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What is a Term Paper? A Thorough Definition

Illustration for article titled What is a Term Paper? A Thorough Definition

In spite of the fact that many people use the phrases research paper and term paper interchangeably, they are two very different things. If you are working on a term paper, and you are unsure of whether or not you are truly supposed to write a term paper, you will want to clarify with your instructor. Here a few tricks to help you to determine whether or not you are writing a term paper or a research paper.

  • You will only write one term paper for a class in the space of one term.
  • You may write multiple research papers in one class over a term
  • You will usually be told about your term paper early on
  • Your instructor may give frequent reminders that you should be taking notes and working on your term paper as the semester continues
  • A research paper will focus tightly on one specific topic
  • A term paper may address a range of related topics and be used to demonstrate overall mastery of a subject

What is a Term Paper?

A term paper is a type of academic essay that you write in order to prove that you understand what has been taught over the course of a term. Some instructors will allow you to pick a single term paper topic that was covered in class, and then write a detailed paper on that topic. However, it is very important to go beyond describing the topic and regurgitating facts and data. Your term paper must show that you have truly mastered the topic. This means, drawing conclusions, adding your own insights, and demonstrating that you have done much more than simply memorizing the facts given to you in your textbook and during lectures. Think of it like this. It takes your instructor a long time to read your term paper. Now, imagine them having to take the time to read term papers from everyone else in your class, and all their other classes. All told, it could take more than a full day to get through all of those term papers. If all your instructor wanted to know is that you’ve committed facts to memory, they could just as easily assign a test or final exam. If you’ve been assigned a term paper, they truly want to see what you have learned and how you can practically apply that knowledge, analyze what you have learned, and draw conclusions or make recommendations.


What is Included in a Term Paper?

Now that you know what is term paper, you probably want to know what is included within a term paper. Since a term paper is an academic document that you create from research you do in and out of class, it will contain many of the same elements that you would include in any other paper or essay. Here are the elements that you will include when you start your term paper packet when you submit it:

  • An Outline: Often optional, if you turn in an outline, it should be well-organized, and it should reflect the points that you will cover in your term paper. The order of your term paper outline should match the order of your term paper. In addition to this, the main ideas from your outline should be your thesis statement and your paragraph topic sentences.
  • A Rough Draft: This may also be optional, but many instructors do include this as one of their required deliverables. In some cases, you may be asked to turn your rough draft in separately, before you turn in your final draft. This is especially true if you have a peer review.
  • Title Page: This is the first page of your term paper. It should be written according to the rules of the citation format that you are using, and it should contain a title that is relevant and interesting.
  • Your Final Draft: This is the completed copy of your research paper. It should be formatted according to your citation format. It should be edited and proofread, and it should be reviewed for any factual errors. If you did any research, there should be inline citations included in your term paper. This includes any research you did using your textbooks. Remember that anything that is quoted should be handled properly.
  • Your bibliography or works cited page: This is the page that contains a listing of all of the sources that you used in writing your paper. Even if you do not have the need for inline sources, you still need to credit the sources from which you obtained your knowledge. Fortunately, there are many ways to obtain this information quite easily. For example, if you do your research via academic databases, you can usually click a button to get a copy of the correct citation information for your chosen format. In addition to this, many textbook websites also provide citation for you. Finally, there are websites that enable you to enter a website address, newspaper name and article, or book ISBN number. It will then use that information to provide you with the proper citations.

Term Paper Tricks

The first thing that you will want to remember is to use all of the time that you have available to you. This is not a project that you want to procrastinate about. In addition to this, you should also pay close attention to what your instructor has to say during lecturers. More often than not, they will drop hints about what they expect you to cover in your term paper. Of course, the most important resource that you will have at your disposal when you sit down to write your term paper is the notes that you have taken. Take good notes, keep them organized, and then streamline them as you go. For example, once you use notes for a test or quiz, go back through those notes and pull out only those you think you will need for your term paper. This means you will have less to deal with later on.


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