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Term Paper: Using the Library to Research and Write a Term Paper

​The nature of research is to compare and contrast the ideas of others with your own.  Writing a term paper is the gathering, organizing and synthesizing of information.  It is a step-by-step process in which you, the researcher, formulate an idea (hypothesis), using information (evidence) to reach a conclusion.

Start Early

Research takes time.  Don’t wait until the last minute or you may find that the books you need are checked out or that you are competing with other students for the use of the same material.

Length of Papers

  • 3-5 Pages: The equivalent of a 10-minute speech. This paper should focus on one major point that you can support with 5 sources.
  • 8-10 Pages: The equivalent of a 20-minute speech. This paper should state, illustrate and discuss the implications of a topic supported by 10 sources. 

Topic Development

Choose a topic that:

  • is interesting to you
  • is relevant to your course
  • has sufficient material available on which you can form an opinion you can study in the time given.

Prepare a list of possible topics:

  • Ask at the Reference Desk of the Nealley Library for suggestions.
  • Have your instructor share samples of model term papers.
  • Browse through newspapers and magazines for ideas.
  • Check an Internet site for hot topics, such as:

Create a tentative thesis and detailed outline

Concentrate on a specific aspect of a problem.  Break your topic into segments so that it becomes more manageable. 

  • Arrange your ideas in order.  Write ideas not words.
  • Refine and clarify your topic.  Be specific.
  • Support every point with evidence.  Cite sources.
  • Explain difficult concepts and provide examples.
  • Comment on opposing argument and evidence.
  • Introduce the authority before a quote.

Find introductory information

When researching a broad subject, a general encyclopedia will give you an overview and major points quickly. Specialized encyclopedias concentrate on specific topics and provide detail.

Search the literature.  Published information on a topic is available in books, articles, and websites. The process of finding these documents is called a literature search.

For books, look in the Library Catalog. For articles, look in periodical indexes or databases which are electronic indexes. For websites, use a search engine. 

Assembling the Material

Organize the information

Alphabetize your sources (consider using index cards).
Record each citation with all the information.

For books, this includes:

    Author(s), editor(s), title, place of publication, publisher, date of publication, edition.

For periodicals, this includes:

    Author(s), title of article, source or journal which contains the article, volume, issue, page(s), date.

Distinguish Between Primary and Secondary Sources

Primary or empirical data is used to support your thesis.

This means the sources you use and cite are original.  Examples are manuscripts, diaries, letters, speeches, interviews, and published research.

Secondary sources are works that collect, summarize, interpret or critique other people’s research.  Examples are encyclopedias, almanacs and magazine/newspaper articles.

Evaluate Your Sources 

You should not assume that just because a library owns a particular book or article that it is necessarily the best on that topic.  Weigh the merits and formulate your own opinion. 

    What are the author’s qualifications?
    Does the author inform or persuade?
    Is the information useful or repetitious?
    Is the information supported by other data?
    Is other research cited in your book or article?
    How current is the information?

Use a Style Manual

Use this Online Citation Builder for MLA, APA, and Chicago formats:
The Citation Machine