(This blog is dedicated to Prarthan, Gunta and Anirvan who helped me navigate through the maze of term papers.)
Writing ‘Term Papers’ can at once be a frustrating and satisfying job!
… in those early stages where you find your ‘original’ ‘powerful’ idea has been already explained by X or Y just a few months ago;
… in those times when one has to literally pull oneself to put fingers on the keyboard and get started;
… when you find out that the one key article that you need to build your argument is not available on Ebsco or the library;
…. when after writing the paper, an hour before the submission, you realize the mistake of not using Endnotes right from the beginning and have to manually type in the references! L
…when you finally zero in on the two or three propositions that you will build your paper around;
.. after developing a pictorial model with lots of rectangles and arrows with H1, H2 etc.. indicated on them (once the pictorial model is done, you realize you have arrived as far as that paper is concerned J );
…. when your kind seniors who do not want to hurt you remark “Sounds good”, “Flows good” etc.. (some extremely generous kind enough people even remark “potential thesis topic!”..that moment you are on cloud nine);
…when you realize your ‘originial’ idea has already been explained ( and say to yourself “Not bad..I am thinking on the right lines..If only I had come here earlier I would have written it!!”);
..and extremely satisfying when you finally take a printout of that document, see your brainchild in print, read and reread it with pride J
In all I found the initial frustrations are worth the final joy that one gets..
Now for some tips that I got from my seniors and own experience on writing decent term papers:
1. The more focused your idea is better will be the paper. If you have too many ideas spanning the entire gamut of things, it is better to zero in one or two that has the maximum potential in terms of eliciting interest and enough meat to write a paper. If you have too many ideas see whether you can split them into two papers!!
2. Once you have the idea, write down in the form of propositions point wise. Then write a brief two or three line logic on the basis of which the proposition is arrived at. It is assumed that you have read the relevant literature for some time now to arrive at the basic propositions.
3. Sound out your propositions to the prof or your peer students or your seniors to get feedback.
4. Take one proposition at a time, break it down, understand what literature backing is required, go back to the literature, and flesh out the arguments for them..one or two paragraphs before each proposition. By the time you finish this exercise for all the propositions, the main body of the paper is ready.
5. One can use a Discussion or Future Research section wisely to put forward those points for which you have not yet found adequate support or those points which are still in the realm of speculation in your mind. If you have any ideas of how to operationalize your propositions you may include them in the discussion section. In empirical papers, you may use the discussion section to explain those results that were not expected.
6. Some thinking on the contribution of the paper to literature and practice and writing them down in separate sections adds to the legitimacy of the paper.
7. The introduction section should clearly mention the motivation for the paper (the research question that it is examining) and briefly capture the summary of the paper.
8. I always used up some space at the end of introduction section to explain the structure of my paper like “this paper has x sections..first section looks at this ..second at this etc…). This I felt made the reader at ease with your paper and help him/her navigate through better.
9. I have always found that my second draft is better than the first..third better than second..so atleast do two iterations and plan accordingly. I have also noticed that a time interval of one or two weeks between iterations where u don’t think of the paper gives u a fresh perspective when you get back to it.
10. While reading papers for classes, apart from concentrating on the content, notice the style too as to how arguments are built, how words are used to cleverly put forward an argument and avoiding controversies etc.
11. Follow the style guide of any one appropriate journal even when the prof does not mandate it.
12. All of what is said here might or might not work for you. So do not hesitate to develop your own style.