11 Tips to help your students master their term paper

11 tips to help your students master their term paper

The term paper should prepare students for scientific work. But how do you prepare students for the subject work? For many students it was and is a rather traumatic experience, because they don’t know beforehand what to expect, and they feel left alone afterwards. But of course it doesn’t have to be that way if they get enough help from the beginning. Here we’ve compiled 11 tips – much of which may go without saying, but better read once too often than too infrequently!

Clarify all basic conditions

To ensure that all students know what they are getting into from the start, the following questions should be clarified with them in advance. At first, this seems self-evident, but experience reports show that in particular clear information about sick leave and handing in sick leave can sometimes fall by the wayside.

  • When should your students start working and when is the deadline??
  • What should be the scope of the work? Make it clear that too long is just as bad as too short. At the university there can be deductions if you exceed the given length!
  • How (how bound, how many copies) and where or to whom the work has to be handed in?
  • Do students have to sign an affidavit of academic work?
  • What happens if you get sick – do you need a doctor’s note?
  • Under which circumstances do you get an extension?
  • How does the result flow into the final grade??

Time Management

Does the school require interim reports to keep track of work progress? This can be very helpful, as students often cannot yet estimate the amount of work and therefore have problems with time management. Because when you have written the last word, you are far from being finished: layout, proofreading (always have someone else do this)!) and pressure take longer than you think.

Literature Review

Show your students where and how to get the necessary literature on their topic, and how to distinguish citable sources from non-citable ones (keyword Wikipedia).

If you specify the topic of the paper, it is best to check whether, how and how quickly literature can be obtained (even nowadays interlibrary loans take time)!). And if students choose their own topics by agreement, they should start researching before the topic is finalized. Sometimes during the literature review, a topic turns out to be too complex, too unexplored, or simply too wrong in its basic premise to really write about.

Choosing and narrowing down the topic

This is probably the most important item on this list: Make sure that the topic does not become too broad, but remains appropriate for a term paper. Otherwise, you will confuse or overwhelm your students. As an example: "The figure of the dragon in older and more recent fantasy literature" would probably be more suitable for a bachelor thesis at university, but a topic like "Smaug and Falkor: The dragons from the ancient world" would be more suitable The Hobbit and The Neverending Story in comparison" should also be manageable by a student.

Additional tip: Students will spend a lot of time on their paper, and it’s easier to work if you’re really interested in the topic. Remind them if you feel some topics were chosen just to impress you as a teacher!

Structuring (long) texts correctly

Students have probably never written such a long text until their term paper. They have to pay attention to more than that the work includes an introduction, a main part and an abstract. How do you craft a meaningful outline from your content, and how do you divide subtopics into paragraphs? How are paragraphs structured? Is the language appropriate?

Extra tip: Point your students to the search function. Usually after a few pages, you realize that you have certain "favorite words" that you use over and over again. If you specifically search the document for these, it is quite easy to fix them by replacing appropriate words with synonyms or rephrasing them.

Cite correctly

There are many ways to cite correctly – the only important thing is that it is consistent throughout the paper. But most students have never done this. Whether you (or your school) want to have students use the German variant (footnotes) or the Harvard method (author and year in parentheses in the text), teach your students a variant and make sure it is done consistently. Then it is important that the students learn from the beginning when exactly quotations are to be marked. This includes not only verbatim quotations in direct and indirect speech, but also core ideas reproduced in your own words.

Introduction and conclusion

The introduction should give a general overview of the topic and then introduce what it will be about in detail (and sometimes what it won’t be about). Some students prefer to write them after their discussion – others use them to really get into the topic, and to formulate it for themselves. Both is possible, of course, but in the second case the introduction should be reviewed afterwards. Otherwise, it may not match the content afterwards.

The ending is at best more than just a summary. A good conclusion closes the arc to the introduction and draws conclusions from the observations that were recorded in between. In conclusion, an outlook on the future or other related topics can be given.

Cover page and layout requirements

In college, you had to submit so many term papers yourself as a teacher that the format requirements became second nature, so to speak. For most students, however, it is completely new territory. So that they learn right away what is important, specify how the work should be structured: What should be where on the cover page? Which line spacing should the students use, which font and which font size? How wide should the margins be?

Show examples or use templates – your students will thank you for it.


A correct bibliography goes hand in hand with correct citation. In the bibliography, all sources must be listed again according to a uniform system – even if the complete source citation has already been made previously in a footnote. Literature, which you have read during the research, but which is not mentioned in the paper, should not be listed.

Table of contents

Here, too, it is helpful if you specify how you imagine the table of contents. Automatically generated directories are helpful, but can become problematic if you change headings later or enter new ones manually.

Formally, the decimal outline has now become accepted. It is important that subheadings never stand alone, but that there must always be at least two. In addition, there is always no period after the last digit – this also applies to the main points standing alone!

The story of the dragons of Middle Earth
The dragon Smaug
Smaug’s appearance
Smaug’s visual appearance
Smaug’s character

Have proofreading done!

This point should really go without saying, but is often forgotten in the heat of the moment, or there is simply no time to do it. The only problem is: the brain is incredibly good at overlooking its own mistakes – especially when it’s 3 a.m. on deadline day. Especially when rearranging sentences, sometimes you neglect to also align them grammatically, or put the words back in the right order. But it’s not just the content that needs to be checked: Is all the information on the cover sheet correct? Do the chapters correspond to the table of contents, are the page numbers numbered correctly?? Is the bibliography correct??

But since you know in your head what the sentence is supposed to be, you overlook the mistakes. That’s why it’s imperative that fresh eyes read through your work!

All clear so far? In that case, your students can always jump into their work! To help you remember, however, you can also integrate your school-specific notes for the term paper into your school planner – especially if you are creating different editions. Then only the students for whom it is really relevant will read it.

Alexa Kasparek

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