Monday, April 21, 2008

Tips on writing a term paper

Paper Writing Panic
Making It Count

So, you have three papers to write and they’re all due in two weeks. Stay calm! Writing a research paper does not have to be a stressful exercise. Just follow the tips below and those papers will practically write themselves!

Choose a Topic
Often, the most difficult part of writing a paper is choosing a topic. Here are some ideas if you get stuck:

  • Think about what interests you. Was something discussed in class that really grabbed your attention? Do you have a personal interest that would make a good paper topic?
  • Look at the news. There are plenty of issues and topics in the news that could give you ideas for your paper.
  • Listen in class. A teacher will usually drop hints for possible research paper topics in class. If not, you can always talk to the teacher, and together you may discover a topic that you never thought of before.

Do some initial research. Try typing a few ideas in the library search engine and see what happens, or browse some books or journals. This way you not only find a topic, you also get a head start on your research.

Gather Information
After you have found a topic that interests you, the next step is to gather information.

Before you start your research, you need to make sure that your topic is specific enough to make a good paper. This will focus your research, so you spend your time locating good, relevant information that you will really use.

A good way to focus your paper is to create a research question. For example, if your topic is the Cold War, here are some possible research questions: What is the origin of the Cold War? What impact did the Cuban Missile Crisis have on the Cold War? How and why did the Cold War end?

Once you have your research question, it's time to gather your information. A good place to start is an online library. This is a fast way to find a lot of quality research material. But be careful if you're using general web search engines – you’ll find some good information mixed with quite a bit of junk. Your teacher wants you to use credible, academic content.

Detailed Notes
After you have gathered mounds of information, you may take one look at it all and think to yourself, "Now what?" How are you going to take all these resources and organize the information you need for your paper?

Here are some time-saving tips for putting together your notes and information:

  • Be honest in your writing. Use your own words when taking notes and put exact quotes in question marks.
  • Use different color highlighters to easily identify different points within your own notes.
  • Make note cards to organize quotes and specific facts that you may want to include within your paper.
  • Be sure to note the sources you got your information from - you need this information for your notes and bibliography.

When you stick to the topic and create clear and accurate notes for yourself, you'll be surprised at the amount of time you save.

Outline and Thesis
After you have gathered your information, it's then time to think about actually writing your paper. A great way to start is to create an outline and a thesis.

A thesis is a clear, specific statement of the main idea or argument of your paper. It should express the point you are trying to make about your topic. It should not be a simple statement of accepted fact. Here are examples of good and bad thesis statements:

GOOD: Toni Morrison's novels combine poetic language with emotional impact to become powerful studies of the African-American experience.

BAD: Toni Morrison is a well-known writer who has published many novels.

An outline takes the main ideas in your thesis and organizes them. Think of it as a skeleton for the fleshed-out final paper. An outline also gives you a guide to follow to keep your thoughts organized as you write. After the main ideas are highlighted, your paper should be a detailed explanation of all the ideas you wrote in your outline.

Revise Your Paper
So, you finally have your paper written. You've reached the required number of pages and you've already let out a huge sign of relief. Now you are ready for the final stage of your paper: The Revision Process.

Revision is essential. It is like putting icing on the cake. Here are some great tips for revising your paper:

  • Read the paper out loud to yourself and to other people. You'll be surprised at how useful this is.
  • Use your school. If it has a writing center, then it can help you with the paper, and find any grammatical errors you might have missed.
  • Re-evaluate your paper's organization, and check to see if it matches the original setup of your outline.
  • See if there is anything that you would need to add or take out of your paper. Maybe something is not explained enough or maybe you explained something too much. Be alert for unclear or incomplete thoughts.

Has your teacher emphasized the nasty consequences of plagiarism yet? Plagiarism is a serious offense which can lead to expulsion from school. It is representing someone else's words and work as your own. To avoid plagiarism, be sure to appropriately credit all your sources. There are several things to keep in mind when citing sources:

  • Use the right style. There are many different ways to cite your sources. MLA and APA are the most popular, but there are several others. Your teacher will let you know what form to use.
  • Double check the punctuation and spacing in your notes and bibliography or works cited list - getting this wrong could mean points off!
  • Be sure to include all the sources from your notes or parenthetical references in your bibliography or works cited.
  • Use your own words when you write - when you use someone else's, put it in quotation marks and cite the source.
  • Cite the source for all factual information in your paper, except for commonly known facts (like George Washington's birthday).
from FastWeb.