Writing a term paper

Term papers are a common method of examination, set up to complete modules or seminars. Therefore, their topics are usually geared at the seminars or lectures contents. Your lecturer might also provide you with a list of eligible topics. In this article, we guide you from the very first idea of a term paper’s topic to writing the final draft.

(Please note that this article is aimed at term papers written for German universities and colleges. The requirements at English faculties differ considerably!)

Parts of a term paper

Cover Sheets

Usually, besides your self-designed cover sheet, the examination office provides another, certified formula. Make sure your own cover sheet fulfills the universities requirements!

List of contents

For this part, we suggest using the specially designed listing functions in Word. A typical descending list of contents should not exceed three rows of (sub)headings. Otherwise, the single chapters might be too short.


The beginning of your term paper should allow readers to reconstruct your ‘golden threat’. In order to do so, shortly explain the scope or problem discussed throughout the text, aswell as its academic relevance in the field, your approaches, methods and the final aim of your outcomes. This should approx. take up 10-15% of your paper. Also, the page numbering starts here.


The problem is now carefully discussed in a hierarchically structured manner. This can also be done via certain methods, which are treated in several chapters, looking specifically at each aspect via the subchapters.


To finalize your paper, sum up the most important or exceptional outcomes of your research and your own opinion of them. Be careful to maintain an academic writing style during this part – only take into account relevant facts!


Following the mere text, all the material (literature, tables, pictures, maps, transcripts, etc.) used in your research is displayed in this part of the term paper. Don’t forget to add certificates from other parts of the module and – most important – the plagiarism statement.


Finding a topic

When writing the term paper in the course of a seminar and/or lecture, the group of themes is usually prescribed. If that’s not the case, reflecting the sessions might help: what was the most striking or interesting part of it? Which topics where unclear? The answers to all of these questions can be looked at in an academic context.
Every term paper is built up around a specific question to be answered or a problem to be solved. Formulating these from a huge corpus of topics needs some guidance, such as using catchwords to organize the input:
–  Timescale
–  Geography
–  Institution
–  Level of consideration
–  Group of people
–  Connecting/compare/contrast aspects
–  …
Get started by choosing at least two academic questions, which should appear in your universities’s library or online. Talk to your lecturer whether your choices are appropriate and construct the first outline for your paper. Sometimes the lecturer requests an ‘exposé’. The content of this text is quite similar to the introduction. Make sure to use, or at least name, the most important literature and theories you are going to involve in your studies. After your lecturer has approved the exposé, the writing process begins…

The planning process

First orientation and sighting of material
The choice of literature can be a crucial aspect when it comes to grading the term paper. For this reason, all literature ideally originates from university/college libraries. If not so, ensure your source fulfills the academic standards – not only with regard to the writing style, but also concerning the author/s and publisher. Should your library not provide the book you searched for, you can order a copy from other universities or download e-books from complimentary online-databases, such as UTB or SpringerLink. After skimming the literature, the methods and goal of research should be determined.

Working with the literature

You can already start writing out possible quotes from your literature while skimming it. This way, plagiarism is avoided easily. Term papers written in natural sciences usually entail self-performed collections of data. In this case, the analyzing material should be selected and organized.

Integrating sources and data to the outline

All selected material is now included to the outline. This can either be done hierarchically or by looking at each aspect separately. While doing so, compare or contrast the theories discussed.

Writing the first draft

In this step, order and correctness are subordinate. Try and write every idea down, if there is anything unclear, write it down aswell. Just make sure in the end all the literature, quotes and theories previously selected are mentioned.

First revision and proofreading

Now carefully scan through the whole script and look out for technical, as well as formal mistakes. After you corrected the term paper, pass it on to at least two other proofreaders. Ideally, one of them is familiar with the subject and can also correct any left over technical mistakes. If you wish for a professional correction, online proofreading services are an advisable option.

Writing the final draft / contribution

Revise the text at your own discretion. Remember, in the end it’s your term paper! Contributing your work is now the last remaining step.

No go’s

  • Plagiarism / wrong citation
  • Non-academic writing style (lack of technical terms or consistency)
  • Incomplete bibliography or listing literature that is not used/mentioned in the paper
  • Derogate from your academic question

The correct layout

Inform yourself about the requested font, -size, line spacing, columns, order of chapters, rules of citation and the way of display (loose-leaf binder, PDF, etc.).

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