Plowing Through Finals: Tips for Term Papers

by Rachel Perez

The final destination of fall semester often culminates in research papers. As such, writing interesting, coherent papers in a swift manner before deadlines is an essential skill.

Parke Wilde, PhD., associate professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, says professional scholars enjoy opportunities to write research papers since “it offers us a chance to share ideas, debate with a larger group of colleagues, show off what we have learned, entertain our audience, and advance our reputations and careers.”

Professor Wilde adds that in order to write a first-rate paper, “we grit our teeth, plow ahead, and remind ourselves of the good things that writing brings.” Study Tips 2

The following is a list of “seeds of wisdom” from various Friedman School professors about writing a quality paper.

Seed 1: Mark a small plot – narrow your topic.

According to Tim Griffin, PhD., director of the Agriculture, Food, and Environment (AFE) program, many students experience difficulties from the start of the writing process by failing to make their topic “sufficiently narrow.”  “I encourage students to select topics that interest them, but can be addressed thoroughly in 10-12 pages,” he says.

Hugh Joseph, adjunct associate professor in the AFE Program, spoke of similar concerns regarding topic specificity. Noting that it may be difficult for graduate students to choose specific topics since they have more latitude for writing, Professor Joseph suggests that students meet with their professor first to discuss their topic choice.

Seed 2: Pick high-quality research sources.

Professor Joseph also mentioned the importance for students in distinguishing between the research phase and writing phase of the paper-writing process as a whole. “The quality of your research is important…the write up of that research is equally important, and must accurately reflect the research,” he says.

Professor Griffin says he expects graduate students to use multiple types of information in their papers, including primary data like Ag Census, books, review articles, and peer-reviewed journal articles.

In regards to writing mechanics, David Hastings, MBA and professor of Nutrition Data Analysis, reiterates not to rely on spell-check alone. Meanwhile, when writing group papers do not expect your colleagues to have ‘caught’ the errors– review it as an individual. He adds, “do not use colloquialisms or expressions in your work – stay formal.”

Seed 3: Communicate a novel idea.

Many faculty members share the belief that graduate student papers should have more interpretation and less reporting than undergraduate papers.  Students at this level should form and state opinions and conclusions about the research rather than regurgitate what they have read.

This can be difficult.  Professor Joseph noted that students sometimes fail to make the transition from the researched background of their paper to the interpretations and opinions on the topic that made them interested in the topic in the first place. “For example,” he says. “transitioning from historical background on a policy into the issues they care about.  Make it clear why you are addressing the issues you are addressing.

Despite the stress and struggles that research papers may inflict upon students, Wilde says, “A longer writing assignment like a term paper can be a particularly rewarding experience.  A term paper allows you to dig deep enough into a topic so that you have an opportunity to say something new, and in your own voice.”

The Friedman Sprout is a monthly student run newspaper that aims to serve the student population at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, prospective students, and alumni. Our mission is to report on newsworthy information that affects the Friedman community including nutrition research, food policy, internship and volunteer opportunities, as well as school events. Our editorial slant is that of sustainability in food and nutrition.

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