Computational Linguistics & Phonetics Computational Linguistics & Phonetics Fachrichtung 4.7 Universität des Saarlandes

Writing Term Papers and Theses

[Term Paper Guidelines]       [Correct Referencing]       [Plagiarism]       [More Info]

How to write a term paper

Here are some rough guidelines on writing term papers:
  • first of all: Don't plagiarise! More information on plagiarism can be found here. Some information on correct referencing is here. I'm assuming you know what constitutes plagiarism and will fail any papers which do plagiarise.
  • the paper should answer a concrete research question (or a set of related questions)
  • it should show evidence of independent thinking and reasoning (i.e., simply summarising a few papers is not enough! At the very least, there has to be some intelligent reflection on what you read.)
  • contain independent bibliographic work (i.e., it is expected that you find some relevant literature yourself)
  • meet academic standards (proper citations/references, well-structured, well-written etc.)
  • it can include some practical work but doesn't have to
  • it should be around 100 hours of work (2-3 weeks full-time)
  • it should be around 15-20 pages long for MA students (10-15 pages for BAs)
  • it should contain 8-15 references
It may be best to think of the paper as a (basic) scientific publication rather than a summary merely proving that you understood the topic. In other words: your paper should make a contribution!

Correct Referencing

Here is a brief check list for correct referencing:
  • If you copy verbatim from another source, you have to indicate this by quotation marks and give the source (including the page number), e.g.
    This point was already discussed by Smith (1995, p. 7): "......."
    The same applies if you copy figures.
  • It is not acceptable to copy extensively from other sources; one or two direct quotes should be the absolute maximum you put in your term paper. It's normal not to include any direct quotes at all.
  • If you paraphrase somebody else's ideas (i.e. write them in your own words) you have to provide a reference in the text, e.g.:
    Lexical chains have been found to be useful for detecting malapropisms (Hirst and St. Onge, 1998).
  • Usually you should only refer to published sources (books, journal papers, papers from conference proceedings, technical reports); it is not ok to refer to, e.g. the slides of somebody's talk. Certain exceptions may apply when referring to software, annotation guides etc. If in doubt, check with me!
  • In the bibliography, you should only put papers you refer to in the text and you should have read all papers in the bibliography (i.e., don't just put stuff in there because somebody else cited it!)
  • It is not enough to just put the name of the paper and the authors in the bibliography; you also have to include other details such as the publication year, journal name, volume and issue, page numbers (if possible), conference name, possibly editors and booktitles. Entries in the bibliography should be ordered, e.g. by author name.
  • Finally, this is only a short list of the main points. It might be a good idea to read up further on this topic.
If you can read German, there is also a short paper about referencing in computational linguistics that I wrote for a proseminar: richtig_zitieren_info.pdf.


If you do not properly reference other people's work that you make use of, you may be culpable of plagiarism, which is considered a serious breach of academic rules by universities. At the very least you may fail the course in which you plagiarised and in extreme circumstances you may well find yourself being kicked out of your degree programme. It is therefore important that you know what constitutes plagiarism and how to reference properly. To learn more check this web page at Leeds university:, which provides extensive information on the subject, including many examples of what is and what isn't considered plagiarism.

More information on academic writing

There are numerous books out there which give advice on academic writing. Here is a somewhat random selection:
  • Jürg Niederhauser: Duden. Die schriftliche Arbeit - kurz gefasst., Mannheim: Bibliographisches Institut, 2006
  • Richard Marggraf Turley: Writing Essays: A Guide for Students in English and the Humanities, Routledge, 2000.
  • Peter Levin: Write Great Essays! Reading and Essay Writing for Undergraduates and Taught Postgraduates , Open University Press, 2004.
There are also several resources available on the internet, e.g.: If you can recommend any other internet resources or books on the topic, let me know (csporled AT and I include them here!