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 errors!)

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.

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 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: E-mail, Home page, Phone (605) 677-6122, FAX (605) 677-6121