Sooner or later it happens to every student. Some teacher or professor gives an assignment that can either make or break one’s high school or college career. Hours of endless research seem to loom ahead. Facts that may or may not go together are a jumble within one’s psyche. Some will excel at the task with little or no effort.

Others will flounder around and either pass or fail the project. Others may wait until the night before it is due and compose it haphazardly on the word processor. Like it or not, Term Papers are a part of higher education. They don’t have to be dreaded, however. With just a little planning and foresight, the term paper can be not only an exciting way to learn more about a specific topic but also lead to great grades.

The first step to a really good term paper is to narrow the topic down sufficiently so that it can be focused on with greater ease and accuracy. For the sake of this article, we will assume that the broader topic is “The History of the Civil War”. Surely a million facts are out there and it should be easy to research a lot of those, but when it comes time to write the actual paper, it will be hard to narrow down the information and make any cohesive sense from it.

It would be better to focus on, say, on one particular battle of the Civil War, a particular general, or perhaps a specific aspect of everyday life in the 1860s on a Southern Plantation. By focusing the topic early on, we can eliminate the wasted time of reading EVERYTHING ever written about the war and go directly to those books and references that will shed light on our niche on the whole.

Like a skeleton holding our limbs and muscles together, an outline will serve to assist in the coherent assembling of facts. If a specific historical event has been chosen or a biography of a person in the era, a timeline is an easiest and most expedient format for organizing facts.

Life on a plantation could be broken down into subgroups, such as “The Big House”, “The Cash Crops of the South”, “The effects of the war on this particular lifestyle”, etc. Once an outline is sketched out, facts and information must be set into this model.

A lot of students find that 3×5 file cards greatly assist in the organization of facts. They place one particular fact on each card, and arrange and subgroup these in order of the outline. This way the facts can be rearranged so that they make the most sense and so that they are in an order which will make the material understandable to a reader who may not know anything about the topic except for what is being presented in the paper.

Writing the paper should be easy now. Starting with the first topic on the outline and the first packet of fact file cards, one simply goes from one to the next in a methodical way. At this point, the writing process can be compared to a cookbook with each step coming after the one before it and in a pre-determined way.

Spelling and grammar count, and there are several reference books out there to help with this. The boon of the word processor is that it can check spelling for the writer. The material must still be physically proofread, however, as spell-check software will not pick up misspelled words that by coincidence spell another word in the English Language. In this way, if “united” was written, but “untied” was meant, the computer will not pick it up.

It is always helpful to have a friend read a paper before the final draft is completed to see if the material makes sense to someone who hasn’t done the research the writer has. It is also helpful to have a second person proofread for typographical and spelling errors.

Often, the writer can miss these because after one has stared at the same paper for several readings they become more immune to picking up these errors. The mind can become immune to noticing these because the writer knows what he or she meant to write and will not be as able to see a typo.

The final step is to be sure that the paper is laid out in a clean and neat looking format. Clean paper and even margins are very good image-makers. The font should be large enough to be comfortable to read, but not so big as to fill the page limit with fewer words.

If these steps are followed, one should see an improvement in the output of papers and find them far less intimidating to write. The researcher may even find him or herself learning something in the process.

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