the abortion legislation controversy in the US
- The rising risk of worldwide nuclear war and effective preventative measures
- The effect of social media filters on adolescent body image perception and resulting psychological issues
- The potential of Solar system colonization and consequences for Earth and humanity
- The safety protocols necessary to keep medical information private and secure
- Establishing efficient communication channels between professors and students during the pandemic
- The effects of preventative care and health education on the number of patients with chronic conditions
- The impact of marketing and logistics advancements on business’ market standing
- The balance between freedom of speech and censorship on social media
- The effect of everyday copyright breaches on content creators and the industry
How to Start a Term Paper
Remember that term papers are nothing like essays, so you’d better start working on your assignment as soon as possible. Prewriting steps are usually the key to term paper writing success. Take some time to complete these steps to accelerate the writing process later:
- Make sure you understand the requirements. Reread the prompt carefully and highlight the keywords and action verbs (analyze, discuss, etc.). Try to rewrite the assignment prompt using your own words but keeping the core idea. Create a list of questions you need to focus on when conducting research. Consult the TA or professor if you have questions.
- Research the topic and take notes. Browse books and articles on the subject and focus on finding answers to the questions you’ve developed. Remember to pick credible, relevant, and unbiased sources to substantiate your claims. Use efficient note-taking techniques, like mind mapping or clustering, and keep track of the sources of each piece of data or quote (author’s name, page or year).
- Develop a writing schedule based on the paper outline. Estimate how long each section should be and how much time it will take. Create a writing plan and set interim deadlines for each part, editing, proofreading, and formatting. Print this schedule and keep it handy, or program the reminders into your digital calendar and stick to the deadlines you set.
How to Develop a Term Paper Outline
We’ve gone over the major elements of a term paper outline above, but going from a section heading to writing paragraphs may be challenging. To make things easier for you, we’ve created a rough plan of the elements that should be present in every section:
- the relevance of the topic
- the purpose and objectives of your study
- hypothesis (if applicable)
- research question or thesis statement
- Each of the main body sections
- topic sentence
- supporting evidence from several credible sources
- source information analysis and synthesis
- your conclusion
- transition to the following passage or section
- the relevance and impact of the study
- the summary of the core points
- the answer to the research question
- potential drawbacks and limitations of the study
- further research recommendations
You can use this template to organize your term paper and delete any elements that do not fit the parameters of your assignment.
How to Write a Winning Term Paper Proposal
We’d have to dedicate a whole post to how to write a term paper proposal, so this is merely a quick refresher. A proposal is a short paper detailing future research. It should include the topic of your study, its relevance, research purpose and objectives, research question, a brief literature review, methodology, and expected outcomes, as well as the impact of the study.
Consult the professor on the specific format, length, and structure of the term paper proposal you need to write. Considering the length of an average term paper, a proposal will likely take a couple of pages.
How to Complete the Term Paper on Time
After a couple of tries, you will develop personal tricks and routines for writing a term paper. But before you get there, let us offer a few actionable tips for you to try out:
- Leave the abstract for last. You can’t summarize the paper that’s not written yet, and even if you try, you’ll have to rework it.
- Synthesize instead of summarizing in the literature review. Rewriting the sources does not make for a good paper; instead, use reference data to develop your take on the problem.
- Reference standard methodology to save time. Do not recount research procedures if you can cite an industry standard or a respectable publication detailing them.
- Include limitations and drawbacks in the discussion. To counteract potential criticism, list potential downsides and limitations of your results and suggest improvements for further research.
- Write out of order, but keep the logical flow intact. You can write sections in any order, but make sure they connect seamlessly and create a cohesive piece.
How to Edit and Proofread the Term Paper
Ideally, you need to take a break after finishing term paper writing to improve editing efficiency. First, reread the paper and look for parts that don’t seem logical and straightforward, delete unnecessary repetitions, and add transitions if the narrative is disjointed and choppy.
Once you’re satisfied with the content, it’s proofreading time. Instead of standard spellcheck, use professional software (Grammarly, Hemingway Editor, or ProWritingAid) to catch grammar mistakes, missing commas, and typos. Finish the post-writing routine with a careful once-over to ensure the formatting style fits MLA or APA requirements. Check font size, margins, in-text citations, reference list, etc.
Do not skip the post-writing steps. They improve your chances of getting a high grade, as many professors take points off your grade for grammar and punctuation mistakes.
How Do You Write a Term Paper?
You can use our step-by-step guide to deal with the assignment independently or get professional help.
How Long Does It Take to Write a Term Paper?
Most professors assign term papers early in the semester to give you at least a couple of months to work on them. But, realistically, most students do not spend more than a week or two of intense writing sessions to complete the term paper.
How to Write a Term Paper Fast?
Research is the most time-consuming part of writing a term paper. Accelerate or skip it to speed up the writing process. If you have a free choice of a topic, consider recycling one of your past assignments and expanding it to fit term paper requirements. Alternatively, you can pick a topic you’re familiar with to reduce the time spent on research. You can also skip the detailed outline and start writing individual points to be tied into the paper later.
How to Write a Term Paper in APA Format?
Start with a title page that includes your name, the names of your professor and class, and the paper title. Use double-spaced legible 10 pt to 12 pt font and set all margins at one inch with 0.5-inch indents for paragraph’s first lines. In-text citations should list the author’s name and publication year. The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (7th edition) holds all the formatting requirements you need to know.
How to Write a Term Paper in MLA Style?
Skip the title page, and use a double-spaced 12-pt font that’s easy to read. Set all margins to one inch and use half-inch indents for the paragraph’s first lines. You can use five levels of headings, and remember to include the author’s name and page in your in-text citations. Look up more info on the MLA formatting style in the MLA Handbook (9th edition).