Term Paper Writing - A Step-by-Step Student's Guide

Last Updated: 27 July 2023

As the semester ends, some colleges and universities mandate that students must submit an end-of-the-year term paper to fulfill the course requirements. Writing a term paper is one of the many types of assignments students have to complete.

Like writing a research paper, a term paper assignment equips you with important writing skills, knowledge, and experience that come in handy as you advance your studies and your career. However, not every student takes the task lightly.

Most students dread writing a term paper. As a long research paper, a term paper contains organized information, analysis and synthesis, and structured paragraphs and sections.

In this comprehensive guide, our best research paper writers take you through the process of how to write a perfect term paper, what to do and what not to do, and more insights and tips to help you get the best grades.

What is a Term Paper?

A term paper is a long research paper, just like a thesis, dissertation, or capstone project, only that it is required at the end of the school semester. Term papers can be scientific reports, case studies, thesis-driven research papers, or scientific research papers based on an assigned topic, which contributes to your final grade.

Writing a term paper entails exploring a certain topic through thorough research and analysis of data that is collected throughout the course or part of the course period. Most term papers focus on a specific concept, issue, problem, or event, depending on the prompt that your academic advisor, professor, or instructor gives you.

The standard practice is for you to write the paper within the semester and submit it at the end of the college or university semester.

Professors and lecturers assign term paper assignments to evaluate the knowledge of students about the course concepts and contents. Most term papers take the structure of scientific reports.

Every course has its preferred term paper writing requirements, which your professor or teacher will share with you when you are given the assignment. Nevertheless, it is common to undertake in-depth research, analysis, synthesis, and use technical writing skills to achieve the intended goals.

As with any academic assignment, the term paper has to be organized, analytical, and polished to show that you have mastered the knowledge from the specific course.

How long is a Research Paper?

As a general rule of thumb, a term paper should be 10-double spaced pages or five single-spaced pages and above. However, for a term paper full of information, a minimum of 15 pages is fine.

A typical term paper is between 3000 and 5000 words long. It could be more or less, depending on what your professor wants, departmental/institutional requirements, and the complexity of the topic.

Regarding how many references a term paper should have, each page should have 1-3 references. If it is a ten-page term paper, it should have 10-15 references. If you have less than 10 pages, you skimped through the writing process, and your all-nighter probably did not pay.

A college term paper is between 5-7 pages. However, you can consult with your instructor or professor if you are unsure. This answers your question on how long is a term paper writing assignment, doesn't it?

Term Paper Outline or Structure

As you settle in to write a term paper, it is imperative to understand its structure so that you are prepared to handle it confidently.

A term paper outline is a roadmap of the specific components you want to achieve when writing the term paper. It gives a clear picture of every section, including the most pertinent details that you intend to include in every section of the paper.

A typical thesis-driven term paper has an introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion. You can write the paper like an essay only that it will certainly have more paragraphs compared to a typical 5-paragraph essay. If you are writing such a paper, utilize headings and subheadings for the term paper sections to make your ideas flow well and for readers to easily follow the paper.

You can also write a term paper as a scientific research paper, especially if you have collected and analyzed data to make certain conclusions, answer research questions, or test hypotheses.

You can add a list of figures, tables, or abbreviations to your term paper if it is a requirement.

Read more about making a perfect research paper outline to adopt an outline format that works for you for the term paper you are writing. Check out our guide on the parts of a research paper.

How to Do a Term Paper: Steps to Take

If you are writing a term paper, you are going to have a long time (entire semester), which means breaking everything down to avoid unnecessary writer’s block and procrastination. Failure to plan will make you write a last-minute term paper, riddled with mistakes and omissions.  To write a term paper effectively, follow these steps.

Step #1: Read the Assignment Prompt

As part of the preparation stages, begin the term paper writing process by reading the instructions. as you read, focus on:

The term paper prompt or instructions sometimes come with a rubric that breaks down what the instructor will be checking as they mark your paper. Ensure that you have everything figured out by the time you are writing and submitting the paper.

Step #2: Plan the Tern Paper Writing Process

Given the understanding, you need to plan the term paper writing process by coming up with a calendar to budget the time to achieve milestones. If there are deliverables such as research topic, proposal, annotated bibliography, outline, literature review, or anything else, ensure that you mark the dates on your calendar and plan for their delivery.

When planning the paper, brainstorm and come up with term paper topics and ideas. You should research widely by reading the course content (assigned readings). You should eliminate the topics and settle for the one that is interesting, relevant, relatable, and manageable. When selecting the topic, do your preliminary research to check if there are good scholarly sources you can use when writing the paper. You can also consult with your professor.

When you have the topic, write a term paper proposal that details the topic, rationale for choosing the topic, objectives of the term paper, research questions or hypotheses, thesis statement, purpose and problem statement, methodology, timelines, and budget.

Consult with your professor if there are any changes to be made on the topic or if you are unsure about the next step to take. If everything is approved, proceed to the research phase.

Step #3: Research, Take Notes, and Organize Sources

After getting approval for the topic, it is now time to delve deep into research. If you are doing secondary research, which mainly focuses on reading scholarly and official documents, ensure that you prepare well for it. Do systematic research to identify the sources of information to use in the research paper. As well, ensure that you execute the scientific research well so that you can prove a hypothesis or answer to a given research question. You can use qualitative, quantitative, or mixed-methods approach, depending on the topic and the scope of research.

When you are doing a research-based term paper, consider primary and secondary sources. We recommend using University library databases such as EBSCOhost, ProQuest, Psych Net, Science Direct, PubMed, CINHAL, or Google Scholar. Google search is also a good place to begin.

DO NOT use WIKIPEDIA, YOUTUBE, Personal blogs, News websites, and other shoddy blogs you find online. Well, you can use non-scholarly sources to familiarize yourself with the topic, but not within the paper. You should strive to ensure that you have a balance for the selected sources.

Although most colleges and universities will give you access to scholarly sources, when supplementing such, choose a credible scholarly source wisely. Use specific keywords in Google Search and for academic libraries. Focus on data from science and educational resources, government records, official reports, open educational resources, journal articles, and other credible sources.

Take notes as you research, which comes in handy when preparing the outline and when writing the paper. Ensure that you indicate the source of information in your notes. You can use tables to organize similar information to make it easy to develop paragraphs.

Each time you get a befitting credible source, log it into your list of potential references. You can use online citation management tools to organize the sources you have selected in alphabetical order. If possible, download the source in pdf format and read it as you highlight major points using different color codes. You can even print them out and make physical notes in writing.

Step #4: Make a Term Paper Outline

Now that you have researched and have an idea of what your paper should look like, visualize it by creating an outline.

You can make a decimal, full-sentence, or alphanumeric outline for your term paper. The outline should contain the major points including the thesis statement, topic sentences, supporting ideas, research questions, hypotheses, and other fine details about the paper.

Format your term paper outline, as you would want the term paper itself to be when you are done writing it.

If you have any charts, images, figures, or data tables, ensure that you have an appendix section. We already covered the formal structure of a term paper, check the previous section.

Step #5: Write the First Draft

Now that you have the ideas outlined, it is time to start working on the first draft. If you had submitted a term paper proposal, it would be easier to develop everything going forward. However, you will need to change the tone, tenses, and language to match that of the term paper. The proposal is written in the future tense while a term paper in the present or past tense since it reports research that you conducted.

Begin writing your term paper from the introduction to the conclusion. After you are done with everything, write the abstract and polish your paper.

The introduction should start with an attention grabber to enthuse your readers. It can be a statement, fact, or statistic to point to the importance of the topic. You should then provide an overview of the topic, including stating the purpose of the term paper. Your introduction also entails your problem statement, including the rationale for exploring the topic. Include the research questions, hypothesis, and thesis statement of the term paper. You can use the funnel introduction approach so that your readers can appreciate your writing prowess. The introduction should also signpost (highlight) what the readers should expect in the subsequent sections.

With the results of the study or the research notes, write the body section of the paper. For the body paragraphs, write topic sentences, supporting details, explanations, links, and concluding sentences until you are done with the section. Write the literature review critically and present the facts chronologically. You should develop all the arguments gradually and use section headings and subheadings to organize information. Prioritize ideas in terms of their strengths and cite every piece of information from external sources to avoid plagiarism. Paraphrase the ideas from other sources well and avoid overusing vocabulary when developing ideas in the term paper. You should also balance the body paragraphs so that your audience/readers are not bored or confused when reading.

Finally, when writing the conclusion of the term paper, summarize the information you have discussed in the body. Restate the thesis and show how you have addressed it in the paper. Have a concluding sentence that gives your readers a good closure.

When you are done with the conclusion, write the abstract to summarize the entire term paper.

Step #6: Polish the Term Paper

You have spent the longest time writing the term paper and all you now have is a draft. It is recommended that you take a break from writing to refresh your mind. A few days off your writing schedule will not hurt the submission deadline. When on the break do anything unrelated to the term paper. Such breathers are great; you resume working on the paper with an objective mind and a keen eye.

An outstanding term paper has a good flow, contains minimal to no errors, and addresses the research topic. You must not tire to revise the paper until you are sure it meets the rubric requirements. You should focus on moving the paragraphs around, deleting unnecessary sections, replacing paragraphs, and re-writing some sections to make sense to the readers.

When polishing the paper, focus on removing all the grammatical, stylistic, and spelling errors in the paper. As well, ensure that the format of the paper is right. Check the in-text citations to ensure that they are referenced in the references list section. The goal here is to have a high-quality term paper that your professor reads and wants to keep reading or share with friends; one that they will post on the school website as a sample for a perfectly done paper.

Check the choice and use of words. You should ensure that every topic sentence makes sense. Additionally, ensure that you have used the right phrases and words within paragraphs. Your supporting sentences should have citations and explanations. The concluding sentences should use the right transition words to give your paper a good flow.

If you are sure you have edited it enough, consider having a peer review of the term paper to ascertain that you have met the requirements. You can also hire qualified scholars or editors to check your paper against the rubric and advise on areas to make changes or realign for better grades.

Incorporate the changes and turn the first draft into a final draft term paper that you can confidently submit.

Related: How to write a perfect nursing term paper.

Tips for Formatting a Term Paper

College and university papers have a preferred standard format. Students must ensure that they meet the formatting requirements for term papers as specified in the instructions.

Although considered straightforward, formatting alone carries some marks and can affect the grade you get for your term paper.

If you have written your paper but do not know how to format it, you can hire a proofreader or editor for the task.

There are several styles to format a term paper, including MLA, Chicago, APA, oxford, etc. Let us look at the most popular styles.

Formatting a Term paper in APA

Students pursuing social sciences such as psychology, anthropology, social work, sociology, education, geography, and other fields such as engineering, nursing, business, communications, and related fields mostly use APA formatting style. An APA term paper will have the following:

We have a quick formatting guide for APA papers; check it as you polish your paper.

Formatting a Term Paper in Chicago Style

The Chicago or Turabian formatting style is used mostly for religion, theology, law, and other humanities and social sciences.

When writing in Chicago or Turabian style, ensure to format your paper as follows:

MLA Term Paper Formatting

You can format your term paper in MLA if you are pursuing humanities such as history, English and Literature, Arts, archeology, etc. some of the salient features of this style include:

How do you end a Term Paper?

A good term paper should have a comprehensive conclusion. Refer to this source for term paper writing tips (external website). To end your term paper:

Can I end the research paper with a question? Yes, why not? Ending a paper with a question leaves the reader thinking about the content. It entices them to read the piece yet again. A professor doing this means an excellent grade.

Typically, people use words such as sum, conclusion, closing, wind up, etc. However, these words are clichés. Be innovative at the end of your term paper.

Use words like:

These words are not as stiff as the common concluding transition words. Remember, a thesis should come in the introduction of your term paper. It is only restated in your conclusion.

Before you close this page…

This information on how to write a term paper can help you construct the best term papers and score the best grades. Choose the best topic and have an outline.

Related: Writing article titles in a term paper.

On your GPA hunt, though, writing a term paper can be tough. Getting time to complete college assignments is challenging due to work-life balance. Maybe you have a family to take care of, errands to run, or chores to complete; you can be literarily stuck with your paper.

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Our experienced professional writers will also offer proofreading and editing services free when you order from our website. Besides, they will also come through if you are stuck with choosing a topic for your term paper.

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If you are hoping to choose the best term paper topics, consider our posts and guides including: