Guidelines for a Graduate Level Term Paper


A good graduate paper should have the following elements:

1.      It should begin with a clear and succinct statement of the problem or issue to be addressed, and a brief outline of the text or texts relevant to the problem. This statement will not come easily and requires a good deal of thought; but the clearer you are able to state the issue, the easier it will be to determine the appropriate method for addressing the issue, and the more intelligible will be the relationship of the various parts of the paper one to another.

2.      Status quaestionis: The paper should provide a succinct account of the scholarly positions that have, up to now, been taken on the problem. You can do this by organizing the status quaestionis historically or chronologically (i.e., by tracing the history of the debate on the problem); or you can proceed analytically, breaking the problem down into its logical components and aligning scholarly opinion on this template.

3.      A discussion of relevant background issues (e.g., legal issues; literary antecedents; issues of historicity; heuristic definitions of relevant phenomena; etc.),

4.      An analysis of the texts identified in #1 in light of the history of scholarship (#2) and the relevant background issues (#3).

5.      A conclusion indicating which of the available interpretive options seems to be the most cogent (and why).

6.      A representative bibliography. The bibliography can be classified, and the longer and more diverse it is, the more helpful classification is. It is sometimes useful to distinguish primary texts from secondary treatments; some writers also separate Hilfsmittel (lexicas, concordances, etc.) from primary and secondary texts. It is imperative, however, that your citations be complete, consistent and accurate.


A good paper is not merely an assemblage of facts or statements. It must have an argument. All of the contents should function either to set the stage for the discussion of the problem, or to provide background information directly relevant to the issue, or to advance certain interpretive options, or to refute contrary positions. Material that is interesting but not directly relevant to the issue should be discarded or relegated to footnotes. The paper should be constructed so that the reader may follow the train of the argument and understand (a) why the issue is an important one, (b) what the interpretive options are, (c) how and why the background issues are in fact relevant, and (d) why the author is justified in drawing the conclusion she does.


Initial Draft (optional)


The function of the initial draft of the paper should be

1.      to articulate the problem (at least in an initial formulation);

2.      to make an initial report on the interpretive options and history of the problem (this need not be exhaustive, but is should reflect some reading on the problem);

3.      to identify the relevant primary texts;

4.      to indicate initial conclusions (these, of course, may be revised as the paper develops); and

5.      an initial bibliography.


The initial draft should be 8-10 pages (excluding bibliography).


I am willing to discuss in person or via email bibliography and interpretive problems.