How to Write a Term Paper

A term paper refers to a written assignment that you complete at the end of the course. What’s important, a term paper accounts for a significant part of the student’s grade. In this type of paper, you should explore or study a particular problem or concept and present your findings. It is indeed an inescapable element of a student’s academic routine. That’s why you should know how to tackle it.

In a majority of cases, your term paper will be a research paper. Research papers can be done as a scientific report or a literature review. We’ll talk about the difference between the two types in more detail later, when we overview the steps of term paper writing.

Here are the steps you need to pass when you work on your term paper:

  1. Plan;
  2. Pick the topic;
  3. Choose the type of your term paper;
  4. Carry out the research;
  5. Formulate your thesis statement;
  6. Make the outline of your paper;
  7. Write the introduction;
  8. Develop the body of your term paper;
  9. Write the conclusion;
  10. Compose the references page;
  11. Review, edit, and proofread.

Let’s view them more closely below.

student writings errors

11 Steps to Follow When Writing a Term Paper

1. Plan

After you get your assignment, the first thing you need to do is to plan your term paper-related activities. Think about how much time you may need to prepare the document. Remember that picking a topic, researching, and editing will take quite a lot of your time. Consider contributing some time to the task every day, so that you don’t leave the entire thing till the last moment.

2. Pick the Topic

So, how do you pick a topic? You can do it through identifying concepts you want to research. To do this, you might do some brainstorming. Then just choose concepts that seem to you most relevant or appealing, and try to bind them in your research topic.

Remember that there are three criteria for choosing a good term paper topic:

  • You should be enthusiastic about it.
  • The topic should be educating for your prospective audience.
  • It should also be narrowed down to the optimal scale.

If you have a trouble coming up with a great topic for your term paper, try some tools or techniques. For example, do some brainstorming for related terms and concepts, select the best ideas, and combine them into a research topic. Or you can also use online instruments for concept mapping (such as Coggle or Mindomo). As an alternative, consult your instructor.

pick a topic

3. Choose the Type of Your Term Paper

After you’ve chosen the topic of your term paper (it doesn’t need to be exact at this stage; you can change it in the process of your research), it’s time to decide on the type of your paper. Depending on the subject and your research question, it can be either a scientific research or a literature review. Let’s see the difference between those two.

A scientific report type is a paper for which you conduct your own research. This doesn’t mean that you don’t need to overview the literature though. You rather do it in your introduction.

The necessary parts of your scientific report are as follows:

  • Abstract;
  • Introduction;
  • Methods;
  • Results;
  • Discussion;
  • Conclusion.

A literature review is a paper for which you analyze the existing published research related to your topic. This one is easier than the previous type. However, you still need to dig a huge amount of sources. Also, be sure to explain what criteria you used for choosing your sources. Why did you review the literature that you included in your paper? How does it support or contradict your thesis statement?

Below are the obligatory elements of your literature review-styled term paper:

  • Introduction;
  • Body;
  • Conclusion.

4. Carry out the Research

You should remember that there are different types of sources that you can use in your academic paper. There are primary, secondary, and tertiary ones. Go ahead and use primary and secondary sources, but treat tertiary ones with caution. However, encyclopedias and dictionaries will be a good place to start and get acquainted with the topic-related information. You don’t need to include them in your references list; however, if you have a bibliography page, make sure you list them there.

Good types of sources to rely on would be scientific magazines, peer-reviewed articles in subject-specific journals, manuscripts, etc. Among the Internet sources, choose only the reliable ones, such that contain domain extensions .edu, .gov, and .org in some cases. If you are conducting your own research, then consider methods that you will use: an interview, survey, observational research, etc.

Sometimes, you might want to change your paper’s topic during the research. You are free to do so. However, be sure to notify your instructor and have him or her approve the new topic.

5. Formulate Your Thesis Statement

After conducting the research, you will be able to formulate a thesis statement — your key statement, your paper’s core point. It should be one sentence, in which you will inform your reader about the main claim that you make in your paper. The paper itself, therefore, should either prove or disprove this claim.

6. Make the Outline of Your Paper

An outline is something like a skeleton of your paper. It visually presents the document’s structure through a hierarchical list of subtopics, key points, and statements. Although you usually don’t have to make outlines, you shouldn’t refrain from them. Outlining will help you stick to the point and adhere to the structure of your paper, while not letting yourself slip away from the research question.

7. Write an Attention-Grabbing Introduction

In the introduction, you should present the paper to those who have only the slightest idea on what it is about. Here, you introduce the purpose of the research and its relevance in the present-day context, suggest the possible application of the results, and make a thesis statement, your main claim. In case of a scientific report (not a literature review), you should also provide a literature overview on your topic.

8. Develop a Body of Your Paper

The body of your term paper may vary in size or consist of different parts. That depends on the subject, academic year, your term paper type, research question, etc. Remember to use subheadings for separate claims or aspects of the issue you are researching. Also, be sure to include in your body facts rather than assumptions, and support those with explanations and examples. Don’t forget about the transitions between the points.

If you get lost easily when working with large papers, break your text in parts. Use online tools and apps to organize and arrange your notes in an elegant way. For this purpose, Evernote or Scrivener should work well.

9. Make a Strong Conclusion

After you have done the research and completed reviewing the first draft of your paper, it might be time for a conclusion. If you want to create a good one, follow the ROCK formula:

  • RESTATE your thesis statement;
  • Focus on ONE specific detail (such as the strongest finding that supports your claim);
  • CONCLUDE the paper by summarizing the findings;
  • CLINCHER, or give your readers some food for thought by suggesting further questions for research or placing your findings into a specific context.

10. Compose the bibliography page or the reference list

Depending on the academic style you use, your term paper can have either a bibliography page (usually with footnotes) or a reference list. You need to know the difference between the two. For the reference list, you include only those sources that you used directly in your paper, while in the bibliography, you list all the sources that you viewed or consulted when you did your research. You can turn to online referencing tools like CiteThisForMe or BibMe to have the sources accurately cited for you. In any case, be sure to use the style guide or manual to make sure you provide the references properly.

11. Review, Edit and Proofread

Review, Edit and Proofread

Normally, you should do multiple revisions of your term paper, as you will work with multiple drafts. It is okay to rearrange the paragraphs, reformulate the statements, and rewrite the sentences in order to improve the structure and readability of the document. Apart from editing, a thorough grammar and spell-check is a must.

Here is a checklist for you to go through when editing and proofreading your term paper. Make sure that you answer the following questions positively before submitting it to your instructor.

  • Does your paper stick to the topic?
  • Does your thesis statement communicate the main idea of your paper?
  • Are your arguments consistent with the conclusions?
  • Are you adhering to the style throughout the paper?
  • Are the sources cited and referenced properly?

Once you’ve done all the 11 steps stated here, answered “yes” to the checklist questions, let your term paper cool down for some time. Then, give it another read to polish it even more. If you have done a really thorough work, nothing could go wrong from now on. Just go ahead and submit the document to your professor and prepare to rock!

Published by

Lindsay Gray

Lindsay Gray is a profound academic advisor, tutor and writer. She runs her professional blog at – a website offering assistance with paper writing. Her blog is a real find for those struggling with term papers.