Term Papers, Essays and more

Have you ever needed to do a term paper for a class and had no idea how to even begin?  That was me in Middle School all the way through High School and into College.  During that time, I averaged somewhere between a score of 78 to 83 out of 100.  It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t good either.  It wasn’t that I was just a mediocre student, I wasn’t.  I just didn’t know how to write a term paper.  It was something I didn’t learn until probably my second year in college, or was it my third?  It doesn’t matter now, it’s ancient history.  What matters is that I did.  I would like to pass that information onto you, dear reader.  After I learned the basics of writing term paper, I was able to take that all the way through my Master’s degree program.  My scores actually averaged 95 to 100 out of 100 nearly every time afterward.  There are variations of the template I’m about to tell you, or you can stick with the tried and true.  Despite what your English teacher might have told you in Middle School, there is another pattern that can be used to make your term papers sing.

Before I learned the how of writing term papers, I just wandered through making it up as I went along.  I never received great scores for my work.  I learned all the patterns that we were supposed to learn: cause and effect, classification and division, narration, process, exemplification and the like.  That’s great and all, but that never showed the how of writing them.  Okay, I relent.  Yes, they do show the how, but it wasn’t the how.  It is much simpler than you realize and once that clicks, writing them after that is easy.

We’ve all learned that if you are to make a speech, there are three things that you must do: Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you just told them.  The same is true for term papers.  We learn that a term paper (a single page for simplicity’s sake) has an introduction, a few paragraphs, usually two or three, that make the body , and the conclusion.  In other words, tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you just told them.  Now there’s another construct in writing that looks very similar.  The paragraph.

The paragraph, the basic building block for larger works, fits this scheme.  And you’ve been doing it all your life (well, ever since you learned how to write them)!  You have your topic sentence (introduction), three or four sentences that support your topic sentence, and a concluding or transitional sentence (the conclusion).  Did you see what I did there?  All a term paper, essay, or non-fiction book is, is an exploded paragraph.  So if you can write a paragraph, you can write a term paper.

Now to the actual how of writing.  The first paragraph.  That’s probably the hardest one to write.  That’s because you have to know what it is that you are writing about, provide some basic information about the topic, and then provide some sort of thesis that you need to prove.

A thesis is not only that huge thing that most Master’s degree programs want you to write.  It can be as simple as a debatable statement that needs to be proven in order to be taken seriously.  So, let’s play with this idea a bit.  The sky is blue.  That’s a statement of fact.  There is no debating this.  It is relatively universal that the sky is blue.  That is not a good thesis statement.  A good thesis statement would be more of an opinion.  For me, soccer (or football, for you non-American readers) is the greatest sport in the world.  Now, that is debatable and not a fact (though some may beg to differ).  I have to spend some time proving my point.

Proving the point is actually easier than you would think.  Remember that I said it would be the hardest, right?  Your proof needs to be stated in the introductory paragraph before you continue on.  Tell them what you’re going to tell them.  Include those three topic sentences in your introduction and then you can use them as the topic sentences at the beginning of your support paragraphs that make up the body of your term paper or essay.  I have actually used them verbatim and no one has ever docked me for it.  Again for simplicity’s sake, I am keeping the term paper to one page, approximately five paragraphs.  Now all you have to do is plug in what you found in your research that supports the topic sentence of each paragraph that, of course, supports your thesis.

Of course, the introduction also needs to have some kind of attention getter.  Look at the first paragraph of this article.  What do you see?  It’s the attention getter.  I asked a question that should have piqued your interest and encouraged you to keep reading.  Then I proceeded to tell you what I was going to tell you.

There are quite a few things that go into creating the introduction of a term paper, but it is vital information to make sure your papers are a success.  No matter what pattern you use in writing, this pattern (what I call the Paragraph Pattern) will still work because it’s generic and structural.  It becomes the blueprint for everything else that follows.  You don’t even have to think much about it either.

Here is an example using the thesis I came up with earlier:

Are you a sports fan who enjoys watching the thrill of the game?  So many people, over one billion in fact, that watch this sport throughout the world.  The games last only ninety minutes but no more than one hundred twenty in extenuating circumstances.  There are more professional soccer leagues in the world than there are professional baseball, American football, basketball, hockey and MLS teams in the United States.  Soccer is the world’s greatest sport.

Okay, I admit, it’s not the greatest topic nor is it perfect, but it does prove the point.  It has the attention getter follow by three facts that support the thesis.  Notice, I said facts.  That’s important or your introduction has failed.  You cannot, I repeat, cannot support a thesis with opinions.  Facts are not up for debate, no one can come back a refute them, unless you didn’t fully flesh out your research and put in false “facts”.

Now that you’ve done all the work in the first paragraph, the rest of your term paper or essay is relatively simple.  Your body paragraphs all start with one of the three sentences that support your thesis.  These, though not debatable, still need to be explained in order to strengthen your stance on your thesis.  This is where you provide examples and statistics.  You do that, and no one would ever have a reason to doubt your writing.  This can only be gotten through research of various sources, not just one but many.

Having done all the hard work up front, now you can sum it all up with what you’ve just told them.  In the conclusion, you reiterate all the things you told them in the body.  There should never be any new information here, all you’re doing is closing the paper up.

As you can see, writing a term paper or an essay, though it can seem daunting, is truly easier than it looks.  All you have to remember is that it is just a paragraph expanded out to several paragraphs.  You have your thesis, a debatable statement that needs some kind of proof, and several paragraphs that support it.  Then sum it all up to finish it off.

Thanks for reading and I hope you have learned a little bit about how easy it can be to write term papers or essays.  If you have any questions, please feel free to comment and ask.  I will be sure to answer.


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