Writing a Term Paper

Writing a term paper can be broken down into three steps. Often, people make the mistake of doing step three ahead of the other steps, which makes for a lot of wasted time. First, prepare for the paper by analyzing the assignment requirements, brainstorming and creating a preliminary outline. Second, conduct the necessary research. Finally, write your paper, edit, and then proofread. You may want to use the NEW Research Paper Planner to help organize your time.


a. Analyze the Assignment

Begin your work by considering your purpose, your audience, and the parameters of the assignment (due date, length, number of secondary sources required, and so on). It's crucial to know whether you are simply providing information or developing an argument and/or analysis.

TIP: look at the verbs (action words) in your assignment or exam question to determine your purpose.

An informational report requires that you research your topic and present your reader with factual information. For example, in a geography class, you might be asked to prepare an informational report on the topography of South America. In this case, you could first describe the entire area, then introduce the different types of topography, and finally describe each area in detail. Other types of organization for informational papers include organization by category or type, chronological order or function.

Note: If you're writing a paper for a business or science class, the format and requirements will be specific to that discipline. Talk to your professor, tutorial leader, or senior students in your program to see if you can look at some examples of good business and/or scientific writing.

In analytical essays, you are asked to push beyond making observations or collecting facts; rather, you will be asked to provide evidence-based arguments that connect to your main argument (your thesis statement). Most assignments at the university level have some component of argument. In other words, the professor will be asking you to state your opinion and find evidence to support your opinion.

These assignments will require you to develop an argument by stating a thesis, making claims to support your thesis, and providing evidence to support your claims. For example, in a history class, you might be asked to answer the question, "Was Germany solely responsible for starting the Great War?" While in an English class, you might be asked to discuss the use of specific imagery in Othello.

2. Prewriting

You can begin your preliminary thinking about a topic by "brainstorming" or "discovery writing." "Brainstorming" is simply generating ideas, alone or in a group, about possible topics. First, jot down all the ideas, no matter how unusual. After you have collected a number of ideas, you can review them and chose the best. Combining ideas also works well. Make sure your topic isn't too broad. "Discovery writing" invites you to practice writing about the topic. It helps to teach you to express your ideas in writing. If you have trouble getting started, you could ask yourself questions about the topic and simply write your response. Remember, this is writing practice and probably will not be included in your essay, although sometimes wonderful ideas arise out of "discovery writing."

3. Prepare a Preliminary Outline

A common format for English Essays is the "Key Hole Design," which begins with an introductory first paragraph, with the thesis stated at the end of the paragraph. The introductory paragraph is followed by the "body" of the essay, which presents your arguments in several paragraphs. Each of these paragraphs introduces one claim and provides supporting evidence.

When you write a paper that combines an argument with information, such as the history topic above, you may divide the "body" of the essay into several headings. In our example above, you might have sections entitled "France's Influence," "The Role of Great Britain," and so on. The concluding paragraph follows the body of the essay. The concluding paragraph begins by restating the thesis, and then it moves into a more general statement. Remember, this is the outline of a brief, thematic essay common in classes in humanities subjects like history, English, and philosophy. Don't use this type of outline for an informational paper or scientific report. Always follow your professors' requirements.

For practice in creating an outline, simply choose a topic you know well, such as living in Saskatoon. You could then develop an argument that Saskatoon is a wonderful place to live; you could claim that Saskatoon has good educational opportunities (SIAST and the U of S), a low cost of living, and a thriving Research Park. You would then need to find evidence to support each of these claims. You would need to describe the educational opportunities available in Saskatoon (the programs and facilities available at SIAST and the U of S), evidence of the low cost of living (cost of houses, utilities, food, etc), and evidence of the "thriving Research Park" (the number and types of businesses at Innovation Place). If you were preparing an essay assignment, you would need to consult additional sources and list the sources. You could research this information by consulting various resources, such as the U of S recruitment office, the library, Statistics Canada, and so on. The resulting thesis would look like the following.

Thesis: Saskatoon is a wonderful place to live.

I. Saskatoon has good educational opportunities.

  • University of Saskatchewan

II. Saskatoon has a low cost of living.

  • Low housing costs
  • Low cost of utilities
  • Low food costs

III. Saskatoon has a thriving Research Park.

  • Number and types of businesses at Innovation Place

For another exercise, try to present the other side of the argument. This helps you to address possible counter-arguments to your original standpoint. For example, you might argue "Saskatoon is a terrible place to live." Of course, you'd have to define and justify the use of the word "terrible" in the thesis statement. You might find that your thesis falls somewhere between the two extremes: "Although Saskatoon has terribly cold winters and uncomfortably hot summers, overall Saskatoon is a wonderful place to live because it offers great educational opportunities, a low cost of living, and job opportunities in the latest technologies at Innovation Place."



Writing a Term Paper


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