Writing Critically on the Performing Arts: a How-To Guide on Writing a Term Paper on Performing Arts

Writing guide
Posted on February 14, 2019

Term papers are academic essays that require critical thinking and writing. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be difficult writing one. Follow these film & theatre studies term paper writing tips carefully and you will become quite skilled at writing term papers. It’s important to remember the key principle in writing critically – research. The more time spent in research, the less time spent in writing a term paper. Also remember to choose a topic that means something to you. It’s easier writing on a topic you can connect or relate to. And of course, don’t forget to go through the pre-writing tips listed. They make the writing process easier and less laborious. Good luck!

What is a Term Paper?

A term paper is a research and academic paper written and submitted at the end of a course program. Usually submitted at the end of a semester, a term paper evaluates a student’s grasp and understanding of a course. A term paper requires good research skills, critical thinking and organised writing skills.

The performing arts is a broad discipline of theatre studies with a wide palette of options to choose from. You can write on history of performing arts, drama, spoken word, poetry, musical theatre, opera, circus arts, public speaking, recitation, magic, illusion, puppetry and comedy. The list is almost endless.

The golden rule of writing a term paper on the performing arts is to choose a topic that means something to you. Just like creative writing, you have to write from your heart, but also with a lot of detailed research.

Choosing a Topic

Usually a topic might be suggested by your course teacher. Other times, you may be given the option of choosing a topic to write on. Some students pass up this opportunity and insist on their teachers choosing the topic for them, others follow the crowd and prefer to write on what everyone is writing on.

Writing a term paper improves your ability to think and write critically. This skill is useful in making important decisions in life, therefore don’t pass up the opportunity if presented to you.

What topic do you wish to write on? Why do you want to write on that topic? How has the topic affected your understanding of the performing arts?  These are a few of the questions to consider before choosing a topic to write on.

  • Find a quiet place to think about the topics that got your attention during your study of the course and list them on a paper;
  • List the reasons for choosing each topic and list the perspectives you would want to cover on each topic;
  • List the likely sources of research for each topic, noting the possibility of gathering sufficient research on each topic;
  • You can also present these topics to your lecturer and ask for guidance in choosing the right topic;
  • Rank these topics in an ascending order, putting the most likely topic you can complete at the top and the least at the bottom;
  • Pick the most favourable topic.

Topic Ideas for a Term Paper on Performing Arts

A few examples of sample topics to choose from include:

  • The Evolution of Performing Arts in America;
  • The Duel: Rap versus Spoken Word;
  • The Effects of Media on Performing Arts;
  • Martial Arts in the US Military;
  • Great Puppeteers of Our Time;
  • The Life and Times of Pavarotti;
  • Linking Performing Arts with Cognition.

These are just a few samples to stir up possible ideas on what to write on. The performing arts has a broad array of topics, trends, discussions and events to write on. Think outside the box and be true to yourself.

If you are still unable to come up with a topic, you can ask your teacher to draw up a list of topics you could write on. Then take time to research on these topics and see if there is any one that strikes a chord. If you still don’t feel inspired, try reading a couple of previous term papers written by others, academic journals on the various branches of the performing arts, your textbooks or reviewing the notes you took during the lectures. Inspiration may bubble up from any of these sources.

Pre-Writing Tips

Before you start writing a term paper, there are a couple of factors you need to put into consideration to avoid getting stuck in the middle. A couple of them include:

  • How long is the paper? Is it ten pages long? 5000 words? Thinking about the length will make you evaluate the research methods available and the feasibility of finishing the paper on time. Perhaps you may realise you don’t have sufficient material to write on a particular topic you probably love. This realisation will make you evaluate and improve your research or change the topic altogether.
  • How long will the project take? What was the deadline given? What are the chances of completing the paper before the deadline? These questions will help you predict the possibility of finishing a term paper successfully, and also eliminate topics that are likely to take too much time.
  • How much of this topic do you understand? Is the topic generally understood by other students? Is it a controversial one? Is it too technical or ambiguous? Will your term paper make the topic better understood? Can you defend the topic?

It is wiser to choose topics you can easily explain and discuss with your teachers or colleagues. However, if you choose a complex topic you are confident in researching and defending, then go for it. You will help others in understanding the topic better. Once you have provided answers to these questions, you are set to write your term paper. Before you do, take note of these pre-writing tips:

  • Sketch an outline to give your work direction. An outline helps save time in researching, writing the first draft and proof reading. An outline also provides a skeleton you can easily fill up with finer details. Remember that your outline is not a rigid structure, but a flexible framework that points you in the right direction when you begin to lose your way.
  • An outline may be given by your teacher, or you may be free to choose an outline. Whatever the case, an outline is generally divided into introduction, discussion paragraphs and a summary. We will talk extensively on outlining in the subsequent sub-headings.
  • Research makes up a large bulk of a term paper. Good and detailed research always pays off in the end. It makes your writing critical, analytical, original and free from fluff. The internet offers ample material on just about any topic on performing arts. Other places to search for information include the library, past journals, previous term papers, research works, textbooks, and of course materials provided by your teacher.
  • Don’t hesitate to ask questions for clarification when in doubt. Don’t rush through your research. If you take time to do your research, you will spend less time drawing an outline and writing the term paper.
  • Thesis Statement. Your thesis statement is the foundation of your term paper, so you would want to be precise with it. An unconvincing thesis statement makes a wobbly term paper that attracts poor grades. After your research, reflect on your topic and pinpoint the singular idea you want to discuss. Stay on that idea and build on it through out the essay, using logical flowing paragraphs and discussions. In the conclusion, use clear unambiguous statements to summarise the paper.
  • A proposal is given to your teacher for approval. In a proposal you defend your topic and if the teacher is convinced, he approves the topic for your term paper. A good proposal is made of a title, clear objectives of writing on the chosen topic and relevance of writing on such topic. Remember to add recent news, articles, social events and happenings that increases the relevance of your topic.


Your title is the first impression of your work, so you should be interested in making a good one. There are no hard and fast rules in pitching excellent titles, however, it’s safer to use titles that are not too long or too short. Your title should be relevant to the body of the essay, and like the thesis statement, should make a good platform for building your ideas.


A term paper has:

  • Title;
  • Thesis statement;
  • Introduction;
  • Body of discussion/descriptive/analytical/argumentative paragraphs;
  • Summary/conclusions and questions that encourage further reading and research.


Introduce your topic in the introduction, define the key words of your essay, discuss current events that are related to your topic, discuss significant issues and problems and how you plan on solving them. The introduction is also a good place to summarise the objectives of your essay, the relevance and significance of the topic you are discussing.

There are so many ways to start the introduction. You can decide to grab your reader’s attention with a rhetoric, a quote, an anecdote or an intriguing statistic or fact. You can also start by asking a question and go ahead to answer the question in the preceding paragraphs. Whatever method you choose, be sure to use clear succinct words, present your perspective and stance on the topic, then go ahead to build on it.


In the body of your essay, aim to convince your reader with series of logical paragraphs that are linked to one another. Explain each point that backs up your stance on the topic, using each point to form a paragraph.

You can use any of the styles available: descriptive, analytical, persuasive, argumentative, or a combination of all. Make sure each paragraph supports the objectives of your topic and backs up your thesis statement. Use compact sentences, active verbs and short to moderate paragraphs.  You can decide to use a handful of figures of speech to add a lyrical ring to your essay.

Be careful not to pepper your entire work with quotes. You don’t want your work to come off as somebody else’s. And of course, don’t forget to cite and reference other people’s work.


Conclude by restating your thesis statement and summarising your stance on the topic. Recap on the key points and wrap up with a question that encourages further research, reading and questions.

Post-Writing Tips

  • Rewriting and Editing. Rewrite loose hanging paragraphs and make them praise and compact. There are better ways to make a point and the surest way to explore these ways is to rewrite, rewrite and rewrite. Exchange flabby passive verbs for active ones, remove monotonous repetitive words, delete ambiguous sentences. Also check for grammar, spelling, use of verbs and punctuation.
  • have a second pair of eyes assess your work. Give it to someone who isn’t studying theatre and film studies, for example your family and friends. They can assess your style of writing and say if your essay is engaging or not.

Next, give your essay to a colleague in school, perhaps a course mate, or a lecturer you can trust, let them assess the content of your essay and make input on the sufficiency of information provided. After this, give to a third pair of eyes to proof read for those grammar errors and punctuation mistakes that managed to escape your scrutiny and spell checker.

  • Reference your work properly, using the citation style recommended by your teacher. Common term paper formats include the American Psychological Association (APA) format used for social sciences. The citation style for APA format uses the publication name, date and location. Another term paper format is the Modern Language Association  (MLA) format used for liberal arts and humanities, which also uses the publication name, date and location for citation. These formats have precise notation systems so be sure to look them up for clarification.

Also remember to sort out your bibliography early to avoid last minute rushes. Bibliographies are also written using either the APA or MLA format or any other term paper formats preferred by your teacher.

Useful Databases to Search for Information: A Few Picks from Our Writers

Term papers are meant to be scholarly papers, so you need to provide legitimate scholarly sources. Use the following databases to find articles:

  • RILM;
  • International index to Music Periodicals;
  • Dissertations and theses full text;
  • Arts & Humanities Citation Index;
  • Your college library catalog.
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