What Teachers Look For in a Term Paper

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In most cases your teacher will flat out tell you what he or she expects from your term paper. It should be this many pages (or words) long, you’ll have to turn in a rough draft and outline that will count for this percentage of your grade, and so on. But even when a teacher has a stack of term papers, all of which meet the requirements, he or she will judge them based on additional, personal evaluation. Once you know what instructors look for in a good term paper, you’ll be more prepared to meet or exceed their expectations.

A paper that earns a top mark is one that is clearly superior among the lot. Such papers are clearly and properly organized, offer insight, and are grammatically correct. The paper that earns the top grade is one where the instructor can tell that the paper was a real learning experience for the student, and that others could benefit or learn from reading it. Top papers show critical thinking and insight into the topic of the paper.

It is clear in the superior papers that the student took an active role in the research and combined the research with his or her own ideas and critical thinking. The paper uses precise and descriptive language, supports all points with evidence and logic, and the student uses good transitions between ideas on the sentence, paragraph, and sectional level.

Term papers receiving top grades are usually composed of a variety of sentence lengths and types, and the bibliographic information is formatted properly. The student should have met or exceeded the requirements for the number of research resources required for the paper.

The term papers that do not receive the top marks (but that still do well) are interesting and satisfy requirements, but they may be researched less thoroughly, organized more loosely, or may not show the degree of insight into the topic as the superior papers. The student may not come across as being as involved and engaged in the research as the students who turned in papers that got the top grades. Still, these papers fulfill the requirements and are grammatically correct.

If it looks to your instructor like you have relied entirely on the research and not come to your own insights and conclusions, your grade may drop. You should do more than recap and regurgitate information in your term paper. If you make points but do not support them adequately with references and logic, your grade will suffer, as it will if you write in a monotonous style that does not vary sentence structure. Using fewer than the required number of reference sources, or formatting them improperly can cost you points as well.

Your instructor expects your paper to be grammatically correct with proper spelling, and to be organized according to the requirements of the assignment. Make absolutely sure you fulfill these requirements. Beyond that, it’s a matter of making your paper stand out due to clear and engaging writing, the use of both research and your own reasoning, and having developed your own viewpoint and conclusion on the topic.