ACADEMIC SKILLS CENTRE, DAWSON COLLEGE                                                                      D4.1

                              THE TERM PAPER
A term paper (or research paper) is a long, documented essay in which you present a point of your own—a
thesis—and support it, using information gathered from a variety of sources along with your own insights
and conclusions.

The thesis is directly stated in the first paragraph, along with your introductory discussion. In the body of the
essay, your research is presented and discussed in a carefully organized way, forming a line of argument to
support your thesis. Your conclusion, still focusing on your thesis, provides an overview of the points
developed in the paper and discusses their implications.


When you write a research paper you are using information provided by others, and these people must be
acknowledged. The exact source of their information must be indicated through a system of
documentation—either in-text citations or footnotes. The paper must also include a bibliography listing all
research sources.

Note:    All research information must be documented, whether it is summarized in your own words
         (as most of it usually is) or quoted from its source.

                                                MLA vs. APA

Your instructions might specify the use of either MLA or APA format. These are different systems for
documenting and formatting a paper. Both systems now use in-text citations, but some teachers require
footnoting (an older variation of the MLA system). Specialized handout sheets are available at the Academic
Skills Centre to show you how to use these different systems.

                                           GETTING STARTED

If necessary, do some background reading to familiarize yourself with your topic. Once you know enough
about the subject, create a tentative thesis—a specific point that you can support through research. Write
your thesis as a one-sentence statement that can serve as a basis for your entire paper. This is the point
that you will prove.

At this stage, check to see what sources are available. Make sure that you can find enough information to
develop your argument. Alter your thesis if necessary.

                                      TAKING RESEARCH NOTES
As soon as you find a source with useful information, write down all the details that you will need later for
your bibliography (e.g. for a book: author, title, edition, city of publication, publisher and date).

Information from your sources should be taken down in note form in your own words. Keep a clear record of
which source and which page(s) each segment of information has come from.

Often, research notes are taken on file cards—each with a body of notes on a certain topic, with the source
identified. Later, you can organize your essay by arranging the cards into a sequence. This system lets you
bring together points from different sources in a well-organized discussion.

In cases where a direct quotation seems useful, write down the author’s exact words. Mark that passage
with quotation marks so that you will be sure to present it as a quotation in your paper.

(Use direct quotations occasionally—only when the author’s phrasing is especially interesting or effective; in
other cases, summarize the information in your own words.)
                                   ORGANIZING YOUR RESEARCH

Look over your notes and plan the structure of your essay. It is very useful to draw up an outline at this
stage. Bear in mind that each major point in the body of your essay will be developed in its own paragraph.
These points must follow each other in an effective sequence.

During this process, you might find that you need more research information on certain points.

                                     WRITING THE FIRST DRAFT
Write the rough draft of your paper. At this point, don’t worry about perfecting your spelling, grammar, or
punctuation. Focus instead on expressing yourself clearly and connecting your ideas logically.

Take particular care with the opening paragraph, which includes your thesis statement.

When drafting the body of your essay, integrate your research information with your own discussion of each
point. Remember the importance of topic sentences to establish the main idea of each paragraph.
Remember also that your entire essay must support your thesis.

At the end of each segment of research information, add a citation (or a footnote marker) to identify its
source. Typically, there will be several of these on each page in the body of the essay; usually there are
none in the introduction or the conclusion.

Close the paper with your conclusions. Recap your thesis and the main points of your essay, and include
whatever final thoughts emerge from your research. Discuss the implications of what you have proved.

Give your paper a title that indicates its actual main point—not just its topic. (e.g. not “Teenage Smoking,”
but “Peer Pressure: A Leading Cause of Teenage Smoking”)


This is a vitally important step. Edit your essay thoroughly, correcting spelling, grammar, punctuation, and
mechanics. Improve clarity, wording, and sentence structure. Give particular attention to paragraphing, and
ensure that there are smooth transitions between your points. [See our handout “How to Edit.”]

                                   REWRITING AND FORMATTING

Rewrite the paper, following format guidelines in regard to spacing, type size, page numbering, etc. (Typical
format: double-spacing; 12-point type; page numbers in the upper right-hand corner)

Ensure that your citations or footnotes are properly placed, complete, and correctly punctuated.

                                               FINAL STEPS

Prepare the title page according to your instructions. A typical title page includes—besides the actual title—
your name, course number, teacher’s name, and due date.

Prepare the final version of your bibliography (with the heading Works Cited in an MLA paper, or
References in an APA paper). Follow bibliography models with care to ensure that each entry is complete
and correctly punctuated. Entries must appear in alphabetical order with no numbering.

Proofread your entire paper, including title page and bibliography, to check for typographical errors, etc.

                                                                                                      WM 2003

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