The college students have hit the middle of the semester. Mid-term exams are in full swing, so now is the perfect time to talk about those term papers that aren’t due until the end of the semester. Here are my 9 tips for writing a term paper.
1. Start Now. True there are still 6 weeks left in the semester, but leaving papers to the last minute is a very bad idea. At the very least, choose a paper topic.
2. Writing a good paper takes more than a weekend. A good rule of thumb: the number of pages the assignment, the number of days required to write it. So, if your professor wants a five page paper, then budget at least five days to write it. If your professor wants a ten page paper, then budget at least ten days to write it.
3. Run your paper topic by your professor. By doing this the professor can tell you if you’re on the right track, and may even be able to point you to research materials you hadn’t considered.
4. Have someone else edit your paper. This is not cheating. Having a friend or fellow student edit your paper is the smart thing to do. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be edited by a person who knows the topic. Even just having someone edit your paper for grammar and spelling will go a long way to improving your grade.
5. Rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. If there is a point or a sentence that is unclear in your paper and you brush it off saying, “It’s okay my professor will know what I mean”, then that’s a definite sign you need to rewrite the sentence to make it clearer.
6. Step away from your paper for a few days. After you’ve written your first draft, put the paper away for a few days and go work on something else, or even just go and have a nap. Very often, “brilliant” ideas you had in the caffeine-induced haze of writing the paper turn out to be only “mediocre” or “down right terrible” ideas once your head has cleared. Of course, this requires that you write your paper well in advance of the due date (see points 1 and 2).
7. Follow the instructions in the syllabus. The syllabus should be your “bible” for your entire semester. It contains instructions and tips and tools for writing your paper, so don’t ignore it. If the professor writes in the syllabus that she wants you to use Turabian style for your references, don’t just go ahead and use APA style because you like it better. Likewise, if the professor says he wants a ten page paper, don’t hand in a six page paper and think that that will be close enough.
8. Don’t fudge the margins, line-spacing or font size. The professor can always tell. You’re not fooling anybody.
9. Pay attention to the comments that the professor writes on your paper. Don’t just turn to the last page and look at the grade. The professor has invested time and energy to actively engage your paper, and those comments will help you in writing your next term paper.