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How to Write a Term Paper

Begin and Organize a Research Paper

"Life is not free from itsforms."

— Wallace Stevens

Where to begin? You may be one of those eager researchers described earlier. If so, inspired by your thesis, you have already begun writing your paper. If, however, you still feel overwhelmed and are staring at a blank page, you are not alone. Many students find writing the first sentence to be the most daunting part of the entire research process. "The best antidote to writer's block is — to write" (Klauser 15).

1. Be creative. Cluster (Rico 28-49).

a. Clustering is a form of brainstorming. Sometimes called a web, the cluster forms a design that may suggest a natural organization for a paper.

b. Like a sun, the generating idea or topic lies at the center of the web. From it radiate words, phrases, sentences and images that in turn attract other words, phrases, sentences and images.

c. The following outline suggested by the above web may change often during the writing of the paper, but it is a beginning.

I. Introduction

II. General history of slavery.

III. The impact of slavery on Baby Suggs before she lived at 124

IV. Sethe's mother and slavery

V. Sethe's life at Sweet Home

VI. Sethe's flight from Sweet Home

VII. 124 Bluestone Road

A. Baby Suggs

B. Sethe

C. Denver

D. Beloved

E. Past generations of enslaved women

F. Contemporary black Community

VIII. Conclusion

2. Start directly with your outline.

a. If clustering is not a technique that works for you, turn to the working outline you created during the research process.

b. If you have not already done so, group your note cards according to topic headings. Compare them to your outline's major points. If necessary, change the outline to correspond with the headings on the note cards.

c. If any area seems weak because of a scarcity of facts or opinions, go back to your primary and/or secondary sources for more information or consider deleting that heading. Your outline should have approximately the same amount of information in each area.

3. Once you have written a working outline, consider two different methods for organizing it.

a. Deduction:

1) A process of development that moves from the general to the specific. Deduction is the most commonly used form of organization for a research paper on literature.

2) The thesis statement is the generalization that leads to the specific support provided by primary and secondary sources.

3) The thesis is stated early in the paper. The body of the paper then proceeds to provide the facts, examples, and analogies that flow logically from that thesis.

Ex. A brief outline for a deductive approach to a paper on Beloved:

Thesis: The spiritual and physical enslavement of Baby Suggs, Sethe, Denver, and Beloved is shaped by chattel slavery and reflected in the houses at Sweet Home and on Bluestone Road.

A brief outline of the body of the paper:

1) Describe the historical elements of slavery in North America and its impact on the lives of slave women in particular. Explore the effect of chattel slavery on life at Sweet Home, Kentucky.

2) Analyze the consequences of life at Sweet Home upon 124 Bluestone Road, Ohio, and upon the spirit and body of each of the three generations of women who live there.

3) The thesis contains key words that are reflected in the outline. These key words become a unifying element throughout the paper, as they reappear in the detailed paragraphs that support and develop the thesis.

4) The conclusion of the paper circles back to the thesis, which is now far more meaningful because of the deductive development that supports it.

b. Chronological order

1) A process that follows a plot with a traditional time line or that unravels a plot line that includes such elements as flashbacks.

2) A chronological organization is useful for a paper that explores cause and effect.

4. Now it's time to write the first sentence of the first draft of the first paragraph.

a. Writing the first draft of an introductory paragraph is like writing in water. You will probably revise it again and again. Knowing this, plunge ahead. Below are a few guidelines for creating a mature introduction:

1) Begin with a "compelling condition or situation" (Sorenson 151). The first sentence of the following introduction to the paper on Beloved is designed to interest the reader. By ending the paragraph with the thesis, the writer leaves the reader with a clear indication of the paper's direction. The introduction is a kind of funnel, with the narrow end (the thesis) ushering the reader into the body of the paper.

EX. A murdered baby haunts 124 Bluestone Road. And she is not alone. The presence of the spirits of African women once chained in the holds of slave ships, flung alive into the sea, or brutalized by their owners intensifies 124's sadness and anger. Clearly houses provide no protection for the women in Toni Morrison's Beloved. Chattel slavery turns a plantation in Kentucky and a Victorian farm house in Ohio into crucibles for the black mothers and daughters who are trapped in them. The spiritual and physical enslavement of Baby Suggs, Sethe, Denver and Beloved is shaped by and reflected in the houses at Sweet Home and Bluestone Road.

2) Begin with an anecdote that sets the stage for the content of the paper (151).

Ex. No longer satisfied with pranks, the baby ghost at 124 Bluestone Road picks up the dog and slams it against the wall. Stoically, Sethe knocks it out with a hammer, sets its broken legs and pushes its eye back into the socket. After that the dog lives under the porch....

3) Use a quotation that reflects the theme of the paper or that is drawn from the primary source itself (151).

Ex. "124 was spiteful. Full of baby venom. The women in the house knew it and so did the children."

b. In addition to presenting the thesis, the introduction also suggests the general organization of the paper.

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