Successful Writing of a Linguistics Term Paper

Writing guide
Posted on January 22, 2019

Writing a term paper is a difficult task for many students, especially during the first years of studying. Students tend to be frightened by the prospect of writing term papers because this type of work usually accounts for a large part of the semester grade. Thus, if a student wants to avoid the struggle and any doubts, he or she should consider the basic principles and guidelines for the successful performance of the work. To be more precise, checking the specific rules for writing a paper in a particular field should be the first step in the process. To help achieve the highest academic goals, this guide focuses on the practical principles for writing a linguistics term paper with ease and confidence.

What Is a Linguistics Term Paper… And How Does It DIffer from a Research Paper?

A term paper in Linguistics is an original academic work that covers the specific topic with the consideration of relevant theoretical literature and empirical studies. The paper deals with a scientific study of either single or several languages. Linguistics term paper can be theoretical and empirical (practical). Depending on the chosen approach for the study, the structure and the content of a linguistics paper would differ.

Furthermore, while some people tend to confuse a term paper and a research paper, there are several differences between them. A term paper contains a critical examination of a topic and the student’s opinion. In this type of work, a student is required to demonstrate a profound understanding of the topic and to present convincing arguments supported by credible scholarly sources. On the contrary, research papers are written to study a theoretical question which has not been researched effectively. A research paper may be more complicated because the writer is supposed to conduct research, provide the collected results, and to connect them to the analyzed academic literature. A term paper may also contain the parts of the research if the student considers the empirical approach of writing. Understanding the goal of a certain type of paper is one of the keys to proper writing.

What Students Are Expected to Demonstrate in a Linguistics Term Paper:

  • they have acquired proper knowledge in a particular field;
  • they can choose a topic relevant and significant to the specific field;
  • they learned how to collect, analyze, and use academic sources in a paper;
  • they can make own conclusions based on the studied literature;
  • that they can follow the principles of academic language and style.

While writing, it is important to remember that the main goals of the term paper are to review information learned over an academic term and to develop a better understanding of a particular topic.

How to Choose a Suitable Topic?

The topic of the work can be assigned by the professor, or students can choose it by themselves. The second option is preferable because in that case, people study a subject that is interesting to them. Once the field of the study is identified, it is possible to start looking for a topic worth investigating. In choosing a topic, the most important aspect is to be specific and avoid generalization. For instance, if a writer chooses the branch of Stylistics, the bad example of the topic may sound like “Characteristics of Science Fiction.” Instead, a more sophisticated topic in that area suitable for the research may look like ”Linguistic Aspects of Science Fiction Genre in Modern Literature.” Below are some other examples of good and bad topics to help you.

Examples of good topics:

  • The Interplay of American and British Versions of the English Language at Present Time;
  • The Comparison of Linguistic Politeness of the Japanese and English Languages;
  • The Use of Acronyms and Abbreviations in English Informal Communication;
  • Word Formation in Slang Language of the U.S. College Students.

These topics are specific and reflect the narrowed area of the chosen field.

Examples of bad topics:

  • Origins of the English Language;
  • Why is Linguistics Important?
  • Introduction to Translation;
  • The Comparison of the English and Japanese Languages.

These topics are too broad, meaning that it would be difficult to provide a comprehensive analysis of any of them in a paper.
Moreover, some other things to consider when choosing a topic is the level of expertise in the particular area and the availability of the sources. If the subject is too difficult, it will be troublesome to finish the paper. Also, before starting to write on a chosen subject, it is necessary to determine whether there is enough information for the study. Students may begin by searching for the keywords and titles of the topic on the Internet search engines and then proceed to library databases.

Structure of the Linguistics Term Paper as Explained by Our Writers

As it has been discussed, the linguistics term paper can be theoretical and empirical. Most term papers are required to utilize both approaches to the study. Hence, below is provided the structure of an empirical term paper:

  • Title Page (a title of the paper and students name);
  • Table of Contents (a list of sections with page numbers);
  • Introduction (description of the area of research, the question posed in the paper, the reason for the study, and a brief overview of the research);
  • Theoretical Part (reflection on the literature studied for the paper and demonstration of an understanding of the major concepts of the area);
  • Research Methodology (relation of the ways the data was collected and analyzed);
  • Results (presentation of the findings based on the methodology);
  • Discussion (interpretation of the findings and explain their significance);
  • Conclusion (summary of the paper and statement of the answer to the posed question);
  • List of References (a list of literature and other sources used for writing the paper).

The introduction and theoretical part should not constitute a large part of the paper. These sections should account for less than half of the paper. The larger part of the text belongs to the remaining sections.

The term paper incorporates most sections of the research paper, plus the theoretical part. If a paper must be completely theoretical, such sections of the research paper, as the methodology, results, and discussion can be removed. They can be replaced with a more elaborate investigation of relevant theoretical literature to reflect on the topic.

Drafting the Outline

The outline is an essential part of the writing process, especially when it comes to larger texts. Drafting an outline will help create a well-structured paper with a logical connection of ideas. While writing an outline, it is necessary to remember that is it based on the structure of the paper. Any outline contains the major elements of the essay, that is the introduction, body, and conclusions. Students should start planning with these three basic elements and then proceed to add more sections to the outline.

The Theoretical Background

For the theoretical part of the paper, the student is required to analyze and reflect on a great amount of information collected from a variety of sources. While writing this section, the student studies the articles from different specialized linguistic sources, such as the scientific journals, textbooks, and dictionaries.

First of all, in the theoretical part, a writer should state the essence of the posed question or studies problem. Then, he or she needs to provide a theoretical framework of all components of the problem and analyze them from different perspectives. Next, discuss the research that has been already done on the problem. One of the important aspects of the theoretical part is presenting and explaining terminology relevant to the question. Finally, in case a term paper has an empirical part, a writer must state a hypothesis which will be supported with the data in the next sections.

What to Include in the Methodology Section?

An empirical study typically requires the section for methodology. In brief, this section states which method was used to acquire the data and how it was analyzed. Depending on the type of research, the methodology in a Linguistics paper may include the details about the subjects, materials, techniques, corpus, and the procedures of the research. The methods to use largely depend on the essence of the research. For instance, if the study includes human subjects, some useful methods for linguistic research would be a questionnaire, observation, and interview.
The elements of the methodology section also depend on the type of data. Thus, in research which presupposes the use of subjects, it is important to characterize the chosen subjects (e.g., age, nationality), state the used materials (e.g., questionnaires), as well as to indicate the procedures (e.g., time, setting) of the specific ways the data was collected. For the research which is based on the study of corpora, students should describe the corpus design and briefly explain the reason for choosing it. Also, they should not forget to mention the problems that were encountered while collecting the data and show the way these hardships were managed. Finally, once these parts of the section are covered, it is necessary to state the process of the analysis and categorization of the collected data.

The Main Points of the Results and Discussion Sections

In the Results section, students must provide a detailed description of the findings that were discovered during the research. A convenient way to present quantitative data is by including graphs and tables. However, do not just include them without any explanation. Briefly discuss the material presented in the tables and graphs. In the Discussion section, writers usually give a summary of the results and connect the findings to the theoretical background. Finally, comes demonstration how the results help answer the questions and hypothesis stated in the paper.

How to Find Sources?

A good list of sources is one of the keys to the successful writing of the paper. Most relevant material appropriate for academic work can be found in research published in scholarly journals as well as textbooks, encyclopedias, and dictionaries. For instance, Open Journal of Modern Linguistics, Journal of Sociolinguistics, Encyclopedia of Language & Linguistics, a variety of Oxford Textbooks in Linguistics. Probably, the primary source for searching information among most students is the Internet. Search for the keywords of the chosen topic online. It is useful not to search the whole Internet, but to consider specialized websites which collect scientific works and references to them. Below are some of the examples of such websites with either open or limited access to sources and references:


If a paper considers corpus as the base for the research, the sources discussed above should serve as the secondary material. The primary material should be the actual linguistic data in the form of either written text or audio recordings. For example, let’s suppose that a task supposes corpora in the English language. In that case, some of the examples of available corpora which can be used as the primary material are:

  1. The British National Corpus;
  2. Corpus of Contemporary American English;
  3. The International Corpus of English.

Many other websites for exploring English corpora can be found here.

While the Internet is a good source for finding information, students should not forget to visit the college library to discover scientific literature. In addition, some schools provide access to various closed online libraries and databases, so do not hesitate to check if they contain any useful sources.

Citation of Sources

Many students struggle with citing the sources properly. An instructor may demand to write a term paper in a certain style, whether APA or MLA. Depending on the style, the citations can vary. All information and instructions on proper citation and referencing can be found on the Owl Purdue Online Writing Lab. Since the APA formatting is usually a preferable style for papers in linguistics, here are some of the examples of proper APA citations:

  • Martin, J. R. (2009). Genre and language learning: A social semiotic perspective. Linguistics and Education, 20(1), 10-21. doi:10.1016/j.linged.2009.01.003.
  • Radford, A., Atkinson, M., Britain, D., Clahsen, H., & Spencer, A. (2010). Linguistics: An Introduction (2nd ed.). New York: Cambridge University Press.

Also, do not forget about in-text citations and paraphrasing. Direct citations in APA style, require the page number. For example:
“A central idea of Relevance Theory is that an utterance is relevant to a hearer when the hearer can gain positive cognitive effects from that utterance” (Radford et al., 2009, p. 399).

What to Do Next?

After finishing writing the paper, there should be no rush to submit it to the teacher. Many students tend to overlook various mistakes which can significantly decrease their grade for the term paper. Proofreading the paper is one the most important steps in the post-writing process. Sometimes, it may be difficult to notice minor mistakes in such a big text, so it is recommended to let somebody else proofread your term paper. Moreover, the presented ideas should be logically connected to make the general sense of the paper. To understand whether a paper is ready, these questions could challenge it:

  • Is paper well-structured and properly divided into paragraphs?
  • Does each paragraph have one main idea?
  • Do all of the discussed ideas support my thesis?
  • Are all ideas taken from the sources cited?
  • Are all of my citations explained?
  • Does paper have any grammatical, stylistic, or lexical mistakes?
  • Does the paper correspond to the required formatting?

Once all works in polishing the paper are finished, a writer can be proud of the final work. The stated above information should be kept in mind for writing the next papers.

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