Need help as you get ready to plan, research, and write a term paper? Whether the deadline is days or weeks away, this resource can help you stay on track with valuable tips and pointers.
Section 1: Choosing a Topic
, will show you how to choose a general subject, narrow it to a more specific topic, and write a statement of topic for your paper.
Section 2: Planning and Conducting Research
, will help you think through your selection of research sources, then guide you through the process of collecting data (from traditional and Internet sources), evaluating sources, and analyzing research results.
Section 3: Planning and Writing the Paper
, will give you solid suggestions for planning, outlining, organizing, and writing your term paper.
Section 4: Citing Sources
, will explain how to document your research sources—including Internet sources—using the Modern Language Association (MLA) style and the American Psychological Association (APA) style.
Section 5: Useful Links
, will connect you with selected Internet-based sources for further information.
To begin, click on one of the section titles above or continue scrolling down the page to the section you want to read.
1. Choosing a Topic
When you are assigned to write a term paper, your instructor or advisor may have you choose from a list of predefined subjects, provide a general subject or category for your paper, or allow you to select your own topic. The assignment is only the starting point for finding a realistic topic for your paper.
Your General Subject
As you think about the general subject, ask yourself:
- What am I interested in? You will tackle the assignment with more enthusiasm—and have more fun—if you choose a subject that interests you.
- Can the subject be properly covered? Consider whether you can adequately explore the subject in the number of pages you are allowed. You will have difficulty discussing a very broad subject in just a few pages; conversely, you may not have enough information to fill a longer paper if your subject is defined too narrowly.
- Can the subject be researched? Think about whether you will have access to appropriate secondary research data through your school or public library, Internet sites, and other sources. Also consider whether there is enough time to gather materials from distant sources—or collect primary data—before your paper is due.
- Has the subject been overused? Use your creativity to find a fresh approach to a standard subject, instead of rehashing points that have been made over and over again by other students in other papers.
Your Specific Topic
Once you have decided on a general subject, you need to narrow it to a more specific topic. This is critical, because it will help you determine the main idea for your paper and set the stage for planning your research.
To start, check general reference guides (in your library or online) to see what information is available on your broad subject. Look for a recurring theme, a new development, an intriguing idea, or a controversy that seems suitable as a specific topic for your paper.
As you skim, you will also get a sense of how much information is available on particular aspects of your general subject. In this way, you can narrow your focus to a more specific topic that you know can be researched.
Finally, limit your scope by concentrating on a specific time span or location. For example, if your general subject is management, you might choose to write about early twentieth-century theorists (time) or British theorists (location).
Your Statement of Topic
Before you move ahead with your paper, take a few minutes to write a sentence or question as a statement of topic. This statement will clarify the goal of your paper and guide your research efforts. Just as important, the statement of topic should reflect the viewpoint or question you will be exploring in your paper.
Here are some examples:
- Frederick Taylor's scientific management is still applicable to modern-day business situations. (The general subject is scientific management; the time span is today; and the viewpoint is that scientific management is not outdated.)
- Has NAFTA resulted in lower U.S. employment? (The general subject is NAFTA; the location is the United States; and the question to be answered is the effect on U.S. employment.)
Reread your statement of topic to be sure that it focuses on a single, narrow topic; is succinctly stated; and accurately reflects your viewpoint or question. Then you are ready to begin planning your research.
2. Planning and Conducting Research
Before you go out and gather any data, stop and think about what you will need. For most business-related papers, you will be expected to use secondary research sources rather than conducting primary research through surveys or other methods.
Now you need to determine exactly what sources are available, given your time constraints and other limitations.
Your Working Bibliography
Prepare a working bibliography of relevant sources by consulting your library's catalog, indexes, and reserved reference materials; appropriate periodicals guides; books, journals, and articles mentioned in your text or suggested by your instructor; and electronic resources such as Internet and CD-ROM sources. If your instructor or advisor specifies a minimum number of sources or requires particular types of sources, take these requirements into consideration.
Remember, you can always strike sources off your list if they turn out to be irrelevant—or add more sources during your research. The point is to start with a preliminary listing of sources to guide your library and online research. In this way, you will be able to systematically work your way down the list and avoid missing key sources.
Collecting Your Data
You are now ready to collect data, following your working bibliography and making modifications as you go along. Check with your librarian early in the project to find out how to obtain any materials you may need from other libraries or universities—and how long this will take. Also reserve books and other sources in advance, if possible, so they are available when you are ready to do your research.
Depending on your topic, you can use a variety of Internet sources to locate suitable research material. Indexes such as Excite
(http://www.excite.com) constantly roam the Internet, amassing a huge database of details about Web pages and newsgroups. To search Excite, you simply type in a keyword or phrase and wait while the automated system searches the index and compiles a listing of links that fit your search criteria.
Directories such as Yahoo!
(http://www.yahoo.com) rely on staff members to select Web sites and newsgroups, then arrange them in hierarchical lists. When using Yahoo! for research, you just look for the category that fits your needs, scroll down the list of links, and click on those that interest you. You can also type in a keyword to see a listing of related links.
Specialized Web sites such as Thomas can also be good research sources. Thomas
(http://thomas.loc.gov/) is a U.S. government Web site that covers information about legislation presented to or acted on by Congress. It contains the full text of legislation and the Congressional Record
from 1993 to the present, and it can be searched by bill number or key word. Other specialized Web sites can help you locate data about global companies, management, accounting standards, and many other business topics.
When you want to search the Internet for an exact match of a particular name, word, or phrase, enclose it in quotation marks. For example, typing "scientific management" would minimize the number of links that are only about science or only about management. In addition, use logical search operators such as AND, OR, NOT, and NEAR (typed in all capitals) to more clearly define your search. Also, be sure to check the instructions provided by the search engine you are using for further tips.
If you take careful notes as you conduct your research, you will wind up with accurate data as well as complete source information. This is important because you may have to go back later to double-check some quote, fact, or figure—and your notes are the best clues to the exact source.
Your notes should include the following:
- Source: Author's name, title, page number(s), and other identifying details you will need to cite the source (such as publisher and date)
- Data: Specific facts and figures (such as names, dates, and statistics); quotations (in quotation marks); and summaries and paraphrases (where exact quotes are not necessary)
You do not have to document your sources for information that is common knowledge, such as the fact that Frederick Taylor introduced scientific management. However, you must document specialized knowledge, such as quotations from Taylor's testimony at government hearings about scientific management methods.
Evaluating Your Sources
The quality of your research data is only as good as your sources. Before you rely on data you have collected, here are some of the criteria you can use to evaluate your sources:
- How old is the source? Age of source is a particular concern when you are researching newer theories and issues. Still, new perspectives on older theories are published all the time. Depending on your topic, you may want to check older sources as well as the most up-to-date sources.
- Is the source objective? Although no source can be totally objective, some are less biased than others. For example, information in an advertisement is considered less objective than information in a peer-review journal. Think about whether the publication or the author might be biased because of economic, philosophical, or other influences.
- What are the author's credentials? Ideally, you want to use information from authors who are experts. Look for qualifications that show specialization in the topic you are researching, such as related academic degrees, professional certification, or work experience in the field.
Analyzing Your Data
After you have collected all the facts, figures, and details needed for your paper, you must analyze all the information and how it fits with your statement of topic. To do this, group your raw data according to logical categories and look for meaningful patterns.
For example, if you were working with statistics about management employment in various countries, you might use ratios to compare the number of managers to the number of people in the general population. The particular analytical method you choose will depend on your topic, your data, and how you will be using the results to support the viewpoint or answer the question in your statement of topic.
At this point, you may decide that the information you now have leads you to revise your statement of topic. For instance, you may decide to broaden the scope of your topic to include particularly important evidence you have uncovered, or you may want to change the wording of your original statement or question so it is more precise. Go ahead and make these changes before you start to write your paper.
3. Planning and Writing the Paper
Once you have analyzed the results of your research, you are ready to plan and then write your term paper. At this stage of the process, you will have many notes and analyses that must be fit into a cohesive structure.
Organizing Your Information
Your first step is to sift through your research, select what is relevant to your statement of topic, and organize it into a pattern that brings order, unity, and logic to your information. These are some of the ways you can organize your material:
- Cause and effect. Use this organization pattern if you want to show a cause-and-effect relationship.
- Chronology. This pattern is useful for tracing the sequential order of events or processes.
- Compare and contrast. This pattern is suitable for presenting the similarities and the differences between two or more items, people, or events.
- Spatial pattern. Choose this approach when you want to explain geographic or physical dimensions related to your topic.
- Problem and solution. Use this pattern when you want to discuss a problem and then examine ways of resolving it.
- Classification. With this pattern, you organize your information according to specific classifications or categories.
Outlining Your Paper
Unless your instructor prefers another method, your outline should follow the traditional format, using upper-case roman numerals for the major headings, upper-case roman letters for second-level headings, arabic numerals for third-level headings, and lower-case letters for fourth-level headings.
You can draft headings as topics (words or phrases) or full sentences. For example, the beginning of a topic outline on scientific management might look like this:
I. Time-and-motion studies
A. Establish work standards
1. Identify tasks
B. Measure workers against standards
a. Record movements
2. Analyze results
b. Time movements
As this sample outline shows, each heading covers just one idea. Also, because you can not logically divide an idea into one part, you must have at least two lower-level headings below a higher-level heading—if you have any lower-level headings at all.
Writing Your Paper
After you have outlined your paper, review your statement of topic again, lay out your research, and sit down to write. You need not write the sections in order. Just put your ideas into writing first, and arrange the sections later, following the organization of your outline.
Start with a heading you know well or feel comfortable with, and postpone work on more difficult headings until you are well underway. In drafting the paper, you may decide that your material should be presented in a slightly different order. Make changes, rearrange sections, and rewrite paragraphs to strengthen and clarify where needed. And remember to insert appropriate transitional words and phrases to help the reader understand the connections and shifts between one heading and another.
When you have completed your first draft, read it through again, looking for problems with logic, repetition, language, spelling, and grammar. Tighten wherever possible. Be sure every heading is clearly connected with your statement of topic—and with the heading before and after.
Then put the paper into the format specified by your instructor and, if time allows, set it aside for a day before proofreading it one last time, making any final corrections, and printing a clean copy for your instructor.
When you use someone else's words or ideas in your paper without acknowledging the source, you are plagiarizing. Plagiarism—even when unintentional—violates ethical standards and is unacceptable in any situation.
As noted earlier, information that is clearly common knowledge need not be documented. However, you must document the source of original facts, ideas, and interpretations, and distinctive phrases that you quote in your paper.
In some cases, you may choose to summarize what a particular source has to say, rather than use a direct quote. In other cases, you may prefer to paraphrase what you learn from a particular source, by changing the wording and sentence structure. Either way, be sure to cite the original source.
4. Citing Sources
Many colleges and universities require students to use either the Modern Language Association (MLA) style or the American Psychological Association (APA) style when citing sources in term papers. This section offers a brief overview of each citation style. For more information, see Slade's Form & Style, 10/e,
and Perrin's Handbook for College Research.
When using the MLA style, you will include brief identifying information about each source—usually the author's name and the page number(s)—in parentheses within the text. Any reader who wants more information can turn to your list of works cited and check under that author's name for the full title and details of that source.
For example, imagine your paper about managerial decision making includes this sentence:
As a well-known management expert points out, "one alternative is always the alternative of doing nothing"(Drucker 475).
The parenthetical notation at the end of the sentence lets readers know that the quotation is from page 475 in the Drucker work shown in the list of works cited. Note, too, that there is no comma separating the author and page number.
As you prepare the list of works cited in your paper, you will also follow specific MLA guidelines. List all works alphabetically by author's last name (or, if no author, by first word of title). Position the first entry at the left margin and indent subsequent lines in the same entry by half an inch. So the entry for the Drucker work would read:
Drucker, Peter F. Management: Tasks, Responsibilities,
Practices. New York: Harper & Row, 1974, 465-480.
The formatting guidelines for online sources are similar to those used for other sources. Alphabetize by author's last name or, if no author, by title of work, showing title; publisher or source; date of material (if known); date accessed; and URL. Here is an example for an article posted on the Web site of The Business Journal of Phoenix:
Vandeveire, Mary. "Banc One Drops Mortgage Unit."
Business Journal of Phoenix 20 July 1998. 27 July 1998 (http://www.amcity.com/phoenix/stories/
For more information about using MLA style to cite online sources, visit the MLA's style page
Like MLA style, APA style includes brief identifying information directly in the text rather than in footnotes. The APA style is sometimes called "author-date" style because the author's last name and the date of publication are shown (usually in parentheses, separated by a comma) in the sentence where the material is cited.
For example, the sentence from your managerial decision making paper would look like this in APA style:
As a well-known management expert points out, "one alternative is always the alternative of doing nothing"(Drucker, 1974).
The parenthetical notation at the end of the sentence reflects the author's name as well as the date of publication, but not the page. For more details, readers can consult the list of works cited; there, they will find page numbers for magazine and journal sources, but not for most book sources.
Show all works alphabetically by author's last name or by first word of title (if no author). Use initials rather than complete first and middle names. Indent the first line of each entry by half an inch, then start each subsequent line in the same entry at the left margin. Thus, the entry for the Drucker work would read:
Drucker, P. F. (1974). Management: Tasks,
Responsibilities, Practices. New York: Harper & Row.
When preparing citations for online sources using APA style, you will show much the same information as required by MLA style—in a different order. Here is the Business Journal of Phoenix
citation formatted in APA style:
Vandeveire, M. (1998, July 20) Banc One
drops mortgage unit. Business Journal of Phoenix . Retrieved July 27, 1998 from the World Wide Web: http://www.amcity.com/phoenix/stories/
As you can see, the title of the article is shown without quotation marks. In APA style, just the first word of the title is capitalized, along with any proper names. Using the word "retrieved" with the date shows exactly when you accessed the source, an important point because Internet content is constantly changing, moving, or being removed.
For more information about using APA style to cite online sources, visit the APA's style page
5. Useful Links
No matter what aspect of business you are researching for your term paper, you will want to bookmark the following Web sites, most of which were described above. Also check your text's Web site for other useful links.
Internet Search Tools:
Guidelines for Citing Sources:
U.S. Government Web Sites:
Securities and Exchange Commission
U.S. Census Bureau
Newspapers and Magazines:
Help with Researching and Writing Papers:
BusCom Online Learning Center
Slade's Form & Style, 10/e
Perrin's Handbook for College Research.