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Term Paper Structure Essentials. Sample Outline Included

Everything You Need to Know About Term Paper Structure

Unlike essays and short assignments, term papers allow for a larger word count. Without a logical term paper structure, the writing can stray from the core points and become disjointed and incomprehensible. Besides, sticking to a deliberate outline makes the writing process easier and faster.

How to Structure a Term Paper

To make term paper writing more manageable, it helps to divide the paper into the essential and formatting parts. 

The essentials include the introduction, body, and conclusion. These hold the contents of your paper, core ideas, research methodology, and findings. Your professor will focus on these sections to gauge how well you understand the topic. 

Body sections are the most challenging to structure because the options are near limitless. Still, unless you’re working on a historical overview, the thematic structure is universally acceptable. Instead of discussing the issues as they appear chronologically or by source, you need to locate similar themes across several sources and set them in the order that makes sense. It helps to write out the core themes on post-it notes and shuffle them around until you find the proper order. If the transitions between points seem weird or disjointed, your structure needs more work. 

The formatting parts are only there to make your paper look nice and make it easier to assess for your professor and other potential readers. These are the parts of the structure of term paper like the title page, abstract, reference list, and table of contents. With the exception of the abstract, they do not hold much meaning, but they demonstrate your soft skills, including the ability to follow formatting requirements. The specifics of the formatting sections differ between schools and styles, so ask your professor which parts are obligatory and which can be eliminated. For example, some instructors allow students to skip the abstract and table of contents.

Term Paper Outline Example Structure

In the term paper structure example below, you’ll notice the typical sections, as well as a detailed outline of the body that includes four chapters, one of which holds three subchapters.

  1. Title page
  2. Abstract
  3. Table of contents
  4. Introduction
  5. The principles of EFL education at the secondary level
  6. The implementation of film in secondary education
  7. Transcultural education in the secondary EFL classroom
  8. The analysis of using the film A Fond Kiss in the classroom
    1. The beneficial characteristics of the film for secondary education
    2. Transcultural education potential of the film
    3. Classroom cases for using the film in the secondary classroom
  9. Conclusion
  10. References
  11. Appendices

How to Fill Out the Main Parts of a Term Paper

With the basics of how to structure a term paper out of the way, let’s discuss what each of them entails.

  • The title page is easy and takes no time at all. All you need is the paper title, your name, class, professor’s name, school, and year. Look up the formatting handbook to find a template for APA or MLA.
  • The abstract is a one-page summary of 150 to 250 words long. It should summarize the entirety of the term paper, including the research question, some background info, and the results achieved. The list of keywords is also a must.
  • The table of contents includes the chapter and subchapter names and page numbers. The formatting depends on the chosen style.
  • The introduction takes up no more than 10% of the word count and introduces the topic of the term paper. The typical approach is opening with a broad discussion and narrowing it down to a specific research question.
  • The body is the most flexible section of the structure of a term paper. It can be structured chronologically, thematically, or methodologically. You can also employ the traditional research paper structure that includes literature review, methodology, and study results. Consult your professor if unsure which outline fits your term paper best.
  • The conclusion should take 5% to 10% of the word count. It usually restates the research question, highlights the core points of the body, and finishes with a strong parting thought or idea. You can also include implications of the study, its limitations, drawbacks, or future research potential.
  • The reference list is an obligatory part of the term paper structure. It should include an alphabetized list of every source used throughout the paper formatted according to the required style. You can use automatic citation generators, but make sure they produce valid results that fit APA or MLA guidelines before you add the entries to your paper.
  • Appendices are an optional part of the term paper. You can include any additional or supplemental data necessary for understanding the paper that does not fit the narrative flow. Remember to name and assign letters to each appendix and include them in the table of contents.


What are the main parts that should be included in term paper?

Your professor or department should indicate the specifics of the term paper structure in the prompt. However, most term papers will include seven main parts: title page, abstract, table of contents, introduction, body, conclusion, and reference list. 

How to structure a table of contents for a term paper?

The specific layout and requirements depend on the required formatting style. But you must include exact chapter and subchapter names and starting pages. Chapter numbers, idents, periods, and dot leaders are optional. If you use the heading styles correctly, most word processing software can automatically generate the table of contents.

When should you add titles to parts of your term paper?

APA, MLA, and other formatting styles allow for several levels of headings. You can use them to divide the term paper into logical sections. For example, the body may include a literature review, background information, historical overview, research methodology, results, and discussion subchapters.