Term Paper Format

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2003 11 03

INTRODUCTION The preparation of a research paper -- be it for a class term paper, a professional journal article, a technical report at a job, or a graduate thesis -- may generally be divided into five tasks: (1) identifying the problem or question to be dealt with; (2) collecting data (measured observations and/or bibliographic references) about the problem or question; (3) analyzing the data, either by statistical examination of the observations, or by reading, thinking about and organizing the literature; (4) describing in an organized and clearly understandable fashion what you did and what you found out; (5) putting the results of the research into the required finished format. Often the constraints of the format are rather rigid, requiring a great deal of attention to detail. The plus side of this is that you know exactly what is expected; there is little room for subjective evaluation, and you either get it right or you get it wrong. This write-up describes the rules of the research paper format for this course. A number of the "rules" are really warnings of common errors that students make in preparing papers; a careful reading of these instructions will hopefully keep you from making the same errors. Failure to follow one or more of the instructions in this description will result in a substantial lowering of your grade on the paper.

ORGANIZATION The text of the paper may be organized / structured in a variety of ways. However, the critical organizational elements are that: (a) there be an organization, and (b) the organization be apparent to the reader. In most cases, the easiest and clearest way to insure structure is to divide the paper into sections, each having a descriptive title. In general, a paper may be grouped into four main sections, as described in the following paragraphs. More sections are possible, depending on the paper length and topic. In each case a figure is presented for how much space each section should take; note that these are just rough estimates and not firm space rules -- adjust them as necessary. First, the topic should be introduced within the context of some larger problem. For instance, the question of the possible exploration for oil off the Oregon coast might be prefaced with a brief discussion of the worldwide demand for petroleum products and the U.S. need to be less dependent on outside sources of petroleum. This should take about one-fifth or less of the paper text, though not normally less than about one paragraph. Second, the specific topic of the paper needs to be identified and described. Here you need to define exactly what it is that you will be discussing in the paper. For example, if you are writing about oil exploration off the Oregon coast, what aspect are you going to deal with? Are you concerned with the environmental implications, or the possible effects on the Oregon economy, or with the details of the actual process of how exploration is undertaken? This should take at least a paragraph and maybe as much as a couple pages, depending on the length of the paper. Normally it will be no more than about one-fifth of the total paper text. Third, the main body of the paper -- including a statement / description of the - page 1 of 8 -

methodology and the data collection and analysis process -- needs to be presented. In longer research papers or theses the methodology description and the data collection / analysis are generally presented as different chapters, but in most term papers and short-term projects they are combined in a single section. This section should be carefully organized in a logical fashion, generally paying attention to the following: C Select and deal with only 2-4 major points; don’t attempt to cover too much. C Avoid simply listing points; instead you should develop and discuss each point at some depth. C Organize the points so that the reader knows where you are and where you are going at all...
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