Most students, by the time they enter college, have written several term or research papers already. It is a common assignment for several courses in high school. Imagine the shock, then, when some students get their first research paper assignment in college and look at the guidelines. A thesis? What’s that? Primary resources? What are those? Obviously, college professors have a very different idea about what a term paper should be. Before you freak out, here is a guide that no college professor will give you but that you will be happy to have and use. This post will cover both structural format for a college term paper then the various style formats that you may encounter.
A term or research paper at the college level will have the same general structure as those you wrote in high school. Once you have crafted your outline, you will have the sub-topics within that paper. For example, if you were to write a paper on the causes of the Great Depression for a U.S. history class, each of your sub-headings would relate to a cause. So, you might have a sub-heading related to risky lending practices on the part of banks and other financial institutions. Another heading might be the lack of government regulation on what banks did – speculating on the stock market, not keeping enough cash reserves, etc. Still another might be individual speculation in the stock market and buying on the margin. Each of these will be a section of your paper and should be set off by a sub-heading title in bold.
Your introduction speaks to the topic of your term paper. But it also introduces your thesis. You cannot just write about the causes of the Great Depression. You must have a point of view or an opinion or an idea about it that you are putting forth and that your research will confirm. This thesis must go into your introduction as well.
This has already been discussed. Each section of your body will address one sub-heading that you have identified from your outline. Be certain that the information and data you include supports your thesis, and, of course, that the sources of your information are cited within the text according to the format specified by your professor (more about that later).
The conclusion must do one or more of the following:
- Re-state the thesis and the fact that your evidence has proved it
- Summarize how the evidence has proved your thesis
- Provide a recommendation or a call to action, if that would be appropriate
Final Note About Structural Format: Lots of students struggle with organizing their content into a solid format. If you are having this problem, get online and take a look at research papers that have been produced on the same topic. You will be able to see how others structured the content, and this can be of immense help. Just be careful – you are writing a term paper, not copying someone else’s work. You may also get ideas about resources.
Professors are pretty stubborn about some things, sometimes about spelling and such, and they will reduce grades if there are those types of errors. They may also be pretty stubborn regarding format style, and you need to be mindful of this. Generally, you will find either APA or MLA style required. In some less common instances, Chicago, Harvard or Turabian style may be specified, but these are usually at the graduate level of study. Right now your focus should be on the first two. Format style covers the physical layout of your paper and the methods by which you are going to cite your resources, both within the text and at the end. There will be “rules” for the following”
- Title page – separate or not, and what has to be included on that page
- Margins: Each style has its own margin requirements for left, right top and bottom.
- Justification: Some styles require right margin justification; others say “no”
- Pagination: where you put the page numbers and whether there are headings or not along with those page numbers varies by style
- Citations within your text will vary by style too
- Your end-of-text citation entries will have to follow a very specific sequence of information
Many professors and/or institutions will provide a style guide, so be certain that you have one – if not, there are lots of resources online to get a guide foreach style. Purdue Owl is probably the most well-known and the one that stays the most updated.
The following will give you a summary of the style formats of MLA and APA.
Here are the basics of MLA Layout:
1. The title page is also the first page of your paper. It will include the following:
A. Upper left-hand corner, place your name, your instructor name, the title of the course and the date. Each of these will be a separate line, double-spaced
B. In the right upper corner will be athe number “1” – this is page 1 of your paper
C. Double-space after the date line and, in the center, type the title of your paper.
D. Double-space down from the title, go to the left margin and begin your paper
2. Spacing and Margins: There is a 1-inch margin on all sides; justify your left margin but not the right. Double space the entire text and indent the beginning of each paragraph ½ inch.
3. Pagination: Starting with page 2, each will have a header containing your last name and the page number.
Be very careful with your citations. You need to give credit to both ideas and words of others. Here is the MLA format for citations within your text.
1. Put the reference in parentheses following the information that you have written. Within the parentheses, type the author’s last name and the page number(s) – no punctuation between author and page (ex: Jones pp.216-218). If you have a short quote (less than 3 lines long), use the same format.
2. If you have a quote that is more than 3 lines long, you have to indent the entire quote and single-space it. You can refer to the author in the text before you insert the quote. So, you can say: “Jones (pp. 32-33) had this to say about the lending policies of the banks during the 1920’s:” Then double space and insert the quote. Do not put quotation marks around the quote.
- Title page is separate. In the upper left-hand corner, your instructor may request a running header that will appearing the upper left of each page. This is a shortened version of your title and must be no more than 5 characters.
- In the upper right hand corner, put the number “1”
Staying in the top half of the page, but several lines down from your header and number, you will need to center the following, double spacing between entry: Title, Your Name, Course Title, Instructor’s Name, Date Submitted
- Margins should be 1-inch all around
- Paragraphs should be indented 5-7spaces
- Running head and page numbers at the top left and right of each page
- When you pull and idea from an author, you reference it with parentheses, including the author’s last name, followed by a comma, and then the year of publication. Ex. (Jones, 1968). If it is a short quote, you also add the page number after the year. Ex.: (Jones,1968, p. 14) Internet resources may not have page numbers. For those quotes use that paragraph number instead of the page number.
- Long Quotes: These should be indented and single-spaced just as the MLA format.
Fortunately, you live in this wonderful digital age, and end-of-text citations can now be automatically generated with software that is either free or provided by your institution. All you have to do is enter the information of the resource, select your style, and you will have your citation within seconds.