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Guide to writing Seminar Papers

Getting Started


1. Before you begin the assignment, consider how much time you will need to complete the work. For a term paper of 10 to 20 pages you will require about one month to collect enough material from libraries and other sources. If you have time constraints you should take at least one week to research and write the paper, however the more time you allow yourself, the better your result will be.

Organisation is especially important in getting the best results out of the limited time that you have to complete the assignment. Write a short schedule to help you keep track of the time limit: list the days you have left and what times you can work on the paper. You need time to visit your university library, and maybe other local libraries, to make notes on your research, write an outline, write a first draft and also to revise your paper before handing it in. Think about the best time for you to work, if you prefer daytime, try to avoid late nights; if you work better at night, avoid early mornings. Remember to organise your other responsibilities, like other courses or your job, as well as social commitments so that enough time is left for you to work on the assignment.


2. It is important to begin your research by finding a clear hypothesis. This is the question which you will propose to answer in your term paper. Some lecturers will need to approve your hypothesis before you may begin research. Here are some tips on formulating your ideas:


       - Keep your hypothesis question simple: you don't need to research a huge and complex subject area.


                - Make your question specific: your research will be easier if you focus on a narrower rather than broader topic. Help yourself by rewriting the hypothesis until you have a more focussed idea.


                - Think about how your idea can realistically work: ask your lecturer if the hypothesis is suitable for the assignment you have been given. Check in your university library or on the internet to see if there is sufficient material available on your chosen subject. If you find too little, try to rephrase your idea in a way that it can be supported by the existing literature.


3. Take time to familiarise yourself with the libraries that you will use. Each library has its own system for reference materials and you may encounter differences in computer catalogue systems and borrowing rules. Talk to the staff to get a better idea about how and where to start your research. If you a working towards a deadline, you need all the time you have and should not waste it in trying to find the relevant materials.

Taking Notes
        1. You may find using note cards makes it easier to keep track of sources and materials you have used. Use different coloured cards to distinguish between the different sub-categories within your main hypothesis and argument.


                        2. Make sure you write down the authors' names, page numbers for quotes and Chapters used at the top of each card. Also write down all the reference information you will later need for your bibliography, such as the year a book or journal was published or website addresses and the dates you viewed them - websites are regularly updated and the information may change over a short period of time. This will help you identify footnotes and citations and make typing the references easier when you come to finalising your paper.


                        3. You can also write quotes on the note cards, try to be as accurate as possible when you write down statistics and direct quotes. Be sure to check for errors when you're finished before you hand in your paper.


        4. It is useful to have a number of pertinent quotes in your final paper, but keep in mind that  no more than 10-15% of your finished paper should be quotations. Try to choose quotes that sum up an idea in a concise and precise way. You can then explain the idea and how it fits into your argument.

This is an important step in the writing process. Your paper will be better if you begin with a clear outline from which you can expand your argument. The argument you use will attempt to prove or disprove your original hypothesis by answering the question.

1. Write your introduction at the top of your outline. The introduction is a paragraph describing your hypothesis question and the line of argumentation you will take to answer it. Check your sources when writing your introduction so that it matches the information that you have researched for the paper.


 2. Underneath the introduction you should write the first main heading and then a list of the main points for the first paragraph. Then the next main heading and similarly the list of main points you will discuss. After you have completed the basic structure of you paper, remember to add a conclusion to your outline where you can later make a statement about your findings and your arguments used in the paper.

3.  Here the note cards can be used to illustrate your argument and give specific examples or quotes to support your ideas. Here is an example of how an introduction should look:



Expand your thesis here. It should be concise and definite. Try not to begin with your own opinion but make a statement that leads the reader into the topic and your   discussion. For example, if you were to write a paper on the economic factors involved in World War II, you might start like this: Germany's involvement in WW II was predicated by the purposeful dismantling of the country's economic power by the Allied Nations.


Main Headings: This is where you begin to answer the questions you posed in your introduction. Systematically go over each resonant point in your argument. If you are writing a historical paper, you might begin with the background and history of your material. E.g. Germany's post-war economy.


Sub Headings: Here, you break down your Main Heading into smaller paragraphs of information. Each paragraph should have clear, well thought out points. e.g. Production.


One important idea that you want to convey in your paragraph can be introduced at this point. Here you can also write summary points directly from your note cards. Example: Manufacturing of exports.

Then you can include another piece of information you want to make sure you cover. Example: Reisling Company's profits down 65%% by 1937.

Finally, an interesting fact or idea you think is useful in making your point. Example: The co-owner, Max Heinrich, was later a Nazi conspirator.

Follow this method for each paragraph, including the conclusion. Your Conclusion should be a final synopsis of the paper; a summary of the hypothesis and the answers or results you identified in trying to answer this question. When you edit your outline, make sure each point is clearly made and that the flow of the paper works to make a convincing case as well as a logical argument. When you have completed your outline you should have covered all the main points that you addressed in your hypothesis.

Rough Draft

Write your first draft as freely as possible, following your outline closely. Use all the notecard information you feel is relevant and important. Don't pad your paper with excessive quotes. When you've finished the rough draft, check for accuracy and completeness of facts. If you think certain sections are too long or too skimpy, rework them until you feel they're the strongest you can make them.

Final Draft


Revise paragraphs to check that they make sense and connect well to other parts of the whole paper. Your argument should be consistent from the beginning to the end.

Re-write any passages that seem out of place or strange compared to the rest of  your work. Edit your sentences to make your ideas sound clear and simple, take notice of structure, grammar and punctuation. Use a dictionary to check your spelling and usage and use the spell check when you have typed your assignment. Ask someone else to read your paper or read it out loud to yourself to hear if it makes sense and the ideas flow well together.

Footnotes and Bibliography

Here are some examples of how to write references in your bibliography


Books (one or more authors)
Take the information from the title page and the reverse of the title page:
Adams, A. D. 1906. Electric transmission of water power. New York: McGraw


Books (edited)
Write ed. or eds. after the editor's name(s):
 Crandell, K.A. ed. 1999. The Evolution of HIV. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press


Books (electronic)
McRobbie, A. 1998. British fashion design: rag trade or image industry?[online]. London: Routledge. [Accessed 31 May 2006]. Available from WorldWide Web:<>


Chapters in edited books
Use the title page and reverse title page of the book and the chapter heading itself:
Coffin, J.M. 1999. Molecular Biology of HIV. In: K.A. Crandell, ed. The Evolutionof HIV,Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, pp.2-10.


E.U. legislation
Council Regulation (EC) No. 2078/2 of 30 June 1992 on agricultural productionmethods compatible with the requirements of the protection of theenvironment and the maintenance of the countryside


Foreign Language Material
Reference the exact text used, in the same style as you would reference English language material.
Foucault, M. 1971. L'archéologie du savoir. Paris: NRF/Gallimard


Schaie, K. 1993.
[Personal communication]. 18 April


Journal article
Use the title page of the journal volume or issue and the article:
Walker, J R. 1998. Citing serials: online serial publications and citationsystems. Serials-Librarian, 33 (3/4), pp.343-356.

Note: Use p. to reference a singe page, and pp. if it is a range of pages.


Journal article(electronic) Use information from the web site and the article:
Royall, C.P., B.L.Thiel, and A.M. Donald, 2001. Radiation damage of water inenvironmental scanning electron microscopy. Journal of Microscopy [online].204(3),[Accessed 9th May 2002], p.185. Available from World Wide Web:<>


Newspaper article
Webster, B. 2006.New speed camera puts more drivers in the frame. Times, 24May, p.1


Organisation report
 NSPCC. (Unpublished, 1988) NSPCC submission to the Home Office AdvisoryGroup on the admissibility of video recorded interviews. Report datedSeptember 1988


Theses and dissertations

 Use the title page of the thesis:
Gill, M.R. 1997.The relationship between the physical properties of humanarticular cartilage and tissue biochemistry and ultrastructure. Ph.D. thesis,University of Leeds.


Unpublished documents
If unsure of the date, make a sensible guess and use a question mark:
Fendell, R. 1985? Training and management for primary healthcare.Unpublished.


Website with author
Take the information from the webpage itself or the associated homepage - use the title bar and the credits at the bottom of the page, your own date of viewing the page and insert the words [online] and Available from World Wide Web:
Hawking, S.2000.Professor Stephen Hawking's website [online]. [Accessed9th May 2002]. Available from World Wide Web:<>


Website with author
Take the information from the webpage itself or the associated homepage - use the title bar and the credits at the bottom of the page, your own date of viewing the page and insert the words [online] and Available from World Wide Web:
Hawking, S.2000.Professor Stephen Hawking's website [online]. [Accessed9th May 2002]. Available from World Wide Web:<>


List your authors and sources in alphabetical order according to the last name of the author.

                  Visit these online sources for more hints on writing and  referencing styles.


Final Words
When you've finished the paper, take some time for yourself before you re-read it. Make sure your quotes and citations are accurate; keep your note cards. Take a minute and congratulate yourself, unless you're already late for class.

By George Mason University

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