How to Research a Term Paper

The term paper researching process

So, you wrote a great college admissions essay and were accepted at the university or college of your dreams. Now, you've been assigned your first term paper, and you don't know where to start!

The research process is an exploratory quest, a hunt for information that can be both exciting and rewarding. The word itself is derived from the French rechercher, which literally means "to investigate thoroughly." So, when embarking on writing a term paper or research paper, think of yourself as a detective. You will not only search for information but also delve into the whys and wherefores behind the subject material, seeking to provide elucidation through your term paper.

Select a topic for your term paper

Let's start at the beginning. The first step in the essay writing process is to decide on a worthy topic, choosing one that is interesting to you. Make a list of keywords—these are important words or phrases that encapsulate the essence of your topic. Good keywords will specifically describe your topic, but consider using closely related words, as well.  Use these keywords when searching print or electronic sources that you can use in your term paper.

Research your term paper topic

General-purpose reference books, such as encyclopedias and fact books, provide comprehensive summaries and suggestions for sub-topics, as well as related terminology. Although these books are not generally considered suitable sources to cite in a term paper, the bibliographies they contain can be very helpful. This initial reading may help you to narrow your interest, stimulate additional questions, and focus your research. We recommend the following general resources, as they are more global in scope:  The Oxford Companion to Politics of the World, CQ Researcher, the Political Handbook of the World, the Index to International Public Opinion, and World Opinion Update. These publications deal with particular topics, give summaries of various governments, or take other specialized approaches, which are generally considered acceptable sources to cite in a term paper.

The next step is to either narrow your topic (so you can deal with the amount of information) or to broaden it so you have enough to write about. You might have to pick a particular sub-topic and make that your area of interest, or combine certain aspects of a topic to create a narrower one. Decide the direction you want the research for your term paper to take. What are the most interesting aspects of the topic, and what do you want to learn? Be careful not to be too general. This term paper researching process will keep you from getting lost or sidetracked when searching for information.

Find suitable sources for your term paper

At this point, decide on the most likely sources of information—books, journal articles, newspapers, online databases, CD-ROM databases, interviews, etc. Dig around in the libr