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How to write a term paper? - Part I

1. Pick a topic

This five-part article will explain the steps that will help you write a high school, college or university term paper. Research techniques and processes can differ from person to person, what works for some may not work for others. Nevertheless, when students ask how to write a term paper there is set of steps that proved to be effective and helpful.

Pick your term paper topic with a view toward interesting the reader. As a rule of thumb, the key to success is to answer questions of people that you know would be of interest to the average person.

In graduate schools, thesis writers know their topics must be approved by an advisory committee, but their committee chairmen will rule on almost every step of preparation, organization, and writing.

The reader must be considered, in short.

This means that you may have to rule out the obscure topics, the too-easy topics, the extreme topics, or topics that will irritate.

You also should consider picking a topic that will benefit your own store of knowledge and on that will not bore you. As long as you're going to all the trouble of doing to all the trouble of doing a paper, you might as well do one that will add to your education and background. Why select a topic you already know a lot about? You're only covering familiar ground. You may find that your research on a totally unknown topic will come in handy for the future. Also, as you labor for weeks on your topic, it helps if the subject does not get to be a complete bore. Boredom often reveals itself in a dull presentation of material.

Term paper topics can be either assigned or the “blue-sky” type.

The assigned topics are given from a list of possibilities set up by the instructor. If this is the method used in your class, pick a topic that you feel will be interesting, as has been said, and a topic that will be challenging to you.

The blue sky term paper topics are those more generally used in colleges and high schools. The instructor might expect topics to be done in certain specified areas of study. Or he might allow you to make up your own topic, subject to his approval. Because the blue sky topics involve considerable thinking on the student part, they are the hardest ones to handle. Your selection will reveal your intellectual ability.

Whichever variety of topics prevails in your class, pick a subject that has a great deal of bearing on what you've been covering in the course.

Don't take too broad an approach to your topic. Narrow it to a size that will fit comfortably and somewhat completely in a term paper. If the paper is for the history course, don't take on a huge chunk of a subject as, say, “World War I.” It's far better to limit it to some phase of this event or to smaller aspects as, for example, “French Mutinies in the Trenches” or “Logistical Problems at Verdun” or “Ludendroff's Use of Infantry on the Easter Front.”

Even in a biographical term paper, you'll be better off if you take but a phase of the person's life. This is especially true since you will probably do a paper on someone famous. It would be more prudent to write a paper on “Napoleon at Marengo” or “Oppenheimer and Security Problems” than cradle-to-grave sketches of these persons.

Narrowing a topic makes it easier for you when it comes to research also. You'll be able to weed out thousands of words and dozens of pages in books, encyclopedias, magazines, and the like. Your paper will have excellent focus and may deal with an aspect of the subject that your instructor has not seen before. And you'll avoid that tempting tendency to copy everything word-for-word out of your sources.

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