Answering this question is a good place to start thinking about term papers because if you know why papers are such a common assignment, then perhaps you can approach the task with added enthusiasm and dedication. Two goals usually motivate this assignment. One goal relates to the specific subject of the course; the other goal is based on your professional development. The first course-specific goal is to increase your expertise in some particular substantive area. The amount that you learn from this or almost any other course will be expanded significantly by doing research and by writing a paper. The effort will allow you to delve into the intricacies of a specific topic far beyond what is possible in the no doubt broad lectures that your instructor must deliver in class. Your research will go beyond the necessarily general commentary found in this text.
The second and probably more important goal behind a paper-writing assignment extends beyond the specific content of the course. The object is to sharpen your analytic and writing skills in preparation for the professional career that you may wish to pursue after graduation. Do not underestimate the importance of such thinking and communications skills. Most professional positions that college graduates seek will eventually require that you find information, analyze it, and convey your conclusions and recommendations to others, including your boss. You will be judged by your product. A survey of ranking business executives a few years ago asked them what accounted for the rise of their most successful young subordinates compared to the failure or slow progress of other junior executives. Communications skills was one of the factors most mentioned by the top executives. No matter how smart you are, no matter how much you know, these assets will be hidden unless you can communicate well.
2. There are many people who can help you write a first-rate paper. One person is your instructor. Discuss your topic and your ideas with your professor. He or she may be able to help you refine your topic, avoid pitfalls, identify resources, or plan the paper's organization. Submit drafts to your professor far enough ahead of the deadline to give the instructor time to suggest revisions. It may prove helpful also to ask a classmate, a family member, or someone else to read your paper. Most people are not good judges of their own writing. We tend to read what we meant to say, not what we actually wrote. A fresh reader will be able to point out technical errors and lapses in your argument and organization. Writing centers are another source of help at many colleges and universities. You may have already paid for such assistance with your tuition dollars; you might as well use it.
1. No professional writer would dream of sending a manuscript out for review or to press without writing multiple drafts. Indeed, the more one writes, the more one feels the need to do drafts. Only undergraduates have the hubris to keyboard a paper into the computer, print a copy out, hand it in, and wait confidently for that rave review and an "A" grade from the instructor. A better idea is to write a first draft. Note here that the adjective "rough" does not precede "draft." Your draft should be complete and carefully done. Once your smooth draft is done, put it aside for a few days so that you can gain perspective. Then reread it. You may be surprised at how many ways you find to improve what you have written when you look at it with "fresh eyes." The same is true for your third and subsequent drafts.
Effort: Thomas Alva Edison once supposedly commented that "Genius is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration." That is true whether one is inventing the lightbulb or creating an essay, a report, or a book. Writing and polishing drafts of a paper take time and effort. They cannot be done the night before the paper is due. If you sit down at your word processor the night before your report is due and write it into the wee hours of the morning, you will almost certainly leave your reader as bleary-eyed when he or she reads the paper as you were when you wrote it. Two things to do are to write drafts and to get others to read your paper.
Summary: This handout provides detailed information about how to write research papers including discussing research papers as a genre, choosing topics, and finding sources.
This handout provides detailed information about how to write research papers including discussing research papers as a genre, choosing topics, and finding sources.
Becoming an experienced researcher and writer in any field or discipline takes a great deal of practice. There are few individuals for whom this process comes naturally. Remember, even the most seasoned academic veterans have had to learn how to write a research paper at some point in their career. Therefore, with diligence, organization, practice, a willingness to learn (and to make mistakes!), and, perhaps most important of all, patience, a student will find that she can achieve great things through her research and writing.
Writing a term paper is one of the most common requirements for an upper-division course such as the one for which this book was probably assigned. Such term papers usually count for a significant part of your final grade. Yet many, perhaps most, students have never received formal instruction about how to write a good research report. The following pages are meant to help you write an "A" paper by giving you some guidelines about how to go about your research and writing.
It is also important to realize that your report will be judged in part by such standards as neatness, grammar, and spelling, and other such technical criteria. It is not uncommon for university instructors to get papers that represent a good research and analytical effort but that are sloppy, contain numerous grammatical errors, are full of misspellings, or are burdened by other such technical deficiencies. Such shortcomings make you look bad. It is very difficult for an instructor (or, later on, your boss) to be dazzled by your intellectual acumen while being simultaneously appalled by your English usage. Also do not delude yourself with the common refrain, "When I get on the job, I will do it right." It takes practice to do things well. That is true for rollerblading, shooting baskets, and playing the guitar. It is also true for doing a research paper. Now, in college, is the time to practice and learn. Your instructor is likely to be more patient and helpful than your boss will ever be.
Most successful efforts require some planning. Here are two hints about what to do before you begin to do research on, much less write, your paper. Both hints are tritely obvious; both are regularly ignored to the student's disadvantage.
1. Your instructor will (or at least should) let you know what is expected. Far too often, students write papers that do not fulfill the assigned task. If you do not understand the assignment, discuss it with your instructor. It is not uncommon in class or on the job for a person to get instructions, to not understand them, but to be reluctant to ask for clarification for fear of seeming "dumb." This is a significant error. In the first place, your boss will probably not think less of you for asking for clarification. In the second place, asking for supplementary instructions is far, far better than doing a report that does not meet the needs of your boss and is not what he or she wanted. That makes you look dumb.
2. Last-minute efforts usually read like last-minute efforts! Plan backward from the date the paper is due to allow plenty of time to get it done. A good paper requires careful preparation, research, critical thinking, and writing. These steps take time. Also, allow time for the unexpected. Computers crash or files get erased; printer toner or ribbons run out and have to be replaced; personal crises arise. You need to be able to cope with these and still get the paper done on time. "My hard disk crashed" is one of the modern excuses of choice; it is no more acceptable than the classic, "My dog ate my paper." Being late with reports in class or on the job is a very, very bad idea.