Every student will ask the same question early on in their studies, “How do I write a successful term paper?” Of course it all starts with your belief in yourself and a positive attitude. However, it’s always helpful to have a format to follow to guide you from assignment to an A-worthy paper. Here are six basic steps that should help you to understand the process.
1. Choose a subject that interests you.
Make sure that you choose a subject that is of interest to you so that writing your term paper will be an easier, more enjoyable task. After you have chosen the subject, try to narrow down its scope. For instance, let’s say you decided to write about the U.S. Civil War. This is obviously a very broad topic with numerous important historical, political, economical, and social facets. Since you are limited in the number of pages you can write, you will not be able to write in-depth about all of these aspects, forcing you to write a paper that simply scratches the surface of each issue. Instead, focus on specific battle or facet about the war.
2. Find sources of materials.
Visit the library for magazines, newspapers, audio files, and books, or other sources for materials to aid your research on the subject. When you select some books, check the bibliographies in the back to find further material. Of course, the internet contains a huge treasure trove of source material. Remember to keep a list of all of the sources you select so you can refer back to them quickly when you’re writing your paper and include them in your own bibliography.
3. Gather your notes.
The most widely used method for this is to use 3 X 5 index cards to jot down your notes. Each card should include the title of your source as well as page numbers and publishing information. If you copy from text or quotes, be sure to put quotation marks around them and credit your sources. Organize your note cards into subtopics, if you can. All of these will help you later when you begin editing the term paper.
4. Outline your paper.
Basically, your outline should contain an introduction, the main body, and a conclusion. There should be descriptive paragraphs following the introduction that will settle the theme. Write out the principle idea for each of the main body paragraphs and write short phrases that represent each major idea that you intend to use in your paper.
5. Write the first draft.
Don’t expect excellence from the first draft of your term paper. In the beginning, let your ideas flow. The first draft should get your ideas down on paper in coherent paragraphs. In following drafts, you can expand on your theme, correct grammar or spelling mistakes, and further hone your ideas into a logical order.
6. Edit your paper.
When you first think about editing the paper, remember to review any assignment details that your professor may have assigned. Make a checklist of these details, such as length, format, and citation of sources. Check for accuracy and consistency of sources, punctuation, spelling, and grammar. Take this opportunity to condense your writing.
The citation style and other formatting specifications will vary depending upon the writing format given out by your professor, whether APA, MLA or another. If you want to save your time by researching the latest formatting guidelines and then applying them to all areas of your paper, consider using formatting software. It will help you cut down the time needed for editing and allow you to focus on the quality of your content.
David Plaut is the founder of Reference Point Software (RPS). RPS offers a complete suite of easy-to-use formatting template products featuring MLA and APA style templates, freeing up time to focus on substance while ensuring formatting accuracy. For more information, log onto http://www.referencepointsoftware.com/ or write to:
info @ referencepointsoftware.com
Reference Point Software is not associated with, endorsed by, or affiliated with the American Psychological Association (APA) or with the Modern Language Association (MLA).