Writing a term paper can be a very challenging experience, especially for students just entering college and for those who do not have much experience writing in the academic genre. If you happen to be one of those students, here are five of the most common mistakes made by first-time college writers as well as how to avoid them.
First of all, don’t try to use a larger size font in order to make your paper appear longer than it really is. Rest assured that your writing instructor has been teaching for long enough to recognize a trick like this for what it is, and you will most likely receive a poorer grade for your efforts. Rather than seeing the page length requirement as a hurdle to overcome, see it as an opportunity to see how far your writing skills can develop and how deeply you can delve into an idea. FYI: The standard font for most papers will be Times New Roman, at a 12 point font.
Second, and somewhat related to the first, don’t make your margins larger in order to try to fill up that length requirement. In general, the standard margins for a term paper are going to be 1 inch on all sides, although 1.25 is sometimes acceptable. If your instructor has a particular margin requirement, be sure to follow it. There is a substantial difference between 1 and 1.25, so keep that in mind when composing your paper.
Third, don’t make your topic too vague to cover adequately. If you try to take on too much in your paper, you will end up making it overly general, and this is a sure way to earn yourself a bad grade in the bargain. A good subject is one that is narrow enough that you can really focus in on it and make a solid argument. “Images of War in Media” is too vague, as it leaves too many questions unanswered. However, “Images of the Iraq War in ‘The New Yorker'” is a better example, as it shows your reader what war you are going to be discussing and which war you will be evaluating.
Fourth, don’t write paragraphs that are only one or two sentences long. As a general rule, paragraphs that are this short are not able to adequately develop a sophisticated thought. Therefore, when composing a paragraph, be sure that it encompasses all of the ideas that you have for your thought. Paragraphs should generally average around half a page, although this is by no means a hard rule. Consider it a suggestion.
Fifth and finally (and along similar lines to the above tip,) don’t write paragraphs that are too long. Paragraphs need to be focused on a particular issue, and a longer paragraph can sometimes obscure the point that you are trying to make. Keep it focused on the point that you want to make, and always ask: what do I want my readers to take away from this paragraph?
If you follow these five simple tips and avoid some the common pitfalls of writing a term paper, you will be able to write one that gains your instructor’s approval and, hopefully, a good grade. Before you know it, you’ll be a better writer.