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How to Write a Term Paper

Draft and Revise a Research Paper

"There are days when the result is so bad that no fewer than five revisions are required. In contrast, when I'm greatly inspired, only four revisions are needed."

— John Kenneth Galbraith

1. Try freewriting your first draft.

a. Freewriting is a discovery process during which the writer freely explores a topic. Let your creative juices flow. In Writing without Teachers, Peter Elbow asserts that "[a]lmost everybody interposes a massive and complicated series of editings between the time words start to be born into consciousness and when they finally come off the end of the pencil or typewriter [or word processor] onto the page" (5).

b. Do not let your internal judge interfere with this first draft. If you stop to check spelling, punctuation, or grammar, you are allowing editing to disrupt the flow of creative energy.

c. When material you have researched comes easily to mind, include it. Add a quick citation, one you can come back to later to check for form, and get on with your discovery.

2. Subsequent drafts focus on writing a paper that flows smoothly, supports fully, and speaks clearly and interestingly.

a. Create a smooth flow of words, ideas and paragraphs.

1) Rearrange paragraphs for a logical progression of information.

2) Transition is essential if you want your reader to follow you smoothly from introduction to conclusion.

a) Transitional words and phrases are the tiny stitches that provide coherence within your paper. External transition: Words and phrases that are added to a sentence as overt signs of transition are obvious and effective, but should not be overused, as they may draw attention to themselves and away from ideas. Examples of external transition are "however," "then," "next," "therefore." "first," "moreover,' and "on the other hand." Internal transition is more subtle. Key words in the introduction become golden threads when they appear in the paper's body and conclusion. When the writer hears a key word repeated too often, however, she/he replaces it with a synonym or a pronoun. Below are examples of internal transition.

No longer interested in the fate of Sethe and her children, Baby Suggs, Holy withdraws to her bed and waits for Death. Chattel slavery has finally broken her spirit. Her only request is for patches of color. Grown weary of a world dominated by gray, she longs for a bit of lavender or yellow. For Denver, however, there is no escape. Lonely and afraid, she must survive without the grandmother who has been her only comfort.

b) Transitional sentences create a flow from paragraph to paragraph. They include individual words, phrases, or clauses that refer to previous ideas and that point ahead to new ones. They are usually placed at the end or at the beginning of a paragraph. Below are examples of transitional sentences. A sentence that creates a transition from the sample introduction to the first paragraph of the paper:

Before exploring the effects of slavery on the women of Sweet Home and 124, / one must first consider the effects of slavery upon black women in general.

The first underlined clause points back to the thesis, which, was the last sentence in the introduction. The second underlined clause points ahead to the body of the paper, which will begin by summarizing the effects of slavery on black women.

A sentence that creates transition from a discussion of the fate of Baby Suggs to an exploration of the conflicts in Sethe's life:

Baby Suggs falters when she sees the scars on Sethe's back; for her they symbolize the horrors of slavery inflicted on one more generation of black women.

The use of Baby Suggs' name points the reader back to the preceding section of the paper and connects it to the next section, one that will explore Sethe's life as a slave at Sweet Home.

c) A transitional paragraph is designed to conduct your reader from one part of the paper to another. It may be only a few sentences long.

b. Each paragraph of the body of the paper should contain adequate support for its one governing idea.

c. Speak clearly.

1) Tone: The paper's tone, whether formal, ironic, or humorous, should be appropriate for the audience and the subject.

2) Voice: Keep you language honest. Your paper should sound like you. Understand, paraphrase, absorb, and express in your own words the information you have researched. Avoid phony language.

3) Sentence formation: When you polish your sentences, read them aloud for word choice and word placement. Be concise. According to Wallace Stevens, an American poet, "Life is the elimination of what is dead." So is good writing. Strunk and White in The Elements of Style advise the writer to "omit needless words" (23). First, however, you must recognize them.

d. Keep yourself and your reader interested.

1) First, deliver on your promises. Be sure the body of your paper fulfills the promise of the introduction.

2) Avoid the obvious. Offer new insights. Reveal the unexpected.

3) Craft your conclusion as carefully as you have your introduction. Conclusions are not merely the repetition of your thesis. The conclusion of a research paper is a synthesis of the information presented in the body. Your research has led you to conclusions and opinions that have helped you understand your thesis more deeply and more clearly. Lift your reader to the full level of understanding that you have achieved.

3. Revision means "to look again."

a. Find a peer reader to read your paper with you present. Or, visit your college or university's writing lab. Guide your reader's responses by asking specific questions. Are you unsure of the logical order of your paragraphs? Do you want to know whether you have supported all opinions adequately? Are you concerned about punctuation or grammar? Ask that these issues be addressed. You are in charge.

b. Here are some techniques that may prove helpful when you are revising alone or with a reader.

1) When you edit for spelling errors read the sentences backwards. This procedure will help you look closely at individual words.

2) Always read your paper aloud. Hearing your own words puts them in a new light. Listen to the flow of ideas and of language. Decide whether or not the voice sounds honest and the tone is appropriate to the purpose of the paper and to your audience.

3) Listen for awkward or lumpy wording. Find the one right word, Eliminate needless words. Combine sentences.

4) Avoid passive voice. "Beloved was buried without a name." is less energetic than "Sethe buried her baby without a name."

5) Be ruthless. If an idea doesn't serve your thesis, banish it, even if it's one of your favorite bits of prose.

6) In the margins, write the major topic of each paragraph. By outlining after you have written the paper, you are once again evaluating your paper's organization.

4. Ask your professor for guidelines on the paper's final form or refer to The MLA Handbook (pp. 264-65). Some general guidelines:

a. Use paper that is 8 1/2" by 11".

b. Double-space.

c. On the first page, in the left margin, 1" from the top, type

Your name
Your professor or instructor's name
The course name and number
The date of submission

d. On every subsequent page type your last name and the page number in the right margin 1/2" from the top.

e. Create 1" margins on the top, bottom and sides of the page.

Works Cited in this Guide

Barnet, Sylvan, and Hugo Bedau. Critical Thinking, Reading, and Writing: A Brief Guide to Argument. Boston: Bedford, 1993.

Brent, Doug. Reading as Rhetorical Invention: Knowledge,Persuasion and the Teaching of Research-Based Writing. Urbana: NCTE, 1992.

Elbow, Peter. Writing without Teachers. New York: Oxford University Press, 1973.

Gibladi, Joseph. MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. 4th ed. New York: Modern Language Association, 1995.

Klauser, Henriette Anne. Writing on Both Sides of the Brain: Breakthrough Techniques for People Who Write. Philadelphia: Harper, 1986.

Rico, Gabriele Lusser, Writing the Natural Way: Using Right Brain Techniques to Release Your Expressive Powers. Los Angeles: Houghton, 1983.

Sorenson, Sharon. The Research Paper: A Contemporary Approach. New York: AMSCO, 1994.

Strunk, William, Jr., and E. B. White. The Elements of Style. 3rd ed. New York: MacMillan, 1979.

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