How to Outline a Term Paper


Term papers are materials written by students with an expected due date, as it is to be done by the end of the term. It is a long essay that describes an event, opens up an argument, or discusses a research study. Term papers are usually written as early as the start of the term. It is also a demonstration of a student’s acquired skills and knowledge on a particular subject.

One of the most common confusions in writing is the difference between term paper and research paper. To clear things up, a research paper is a piece of academic writing that shows an original research on a topic and the interpretation of its data. It follows almost the same process as writing a term paper.

How to outline a term paper

Before a term paper can be written, it needs some preparation. It has to be thought out carefully and the writer should have a clear sense of what he is going to write about. It usually begins with an outline, which serves as a framework for the term paper. The outline will reflect your goals and the flow of the whole term paper. However, coming up with it is not as easy as it seems. As a guide, here are some steps in outlining a term paper.

1. Review the assignment and pick a topic

First things first, review your assignment. Think if it will bring you anywhere while you write your term paper. Your assignment should be relevant to what is happening around you and can make a positive impact on people.

Pick a topic that you are comfortable working on. This will help you think of many things to write. It gives you the drive to write your paper when you know what you are writing about. Weigh the pros and the cons of choosing the topic and, if you have nothing else to question, then it is good to go.

2. Do a lot of research

When you already have a topic for your paper, do some extensive research related to it. Find all possible angles and data connected to your topic. This will guide you in structuring your ideas before you begin writing. Do not rely on one source only. It is better to have multiple sources so you would have many different pieces of information to choose from. Choose which ones are reliable and useful for your paper.

3. Expand the topic

Getting done with the research process means having lots of information on the table. Review the data you gathered and expand your topic. Many possible pieces of information can be used and written about. Do not throw away any information that can still be used. It is a big help if you keep a backup copy of your data just in case you need to refer back to your notes when you expand your topic.

4. Choose two types of outlines

Now that you have picked out your topic and did some research, pick from the two types of outlines usually used in writing term papers.

First is the topic outline, wherein you only need to write a few words that sum up the topic.

Writing the topic outline goes like this:

Topic: Comparison Between Western Pop Music and Korean Pop Music

a.) Introduction

b.) Similarities

c.) Differences

d.) Summary

e.) Conclusion

Second is the sentence outline, in which you write a whole sentence to state your topic. This is useful when your topic has a lot of data to go through. It goes this way:

Topic: Comparison Between Western Pop Music and Korean Pop Music

a.) Introduction to Western Pop Music and Korean Pop Music

b.) How do these two niches of music fare in the market?

c.) Compare and contrast

d.) Their impact on the music industry and on people

e.) Summary

f.) Conclusion

5. Fill in the sub-points of each category

Sub-points are as important as the main point in the entirety of the term paper. These provide more information and context to the topic and clear confusion. Sub-points are more commonly found in sentence outlines and use bullet points for easier organization. Here is an example:

a.) Introduction to Western Pop Music and Korean Pop Music

  • A brief background on these two types
  • How did it begin and its target market
  • The biggest names in both industries
  • Most memorable achievements and controversies

b.) How do these two niches of music fare in the market?

  • Sales
  • Branding
  • Fan base
  • Online presence

c.) Compare and contrast

  • Similarities (sound, lyrics, genre, choreography)
  • Differences (sound, lyrics, genre, choreography)
  • Standing in pop culture

d.) Their impact on the music industry and on people

e.) Summary

f.) Conclusion

In case of a compare and contrast topic, you can put the final comparison in the summary. Draw out the conclusion from your study and make a strong closing for it.

6.) Review and revise

After every step is done, take a look at your outline again and think of what you can add or remove. You will realize that some things are deemed unnecessary and some have to be added to your paper. You can still revise your topic if you think your present one is not good enough. Make the final outline and you can start writing.

Do not procrastinate. Write as much as you can. The more you delay writing, the harder it is to find the motivation to continue. So, begin writing as soon as you find the mood to write.

The outline of your term paper is the beginning of a long journey towards writing the paper itself. This is your blueprint on how you will structure your ideas and write the whole thing. Write your topic clearly and concisely so every kind of reader will understand it. Just in case you get tired, pause for a while and write again.

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