Sample Term Paper Layout

When you are first faced with the task of writing a long essay or term paper it can be intimidating, but you make your job and the reader’s job much easier by following some basic rules of thumb. Of course, if your professors offer you any specific guidelines about writing be sure to follow those first. Otherwise, incorporate the advice that follows into your papers wherever appropriate.


Of course, papers should always be typed, double-spaced on 8-1/2 x 11 paper on one side of the page only, and letter-quality print or better is always expected. Often you are expected to supply a cover sheet giving the date, your name, the title of the paper, the class, and the professor’s name. Tables and figures should be numbered consecutively throughout the text, and if there are a good number of them, then separate lists of tables and figures at the beginning of the paper may be expected. Tables and figures should always have descriptive captions, and if they come directly from sources, the sources must be specifically credited in the captions with the same citation style that you use throughout the paper.


A paper’s title should be succinct and definitive, individual and informational. Clearly, the title "An Overview of the Hydraulic Fracturing of Methane-Bearing Coal Formations" is more complete, satisfying, and informative than "Hydraulic Fracturing." The title is important because it announces the paper’s specific content and typically serves as a pathway to the paper’s thesis.


Your introduction is your opportunity to be at your most individual. You should get your reader’s attention immediately by announcing the paper’s subject or by launching into a relevant scenario or narrative that informs or illustrates your overall argument. A paper illustrating the costly effects of poor mine design, for instance, might open with the scenario of how a poorly designed pillar at a salt mine in Louisiana once collapsed, fracturing the surface above and draining an entire lake into the mine. A paper on the supply and demand of nickel might begin by straightforwardly announcing that the paper will explain the uses of nickel, detail its market structure, and use data to forecast the future supply and demand of the metal.

In brief, a paper’s introduction should define and limit the paper’s scope and purpose, indicate some sense of organization, and, whenever possible, suggest an overall argument. Another important principle in technical writing is that the introduction should be problem-focused, giving the reader enough background so that the paper’s importance and relationship to key ideas are clear. A rule of thumb about the introduction’s length: about 5-10% of the entire paper.

As examples of how creative an introduction can be, here are the opening lines from a geography paper and a paper on optics, both of which use narrative technique to arouse our interest. Note how the first excerpt uses an "I" narrator comfortably while the second excerpt does not use "I" even though the writer is clearly reflective about the subject matter. The first excerpt is from a paper on the generic nature of America’s highway exit ramp services; the second is from a paper on shape constancy.

The observation struck me slowly, a growing sense of déjà vu. I was driving the endless miles of Interstate 70 crossing Kansas when I began to notice that the exits all looked the same. . . .

Our eyes often receive pictures of the world that are contrary to physical reality. A pencil in a glass of water miraculously bends; railroad tracks converge in the distance. . . .

Thesis Statement / Objective

Most papers have outright thesis statements or objectives. Normally you will not devote a separate section of the paper to this; in fact, often the thesis or objective is conveniently located either right at the beginning or right at the end of the Introduction. A good thesis statement fits only the paper in which it appears. Thesis statements usually forecast the paper’s content, present the paper’s fundamental hypothesis, or even suggest that the paper is an argument for a particular way of thinking about a topic. Avoid the purely mechanical act of writing statements like "The first topic covered in this paper is x. The second topic covered is y. The third topic is . . ." Instead, concretely announce the most important elements of your topic and suggest your fundamental approach—even point us toward the paper’s conclusion if you can.

Here are two carefully focused and thoughtfully worded thesis statements, both of which appeared at the ends of introductory paragraphs:

This paper reviews the problem of Pennsylvania’s dwindling landfill space, evaluates the success of recycling as a solution to this problem, and challenges the assumption that Pennsylvania will run out of landfill space by the year 2020.

As this paper will show, the fundamental problem behind the Arab-Israeli conflict is the lack of a workable solution to the third stage of partition, which greatly hinders the current negotiations for peace.

Body Paragraphs / Section Headings

Never simply label the middle bulk of the paper as "Body" and then lump a bunch of information into one big section. Instead, organize the body of your paper into sections by using an overarching principle that supports your thesis, even if that simply means presenting four different methods for solving some problem one method at a time. Normally you are allowed and encouraged to use section headings to help both yourself and the reader follow the flow of the paper. Always word your section headings clearly, and do not stray from the subject that you have identified within a section.

As examples, I offer two sets of section headings taken from essays. The first is from Dr. Craig Bohren’s "Understanding Colors in Nature" (1), which appeared in a 1990 edition of Earth & Mineral Sciences; the second is from a student’s paper on the supply and demand of asbestos.

Section Headings From "Understanding Colors In Nature"

  • Color By Scattering: The Role of Particle Size
  • Color By Scattering: The Positions of Source and Observer
  • The Blue Sky: The Role of Multiple Scattering
  • Color By Absorption in Multiple-Scattering Media
  • Color by Absorption: Microscopic Mechanisms are Sometimes Elusive

Section Headings From "Asbestos: Supply and Demand"

  • Industry Structure
  • The Mining and Properties of Asbestos
  • World Resources and Reserves
  • Byproducts and Co-products
  • Economic Factors and Supply and Demand Problems
  • Uses of and Substitutes for Asbestos
  • The Issue of Health on Supply and Demand

Just by considering the section headings in the above examples, we can begin to see the fundamental structures and directions of the essays, because both sets of headings break the paper topic into its natural parts and suggest some sort of a movement forward through a topic. Note how these headings—as all section headings should—tell us the story of the paper and are worded just as carefully as any title should be.

Most importantly, then, you must use your section headings in the same way that you use topic sentences or thesis statements: to control, limit, and organize your thinking for your reader’s sake.


Most papers use "Conclusion" as a heading for the final section of the text, although there are times when headings such as "Future Trends" will serve equally well for a paper’s closing section. When you are stuck for a conclusion, look back at your introduction; see if you can freshly reemphasize your objectives by outlining how they were met, or even revisit an opening scenario from the introduction in a new light to illustrate how the paper has brought about change. Your conclusion should not be a summary of the paper or a simple tacked-on ending, but a significant and logical realization of the paper’s goals.

Beware of the temptation to open your final paragraph with "In conclusion," or "In summary," and then summarize the paper. Instead, let your entire conclusion stand as a graceful termination of an argument. As you write your conclusion, concentrate on presenting the bottom line, and think of the word’s definition: a conclusion is an articulated conviction arrived at on the basis of the evidence you have presented.

What follows is an excerpt from a conclusion to a paper entitled "Exercise in the Prevention and Treatment of Osteoporosis in Women." Note how the conclusion reflects directly on the paper’s hypothesis and spells out the bottom line, gracefully bringing closure to the paper’s argument:

The majority of evidence presented in this paper supports the hypothesis that exercise positively affects bone mineral density in both premenopausal and postmenopausal women. Significantly, exercise has been shown to increase bone mineral density in premenopausal women even after the teenage years, and it helps preserve the bone mass achieved in the following decades. There is also evidence that exercise adds a modest, yet significant amount of bone mass to the postmenopausal skeleton. As these findings demonstrate, women of all ages can benefit by regular weight-bearing exercise, an increased intake of calcium-rich foods, and—for postmenopausal women—the maintenance of adequate estrogen levels. For all women, it is never too late to prevent osteoporosis or lessen its severity by making appropriate lifestyle choices.


Any sources cited must be correctly listed on a References page using the Author-Year or Number system (see Chapter 5 of this handbook).

A good term paper takes more than a little research. It requires planning, time management and excellent writing skills. With the right preparation, your essay will land you excellent marks. Get your hands on a term paper pdf or example of term paper for college before you have to write your own. Seeing an example is a great way to ensure you know exactly what the reviewers are looking for.

Choose Topic

The very first thing you need to do is select a topic for your paper. Ideally, you’ll have a unique twist on your essay. Papers that stand out will be more appreciated and tend to rate higher scores.

Do Research On Your Topic

Look for research material that is a little more obscure and skip the obvious slants to work on a more interesting angle.

All your research should come from primary resources so you can create a credible bibliography at the end of the essay.

The Term Paper Outline

Before you get very far, you’ll need a term paper outline. The very basic bones can be laid out early on, then you will fill in the details with research. Without an outline, you run the risk of writing a poor term paper overall.

Look at some term paper samples to get a better idea of what your layout should look like. Arrange your research into a more formal order, fitting it into the outline that you’ve already drawn up. All term paper topics can be organized into a professional outline and this can help you keep track of all the sources you have, as well.

A good outline will enable you write better, so it’s worth the effort you have to put into it. The end result will be a cohesive paper that flows nicely from one section into the next.

Term Paper Writing

Once you have the basics down, it’s all about the writing. The term paper definition is a long essay written on a subject based on the work done during your studies. The actual length may vary, but generally, term papers are around 5,000 words long, or between 10-15 pages. Every essay has three main parts, the introduction, body and conclusion. Follow this format as you write your paper to get off to a good start.

Introduction: This should cover your thesis and the reason for the paper in the first place. Let the reader know exactly what they will learn in the paper. Take a look at a term paper template to get a better idea of how to write this section.

Body: The central part of the essay is the most important, as this is where you will create your reasons or arguments to support your thesis statement. You should have at least three arguments for the position you choose. These should be organized in order of strength, with a strong argument presented first, then each following one proving the point even further. End with your strongest argument.

Conclusion: In the final paragraph of the report, you should restate your thesis and give a brief summary of your arguments to prove your point.

When you’ve completed your term paper, leave it for a week or so. When you go back to edit, it will be fresh and easier to catch the mistakes. It doesn’t hurt to have someone else go over it, as well, to ensure there are no grammar or spelling mistakes.

Writing a term paper is much easier with a term paper outline and template. While this doesn’t eliminate the hard work required for research, it does help you organize everything quickly and easily. By following the steps given here, you should have an excellent essay by the time you’re done.

0 thoughts on “Sample Term Paper Layout

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *