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The Art of the Term Paper

  • By Jason Bacot
  • Published 01/25/2011
  • Writing

You may not believe it, but if you have a teacher who assigns you a term paper, you should consider yourself lucky. Unfortunately, there are plenty of teachers who really don’t believe their students are capable of writing a coherent paper of a few thousand words on a topic, and if you have a teacher who believes that you can do it, then that’s actually a very good thing. In a lot of classes these days in the humanities, students are assigned to put together PowerPoint presentations rather than term papers. While knowing how to create an effective and non-boring PowerPoint presentation is becoming a more vital skill in today’s workforce, it can never replace the art of putting together a coherent narrative into a term paper that explores in some depth a particular topic. Today, you have an entire world of knowledge at your fingertips because of search engines, and that is a very good thing. However, creating a term paper is about far more than simply accumulating facts. To write an effective term paper, you must develop a sense of context, synthesize the facts you research into new ideas, and you have to communicate them clearly. This can be a tall order for a student who is used to writing five-paragraph essays!

But if you are assigned, and successfully complete a term paper, you’re doing your future self a favor, particularly if you plan to go into academia, business, or law. Today law firms commonly have to org

anize remedial classes for new associates who never learned to write clearly and effectively. If you take advantage of every opportunity you have in your high school or college career to improve your writing skills, you are giving yourself a head start over a lot of people starting their careers who have to back up and learn how to write. A 2002 survey of teachers by the Albert Shanker Institute discovered that although 95% of public school history teachers believe that writing long-form research papers was important, 80% never assigned them, because they had too little time to read and grade them. That means if you have a teacher who assigns you a term paper, they’re putting in some serious extra effort on your behalf, and you should take advantage of the opportunity by doing your best on the project.

A term paper doesn’t have to be groundbreaking research. It should be well-organized, it should flow logically, and it should have a discernible thesis, or “thing it’s about.” At least half the battle of writing a good term paper comes from keeping up with what you’ve been assigned. Don’t blow off or get behind on any part of the paper, even if it’s making note cards or writing an outline. Each step builds on previous steps, and if you pace yourself, you’ll do a significant amount of what needs to be done to ensure term paper success. You may not feel “lucky” to have been assigned a term paper, but if you plan to have a career that involves any sort of creativity or research, it’s a skill that can help prepare you, even if you’re still in high school.



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