Writing a term paper can be a stressful experience for the student writer, especially if you believe writing isn’t your strongest form of communication. However, when tackling tough assignments, it’s always best to break them down into smaller parts. Using reference software to format your paper will take away many of the time consuming chores of paper writing and allow you to focus more on your paper’s content. As a former nursing student myself, I’ve learned to use some other helpful steps for reducing the frustration, fear, and loss of focus that comes from not having a structured approach to writing a term paper.
Here are six steps that will help you write a winning paper.
1. Choose a Subject
Nothing constructive can happen until you pick a topic. Your topic isn’t your thesis statement; that will come later after you’ve performed your research and analyzed your notes.
I recommend you focus on a subject that interests you and has a question you believe hasn’t been sufficiently answered. Your interest in the topic will help motivate you to find answers and will strengthen your statements in support of your position. Focusing on a question helps because if gives you room to bring in a fresh perspective.
Avoid a broad, general subject. It’s difficult to contain a well-structured, logical paper of any depth if your topic is too generic. For example, instead of writing a paper on “Today’s healthcare system” focus on “What roles do nurses play as patient advocates in today’s healthcare system?”
While narrowing your subject matter helps, make sure you don’t narrow the focus too much. If you think writing a paper is difficult, try writing on a topic with very limited source materials.
2. Identify Sources
Before you start searching for reference data, make a list of possible subject headings or keywords. Think of the subject headings from a couple of different perspectives or word combinations. Once you have your list, you have numerous sources at your disposal to find the necessary reference materials:
- Encyclopedias and dictionaries
- Publications, guides, industry associations, and reports
- Magazines, newspapers, journals, and almanacs
- A/V files
You can access these sources from your public or school library, government agencies, businesses, knowledgeable people with experience in your subject matter, and from the Internet. When you find helpful information, check to see if that source references other sources that may be helpful to you. This simple trick will help you gather a lot of data in a shorter period of time.
You should always consider the source of any data you review. Is the information from a reputable entity? Does it promote a particular bias? Once you have selected your sources, make sure you document the necessary data to build your bibliography according to the guidelines of your writing style.
3. Collect Data
As you research your subject, remain objective. Apply your critical thinking. If you believe an author, a research paper, or a procedure left out key data or offered a flawed conclusion, don’t be afraid to note this. Make sure you gather data on both sides of your issue. This is why I don’t recommend you do not write your thesis statement yet as your perspective on your subject may change during the accumulation of your research.
Verify that the information is up-to-date, factual, and accurate. Review and take notes on facts and opinions and be sure to document the source in your notes. This will speed your writing if you don’t have to determine where you found a particular piece of information.
4. Create Your Outline
Now that you’ve educated yourself about your subject, you can write your thesis statement followed by your outline. When creating an outline, some writers prefer to make their outline somewhat flexible because they want a certain freedom as they write, while others prefer to have a firm structure for their paper. You will have to find out what style works best for you.
Make sure you spend adequate time on your outline, even if you are the former style of writer. Your outline’s purpose is to keep you focused. Before you move on from this step, make sure you can see a logical progression from your paper’s introduction, through the body, and on to the conclusion. As you read it, if it doesn’t seem to flow or if there are gaps in support of your thesis statement, modify your outline before moving to the next step.
5. Start Writing
When you start writing, only focus on completing a rough draft, not a finished paper. It is a far more efficient use of time to let your writing flow and get your immediate thoughts onto paper before you critique your writing. Don’t try to edit as you go along; you will only slow the writing process and frustrate yourself.
Take one section of your outline at a time. Go back and re-read your notes. Re-familiarize yourself with the material and your goal for that particular section. I recommend writing your paper in order, don’t skip ahead.
When writing your paper, you’re going to follow a very basic formula:
- Tell your reader what you are going to say,
- Say it,
- Conclude your paper by restating your main idea and summarize your supporting points
Although your outline will contain more than three sections, this is the basic structure of what you need to accomplish with your paper.
6. Edit for Excellence
Be prepared to perform more than one edit. You have three critical areas you need to focus on when editing: 1) strength, consistency, and flow of your content, 2) grammar and punctuation, and 3) proper formatting.
If you try to edit all three critical areas in one pass, you will increase your opportunity for errors. Your editing will take less time and produce better results if you take them in the order listed above. It’s hard to focus on identifying any potential formatting corrections while you are trying to assess if you need to include additional references to strengthen your position. Plus, if you do re-write the content in your paper, you may accidentally introduce errors that you will catch in the latter editing phase.
- Cover page
- In—text citations
- Page numbers
- And more
To ensure you don’t lose points for formatting errors, you can research the latest guidelines from the appropriate organization or spend a couple of dollars on a software template that will format the paper for you. Using reference software will make formatting style decisions both accurate and easy.
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).