A term paper is a large written assignment you are given an entire term to write. Usually it consists of a critical and analytical report on one of the topics you’ve studied as a part of your course, to give you solid ground to build your argument on. Unlike many assignments you may have written in the past that dealt either with summarizing the existing body of research on a particular topic or consisted of your own thoughts on the subject, a term paper is supposed to contain both these elements. In a sense, its goal is to check if you can both collect information from external sources and think on your own.
An education term paper is associated with additional peculiarities, because education by definition is located at the crossroads of a number of disciplines, including psychology, sociology, philosophy and others. This means that you have to, on the one hand, have sufficient grounding in several disciplines, and on the other hand – clearly decide exactly which aspect you are going to research. That what this education term paper guide is all about.
As for the size, normally education term papers are about 10-15 pages long, although the requirements of your particular university always take precedence over conventions.
How to Select a Topic for Your Education Term Paper
Sometimes an instructor will assign you a topic to work with, but most often, they only broadly delineate the area with which you will have to work, leaving the choice of a specific topic to you. You shouldn’t approach the choice lightly – you are going to write the paper for an entire term and won’t have an opportunity to change the topic once you’ve committed to it. Here are some tips that will make this choice a bit easier:
- Stick to what you know. Preferably, if you know something about a topic from beyond the syllabus – this way you will be able to almost effortlessly impress your instructor. Having a personal interest in the subject matter also helps;
- Brainstorm for ideas. Take a clean sheet of paper, write ‘Education term paper’ in its middle and start writing down all the ideas that come into your head around it. Don’t worry if the ideas are good or bad at this point – your goal is to generate as many of them as possible, you will have an opportunity to evaluate them later. Try using catalyst questions:
- Are there controversial issues you have strong opinions about?
- Have you seen something in the news that made you angry or anxious?
- Is there any issue you want to know more about?
- Do you have any personal experiences you may use as a basis for your paper (after all, you see the education industry from the inside right now)?
- Read general background information and look for sources for a few topics you are considering. This will help you decide if the topic is manageable: it should offer enough information to satisfy your obligatory word or page count, and at the same time leave you enough to research on your own. If you see that the exact topic you currently consider has been studied through and through, better look for something else to pursue;
- Modify the topic if necessary. It is important to retain flexibility and be ready to alter your topic. You don’t know what kind of information you are going to find, and sometimes you may discover that your findings make your original topic invalid, or open up a much more promising avenue for research. You may not want to change your topic, but if it is going to benefit your work, in the long run, it is better to do so. Unless you have to mention your topic to the instructor at the beginning of your work and are directly prohibited from modifying it, this tactic is a fair game.
Here are some good topics you so that you can see what you should aim at:
Tired of all the guides and never-ending instructions?
- Early Childhood Education: Advantages and Disadvantages;
- Education for Students with Special Needs: Current and Possible Methodologies;
- Punishment for Bad Grades: What Short- and Long-Term Effects It Has on Children;
- Role of Social Media in Education: Effects on Students, Their Relations with Teachers and Parents;
- Bullying in Schools, Its Effects on School Life and Methods of Countering It;
- Education of Children from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Families: Advantages and Challenges.
The choice of topic doesn’t signify the beginning of writing process – you have a lot of preparatory work to do, namely:
- Collect information sources;
- Formulate your thesis statement;
- Prepare an outline.
Let’s elaborate on each of these stages.
The difference of a college-level term paper from what you used to write in high school is that it should not only express your own thoughts and findings but have a firm grounding in the existing body of research. It is just the way academic research is built. That’s why before you start writing you have to make sure you have enough sources to rely upon.
- Know how many is enough. How many sources you need depends primarily on the size of your term paper. According to the rule of the thumb, you should have at least 1-2 sources per every page of your paper – i.e., if you have an average-sized 15-page education term paper, find at least 15 or 20 sources. Take into account that the requirements of your instructor may be different – make sure to consult him about this;
- Differentiate between primary and secondary sources. Primary are the ones that contain first-hand knowledge (reports, statistical data, documents, interviews, etc.), while secondary contain research, analysis and evaluation of primary sources by other scientists. Your term paper should use at least some primary sources to achieve credibility, although secondary ones are also necessary;
- Differentiate between high- and low-quality sources. As a rule, the most valuable sources are found in peer-reviewed journals and magazines, and the more times they are cited, the better (you can find this information out by using indexing and search services like Google Scholar or Microsoft Academic Search). The number of citations reflects the influence the paper had on the academic community;
- Be wary of using Google to look for sources. Many of the results you will get are going to be non-academic and/or biased. Web resources in general are considered a fairly low-value type of sources. Nevertheless, Google can be useful when you do preliminary evaluation of the topic and assess its depth;
- Be even more wary of Wikipedia – information there can be edited by anybody, and there is no guarantee this anybody is an expert. Again, it is an excellent source of preliminary information, but doesn’t hold up as an independent source. Its most useful part is often overlooked – it is “References” section at the end of each entry. There you can find lots of links to relevant information sources;
- Use different types of sources. Although peer-reviewed papers are bread and butter of any term paper, consider using sources of other types: books, articles from mass media, reports from governmental agencies, statistical information on education in different states, interviews, etc. If you manage to land an interview with a person relevant for your topic, it will do a lot to add credibility to your account.
Formulating Thesis Statement
A thesis statement is the central idea of your term paper, its main point or message. If you heard that it is a mere repetition of the assignment’s topic, you’ve heard wrong – a thesis statement is, well, a statement. ‘Influence of Standardized Tests on the Quality of Education’ is a topic. ‘Standardized tests negatively affect the quality of education, as corroborated by the evidence I’ve collected’ is a thesis statement.
You state your point of view on the subject and clarify what you are going to prove in your assignment. It should be a part of your paper’s introduction (usually closer to the end of the first paragraph), but you have to prepare it beforehand.
- Make it clear, precise and specific. Express your main idea in as few words as possible, as clearly as you can;
- Make sure it stands out but avoid introducing it using phrases like ‘The point of my paper is…’;
- Be ready to revise and refine it as you proceed with your term paper. You may find information that will change your point of view;
- Check if your thesis contains two or more loosely connected statements (for example, by a coordinating conjunction such as ‘and’, ‘or’, ‘for’, ‘so’). If yes, then why is it so? Can you make the relationship between these statements stronger and more obvious (e.g., by using a subordinating conjunction such as ‘through’ or ‘because’)?
Preparing an Outline
Before you start writing, you need a plan, and outline serves as such. Whatever structure your term paper has, write down each significant point here and follow it as you work on each subsequent part. If you mark down all the important elements before you start writing, you won’t discover suddenly that you’ve forgotten to mention something five pages before or put body paragraphs in the wrong order.
Education term papers have more or less the same structure as any other assignment of this type, usually consisting of an introduction (including thesis statement), body paragraphs, conclusion and bibliography. Each of them is written following its own set of rules.
The role of introduction is to give the reader a rationale behind your work and justify that your research is viable and important for the field in general. Although you aren’t usually assigned a specific word limit, strive to keep it as short as possible. In as few words as you can, try to interest the reader, explain the reasons behind your research and lead him up to the main part.
One paragraph should contain but a single new point. If you feel the need to introduce two or more points within a single paragraph, either break it up or restructure your paper. Other than that, normally body paragraphs follow the following structure:
- Introduction of a new point;
- Supporting evidence 1;
- Supporting evidence 2, 3, etc.;
- Possible objections and counter-arguments against them;
- A tie-in with the following paragraph.
A conclusion shouldn’t give you much trouble, as it is more or less a repetition of what has been said in the introduction – this is why most specialists recommend writing these parts of your term paper together and last of all. Mention the point you made in the beginning, summarize your evidence, explain why you believe your research to be relevant and point out what needs additional investigation.
Revision and Proofreading
In order to realize the full potential of your term paper, it has to go through rigorous revision and proofreading. Don’t do it as an afterthought even if you are sick and tired of your assignment by now – for its overall success, it is just as important as the first two steps.
- Check your style guide. Usually, education colleges use APA style for their papers, but there are exceptions. If style isn’t mentioned in your handouts, make sure to consult your instructor about it. When you find out the requirements, carefully read them and make notes in places you consider most relevant for your paper. Then reread your paper and carefully compare how you’ve done your citations, bibliography, page numbers, titles and everything else;
- Check if you are consistent. Do you use the same terms to refer to the same ideas and concepts throughout the paper? If you don’t, correct it. There is no need to fight tautology in a scientific paper – if repetition makes your writing clearer, repeat without reservations;
- To notice more mistakes, alter the appearance of your assignment. Print it out or at least change its font and its size. This will transform the text’s “landscape” and make it easier to notice mistakes;
- Don’t start proofreading immediately on finishing. You desire to get it done is understandable, but let your paper sit for a couple of days (at least if you have time to do so);
- Peer-check your term paper. Arrange it with one of your classmates to read each other’s papers and point out flaws in them. Another person is always more likely to notice imperfections than the author.
We hope that these education term paper tips will make writing your next education term paper into a much easier and more enjoyable experience than it used to be!