Understanding the Elements of a
Term paper

Managing sources Sources are a very important component of any research paper.  They add credibility and respect to your words.  Before you begin writing your paper gather your sources.  You can always add more later if needed but find some good sources and read what they have to say.  These could be journal articles, chapters in books, newspaper reports, or online articles.  Make sure you realize that online publications DO NOT go through the same scrutiny as printed works.  There is no requirement that the facts are correct or even the text online is truthful.  So you have to do more work to verify the online sources than you do the printed sources.

Verifying the online sources is not easy.  But there are some easy ways to determine if a source is not credible.   There are several sites available that provide a list of checks you can perform before you use a source.  Here are some of the websites:

The Five W's of Web Site Evaluation
Criteria for evaluating Wed Sites
Tutorial for Evaluating Web Pages

Word makes it very easy to manage your sources once you have gathered and verified them.  The management of sources can be found on the References ribbon and the Citations and Bibliography area.  You will want to identify the style you will be using for your sources (APA, MLA...).

Start a new document and save it as your new term paper.  Select the Style for your sources on the References ribbon, Citations and Bibliography area. then select the "Manage Sources". 

The Source Manager dialog box has two main areas: Master List and Current List.  The Current List is the one that pertains to the current document.  The Master List is the list of ALL sources you have entered in all the documents created on that computer, saved for future use.  If you have a source in the Master List to be used in the current document, just select it in the Master List and click "Copy" to move it to the Current List.

To add new sources to your Current List (these will also be added to your Master List for future documents you create) click "New".  The Create Source dialogue box should display.  Select the "Type of Source" (this is sometimes the most difficult part!).  Depending on the type of source the fields in the Bibliography are of the dialogue box will change.  Make sure to complete all of the fields once you identify the type of source.  When you are finished, click "OK" to save the new source.  If you made a mistake you can always select the source and click "Edit" in the Source Manager dialogue box.

Enter all the sources that you have gathered.  This will make it very easy to cite the sources once you begin your paper.


section breaks Section breaks can be used to separate the different areas of your paper.  They can be inserted within a page (continuous section break) or to separate and move to the next page.  The primary reason section breaks are used is to change something in the new section.  For example:
  • Changing the orientation, format, margins... of a section (a page that you would like to have in landscape orientation or columns.)
  • Changing the headers or footers within your document (cover page might have no headers and footers, Table of Contents (TOC) may have its own type of headers and footers, body of paper has its own headers and footers etc)
  • Resetting the page number (body of paper might start page numbering at 1)

Section breaks are good to insert as page breaks between your different term paper elements.  Instead of inserting a page break between cover page and TOC, insert a "next page" section break  Do the same between all the other elements. 

To insert a section break click on "Breaks" on the Page Layout ribbon, Page Setup area.  The section breaks are the lower half of the list and indicate the type of section break you want to insert.  The section break (along with other white-space) can be viewed in a document by clicking the "show/hide" icon ( ∂ ) on the Home ribbon, Paragraph area.

Once you have all the section breaks inserted the headers and footers for a section can be linked or unlinked with the previous section.  Page numbers can be reformatted in a section to restart at 1.  The orientation or page formatting can be modified in a given section.   For any of these section modifications all you need to do is move the insertion point into the new section and make the change.  Most changes will effect from one section break to the next section break.  Although linked headers and footers and resetting page number will begin with this section and extend through to the end of the document unless one of the next section changes it again.

Even if you think that you will not want to have separate sections the sections breaks will not cause a problem.  Better to insert them between elements and then they are there if you need them.


Cover page The cover page (title page) comes first in a term paper.  This element of the term paper informs about the title of the report, the name of an author (studentís name), professorís name, due date and the name of the course.  This can also contain an illustration that supports the subject of the paper.

Word provides some templates to use when creating the cover page on the Insert ribbon and the Pages area.  Whether you use a template or create it from scratch it should be the first page of the paper.


table of contents The table of contents (TOC) follows the cover page and should be on its own page.  The TOC gives the reader a preview of your main topics in the paper.

Word makes it very easy to insert and update a TOC.  This is the best approach since your pages and headings may change as you edit your paper, you do not want to have to manually edit your TOC.  Set aside a page(section) for the TOC but you will actually insert it once your paper is close to complete.

The TOC tools are found on the References ribbon, Table of Contents area.  Once your paper is almost complete you will convert all of your main topic headings (chapter names, section titles, topic headers or whatever you are using) to the style "Heading 1", "Heading 2", etc.  The styles can be found on the Home ribbon in the Styles area.  Move through your entire paper, select each main heading, click on the "Heading 1" style.

To modify the "Heading 1" style or any of the other default styles just launch the Styles dialogue box.  Scroll to the style you want to modify, select the "list button" (upside down triangle) to the left of the style name and select "Modify".  You can change almost anything about the style and it will then apply to all text that has that style.

If you would like any subheadings to be listed in the TOC, then you should select those using "Heading 2" style.  You can work through "Heading 3" if you like.  Then your TOC will have three levels of information.  One level is usually sufficient for most term papers under 25 pages.

Once you have established your heading styles in your paper, return to the blank page/section for the TOC.  Insert a few blank lines, then insert the TOC by selecting one of the built in formats (easiest) or "Insert Table of Contents" once you click the "Table of Contents" on the References ribbon, Table of Contents area.  By selecting the "Insert Table of Content" you have the opportunity to adjust some of the settings.  This is not typically needed and most individuals just use the "Automatic Table 1" or "Automatic Table 2" built in formats.

The TOC should now be inserted.  It is best not to make any manual changes to the format as this will reduce the automatic updating that Word will take care of.

Once your paper is complete you should update the TOC by clicking "Update Table" on the References ribbon, Table of Contents area.  The pop-up window allows you to just update the page numbers, but it is usually better to update everything.  Then any changes you made to your headings will be update as well.


body of the paper Your paper should begin on a new page.  It will make the paper seem more organized if you have topic headings or chapter titles.  These will also serve as entries in the TOC as noted above.

It is suggested that you begin your paper with an outline.  This can be as easy as just listing the topic headings and then filling in the text underneath.  The paper should always have an introduction and a conclusion.

The introduction presents the problems of the research. It is the part of the work where the thesis statement is given. The writer describes the main goal and all the means to achieve it.

The biggest part of the term paper format is the main body. Here the author develops the thesis statement and discusses the problems. All the evidence, proofs, facts are discussed in detail in this part. The writer explains the points and position. This part contains citations which require proper formatting. Each paragraph of the paper should have a citation unless it is an opinion of the writer.  Citations are used to indicate where the information came from - even if you are not quoting the information it should be cited.  When a paragraph is not cited then one has to wonder if the writer simply made up the information.  Citations and footnotes are discussed below.

The paper ends with the conclusion. This part summarizes all the arguments, presenting the results of the research. Everything mentioned in the conclusion should be based on the facts and proofs presented in the main body.


citing sources &
Just about every paragraph should have at least one citation.  This adds credibility to the information.  The writer should determine the style (APA, MLA...) of the citations before beginning the paper.  See the "managing sources" section above.

Citations can be entered directly inline within the text or as a footnote.  Some writers use the footnote option so that the paragraph does not become cluttered with several citations that can be distracting to the reader.  Whichever format you choose the insertion of the citation is the same.  To insert the citation simply click the "Insert Citation" on the References ribbon, Citations and Bibliography area.  All your entered sources for this paper will be listed, just choose the source you are citing.  If this is a new source then you have an opportunity to add the bibliographical information as you are inserting the citation.  Depending on the style (APA, MLA...) the citation will look different.  Your paper should consistently use the same style.

If you are using the footnotes for your citations then insert the footnote and as the text for the footnote insert the citation.  This can also be done as endnotes if that is your preference.

Footnotes can also be used to indicate further clarification of information in the text of the paper.  To insert a footnote simple select "Insert Footnote" on the References ribbon, Footnotes area and the superscripted symbol will be inserted into the text and you can enter the text for the footnote that will display at the bottom of the page.  Word will automatically keep track and renumber the footnotes as you insert or remove footnotes in your paper.  Do not manually try to manufacture what looks like a footnote - this is more work than you need to do and can cause some problems in your paper should you make any changes.


index Not all term papers need an index.  The index is nearly always alphabetical and is usually at the end of the document, before the bibliography page.  It should be on a page/section by itself.  It directs the reader to all keywords, subjects etc on which the paper has information.

Word makes it very easy to insert and update an index.  Index entries can be marked as you enter the text or after the body of the paper is complete.  To mark and entry for inclusion in the index select the text and click on "Mark Entry" on the References ribbon, Index area.  To include all pages where this text appears in your paper click on "Mark All", otherwise just click "Mark" and then close the Mark Index Entry dialogue box. 

Once you have marked all your entries move to the blank page between your paper and bibliography and insert the index by clicking "Insert Index" on the References ribbon, Index area.  Select the format that you like (classic, fancy...).

Once your paper is complete you should update the index by clicking "Update Index" on the References ribbon, Index area.   Then any changes you made to your paper will be updated in the index.


The last part is the Reference page or Bibliography page. This is a list of all sources used in the process of the research. It presents the information about the sources cited in the paper and should be on a page/section of its own.

Word makes it very easy to insert and update a bibliography.  To insert the bibliography simply click the "Bibliography" on the References ribbon, Citations and Bibliography area.  You can choose one of the built-in formats.