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Example Term Papers

These are some of the better papers that have been handed in in past semesters.  Note, however, that these papers are far from perfect.  I'm really hoping that you will provide me with some better examples this semester! Also note that the style and formatting of these papers don't conform to the standards we are using this semester.

Remember, there is no one correct way to say anything.  There is no one correct way to order or word your paper.  There are, however, ways that are clearly wrong.  And, in most cases, there is only one way to spell a given word!  Most of you have probably written less than a handful of term papers.  Writing clearly and concisely is more difficult than you may think.  Remember not to feel too bad if a fellow student, Writing Fellow, or professor has a large number of "negative" comments on a paper you think of as being nearly perfect.  It's like playing music.  If you've never spent much time listening to the symphony, not only will you have a tough time playing classical music well, you probably will have a hard time even knowing if you sound well.  Since the purpose of your paper is to convey information to other people, other people's opinions of your work matter!  Have other's read your paper, and listen to their comments.  Accepting criticism is not easy, but it's the only way to learn to write.


A Paper on Gravity Waves


A Paper on Acoustic Charge Transport


A Paper on Dark Mater


Another Paper on Gravity Waves



This is a really good paper, so now lets trash it.  Seriously, I though it would be helpful for you if you could see a critique of this paper so that you could more easily see some of the things that were done right and that were done wrong.

bulletOverall this is a very good paper.  It is well organized, focused, and well polished (i.e., good grammar, good spelling, transitions between different discussions, etc.).  As a result, it flows well --- it is easy and enjoyable to read.  The topic is relevant and reasonably well focused.  It could be a little more focused, and could use a stronger thesis statement.  It is obvious from the text that the authors have a fairly good understanding of the subject, and for the most part their science and reasoning is sound.
bulletTake a good look at the abstract.  It is a very good one.  (It's not very flashy, and it wouldn't make a good advertisement for a TV show, but that's not the purpose of the abstract.)  It clearly, concisely, and in order tells us what the paper will discuss.  If I were doing research and wanted to know specific things about a specific topic, this abstract would let me know right away if the paper contains what I'm looking for.
bulletOn the second page, the body of the paper begins.  Take a look at the first two "introduction" paragraphs.  They give a description of what gravity waves are, a brief history of gravity waves, and a brief note as to why attempts to detect them are important.  This introduction is very good.  It contains, however, too much information in too little space.  If this were your paper, I'd recommend either expanding the size of the introduction, or, even better, tightening the focus and leaving out some information.  Without focus, papers tend not to flow well and are harder to read and understand.  Although it is not necessary to write the word "introduction," at the start of your paper (in bold, underlined, and written in day-glow red) , it is important to start off the paper with an introduction to give the reader the necessary background and to explain the motivation for the paper.
bulletI would have liked to see a better description of what a gravity wave is in the introduction, since gravity waves are central to the paper!  What is actually oscillating in a gravity wave?
bulletThe third paragraph makes a transition from the introduction to the rest of the paper, telling us what they are going to discuss.  Unfortunately, they only mention one source of gravity waves, while their paper goes on to discuss other sources and other topics as well.  A good one or two sentence thesis statement is needed before they end their introduction.  Something like...  "In this paper we will describe five types of gravitational wave sources: orbiting masses, coalescence, mass transfer, ... , as well as several proposed methods of gravity wave detection."
bulletNotice how the descriptions of the various means of generating gravity waves are presented in a nice orderly way.  The information is presented in a concise way.  This part of the paper flows very well --- you learn a lot of information without expending much time or effort to read or understand it.
bulletAlso notice that each new concept has at least one reference --- letting us know where they learned about it.  Unless the idea you are discussing is your own original research, you should reference the source where you obtained the information.
bulletOne of the things I dislike about this paper is the way in which the figures are presented and referenced.  Each figure, table, etc., should be labeled with a number and a caption, i.e., "FIG. 1.  Artists depiction of mass transfer between two gravitational wells.  Mass at the outer edge of the larger body is captured by stronger gravitational pull of the smaller but denser body."
bulletIt is best to refer to a figure using it's label rather than it's position on the page.  For example, rather than saying "in the figure below" or, as is done here, "The following diagram illustrates...", it would be better to say "in figure 1" or "Figure 1 illustrates..."
bulletGive credit where credit is due.  When you borrow a figure from another source, you should say something like, "Figure reproduced from [8]" or "Figure reproduced from reference 8" in the figure caption.  It is not enough to just put in a reference without explicitly stating that the figure comes from that reference.  For example, a caption like this, "FIG. 1.  The transfer of mass between two gravitational wells [8]." leaves the reader wondering if the actual figure comes from reference 8, or whether reference 8 simply discusses the topic or contains a similar figure which inspired this one.
bulletIn the first paragraph of the fourth page the focus and flow is diminished a bit.  The sentence "As in any wave-like signal, a gravitational wave has a characteristic frequency and amplitude" conveys little information.  Worse, it interrupts the train of thought --- the sentences before and after really need to go together.  Finally, it disagrees with what comes next.  If a wave "chirps," it can't be described by a single frequency or amplitude.
bulletThere needs to be a better transition from the discussion of gravity wave generation to the discussion of detection.  Don't ever just stop talking about one thing and start on another.  Help the reader anticipate where you are going.
bulletQuoting Kip Thorne is a nice touch.  When an expert can say something much better than you can, it's okay to quote them.  Why write a phrase in your own words when someone else has already stated it perfectly!  Furthermore, when you quote a recognized expert, it adds a certain assurance that what you are describing is not nonsense.  Care should be taken, however!  In this case, they did an excellent job.  However, students often put quotes into their papers not because the quote fits into the discussion, but because they think it is clever or because they think it would be neat to have words by someone cool like Einstein in their paper.  Don't stretch your discussion to fit a quote.  Select the quotes that fit into your discussion.  One of the hardest things you'll have to do as you write papers is to leave out really cool things.  After searching for days for that one special quote that you remember hearing, it's tough not to put it into the paper.  But if it doesn't fit, you'd better leave it out!
bulletDoesn't the last sentence of that paragraph, "We show below a diagram..." seem anticlimactic?  Never start or end a paragraph with an "oh, by the way" sentence.
bulletI love how they discuss Weber bars by first giving a general description, then going into details, and then describing in chronological order how different improvements were made.  Good structure makes a paper fun to read!
bulletThe quote starting "ALLEGRO  has had unprecedented immunity..." seems to me like an example of a good quote which they should have had the guts to throw out.  It is related to what they are discussing, but is long and goes into more detail than the rest of their discussion.  It is nothing too impressive, and I think that they could have paraphrased it and said it better!  In general, long quotes should be avoided unless they really add something to the discussion.
bulletThe phrase "quadrupole vibration modes" should probably be rephrased using less technical words.  I would expect that almost every professional physicist in the world knows about quadrupole modes.  But the audience for this paper is 222 students who haven't studied vibrating sphere's or multi-pole expansions.  Furthermore, they never explain why these particular modes are important.  I'm guessing that they didn't know why.  So rather than find out why, or ignore the fact entirely, they parroted some technical jargon that they had read.  At least that's what it would look like to the professor grading the paper.  Students often give in to the temptation of using technical words to look smart.  The fact is, using technical words incorrectly or using them when they don't add to the discussion makes you look... well... the opposite.
bulletBy page 8 they are using quotes way too much.  If you can say it just as well yourself, say it yourself!
bulletThe final paragraph is a conclusion.  The conclusion here is kind of weak.  In a conclusion you should briefly sum up what you have discussed and, more importantly, the conclusions you have drawn.  It usually does not need to be very long.  No new concepts or ideas should be introduced in the conclusion --- it's not fair to introduce an idea without giving the reader adequate explanation.  If there is an idea which you think is important enough to the paper to be mentioned briefly, but which does not merit much discussion, it probably will work better in the introduction or somewhere in the body of the paper rather than in the conclusion.
bulletNote the use of "ibid." in the references.  This is preferred by some journals, but I personally think it is confusing and a waste of space.  I have clearly stated how I want references done in this assignment --- make sure you follow those guidelines.
bulletNotice how many web pages are cited.  Yet only one article in print is cited!  The web is a good source of easy to read and understand information, and the web pages all appear to be at reputable universities.  Nevertheless, there is no peer review of the web.  You can say anything you like there, be it true or not.  So I would have taken some serious points off of this paper after looking at their bibliography!  Another reason to limit web citations is that I want you all to learn how to find periodical articles and to get familiar with the most important physics journals.  By the way, if you download an article from a reputable journal's web page, those count as journal citations and not web citations, and they should be listed in your bibliography in the format of a journal citation (with the authors, title, journal name, volume, etc), not simply as a URL.  There are several e-journals in existence now which are only available online (Optics Express, published by the Optical Society of America is one example).  They are still journals, however, not just random web pages.  The articles in them are read and screened by editors, and many of these e-journals are even peer reviewed.  These journals are as valid as print journals.  Once again, they should be cited as a journal, not as a URL.  For example...
        [4] http://www.opticsexpress.org/abstract.cfm?URI=OPEX-2-8-299 or
        [4] D.S. Durfee, W. Ketterly, "Experimental studies of Bose-Einstein condensation," http://www.opticsexpress.org/abstract.cfm?URI=OPEX-2-8-299
         [4] D.S. Durfee, W Ketterly, "Experimental studies of Bose-Einstein condensation," Opt. Express 2, 299-313 (1998) or
         [4] D.S. Durfee, W Ketterly, "Experimental studies of Bose-Einstein condensation," Opt. Express 2, 299-313 (1998) http://www.opticsexpress.org/abstract.cfm?URI=OPEX-2-8-299



Dallin S. Durfee 2004