TERM PAPER GUIDELINES
Professor Timothy Heaton
The topic of the paper will be of the student's choosing with
consent of the instructor. It must be relevant to the content of
the course, but it should be treated in greater depth than it is
covered in class. Focus is of the utmost importance. Too broad a
topic will either lead to superficial treatment or an unnecessarily
long paper; too narrow a topic will lead to a lack of source
material and redundancy. Make sure the subject focuses on one
question or topic so that the paper has a definite purpose.
Composing an introduction and conclusion can be a good test of the
cohesiveness of the subject (see below).
The term paper is an oddity among printed media in that the
audience for whom it is being written is unclear. Should the
student write to the professor, to his classmates, or to an
ignorant listener? How much of the fundamentals need to be
described before launching into specifics? Although the paper is
intended for the professor, the target audience is to be an
intelligent but uninformed reader. Because of this,
fundamental concepts, like those taught in the course, do need to
be treated briefly (if applicable) before delving into the details
of the subject of the paper. A good test is to have a friend or
roommate who is not in the class read your paper to see if it's
understandable. (This is also an ideal way to catch numerous
There are many creative ways to organize a paper, so a rigid set of
guidelines is not necessary. However, organization is such a
common problem with term papers that a simple and effective scheme
is outlined here as a suggestion. It involves partitioning the
paper into discrete parts to insure that the topic is properly
introduced, that relevant supporting material is treated in a
logical fashion, and that the paper ends with everything tied
together into a satisfying conclusion.
Starting and ending a paper are always the hardest parts of writing
and can be done last. One good scheme for an introduction is to
begin with something colorful about the subject to catch the
reader's attention and to end with a thesis statement. A thesis
statement explicitly tells what the paper will be about so that the
reader isn't left guessing. The introduction should be short: a
page is too long.
Dividing the paper into sections with headings forces the writer to
group relevant facts into coherent units. Each section can have an
introductory and concluding paragraph.
The paper should end with a conclusion or summary that ties
together all the parts of the paper and leaves the reader with a
feeling of resolution. The conclusion is not a place to bring up
new information or to wander off the subject.
SOURCE MATERIAL AND REFERENCES
Presenting your own ideas in a term paper is acceptable and even
encouraged. However, the paper must be based on facts and opinions
from authoritative sources, and these sources must be given proper
credit. A minimum of three published sources is required, and ten
or more is typical. Direct quotes must be placed inside quotation
marks or in indented sections and should be used sparingly.
Paraphrasing is better in most cases.
There are two popular ways to cite references. One is to place
superscripted numbers in the text with corresponding footnotes at
the bottom of the page or endnotes at the end of the paper. More
typical of scientific papers is to place the author and year in
parentheses (Heaton, 1984). In either case you need a bibliography
of all cited sources at the end of the paper with author(s), year,
title, publication or publisher, volume, and pages. These should
be in alphabetical order by name of the primary author.
Be sure to find source materials that are specific to your topic,
either books or journal articles. Textbooks are usually too
general and should be avoided. The library has published and
computerized indexes that can be used to find relevant sources.
See the instructor or a reference librarian if you are unfamiliar
with these resources.
Plagiarism is the presenting of someone else's wording or ideas as
one's own and is a violation of university policy. If you use
someone else's words or ideas, you must give them proper credit.
You must also obtain permission from the instructor before using
your term paper for more than one course.
LENGTH AND FORMAT
Length is not important; 8 to 10 pages of double-spaced text is a
good target. The title, author, course, and date should be typed
onto a cover sheet. Please staple the paper in the upper left-hand
corner and submit without a binding. Illustrations are not
required but are often useful in explaining graphical concepts and
in giving the paper character. The bibliography should be the last
section of the paper.
I require two submissions: a first draft and a final draft. The
first draft is not to be a "rough" draft; it should be a
completed, typed paper like you would ordinarily submit. I will
read it carefully, offer suggestions for improvement, give it a
grade, and return it to you promptly. The final draft, which is
worth a larger share of the points, is your chance to respond to
the suggestions and submit an improved paper. This, I hope, will
make the writing of a term paper more of a learning experience. I
strongly suggest using a word processor so that the final draft can
be created by editing rather than complete retyping.
Grading is based on both research content and presentation. Your
paper should demonstrate that you have a gained a level of
expertise in the subject by studying the relevant literature. Your
presentation should be clean and convincing with proper use of
paragraphs, complete sentences, and correct grammar, spelling, and
punctuation. Make your term paper look and sound professional.
Timothy H. Heaton:
Phone (605) 677-6122, FAX (605) 677-6121