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How To Give Proper Definition Of Terms In A Research Paper: Tips & Examples

When you write a research paper, you have to pay close attention to all of the pieces of the paper. From the table to contents to the appendix, research papers have complicated parts that need to be written and formatted in a particular way. Instructors will reduce the grade of the paper if formatting is done improperly. Some instructors will even give student failing grades if they make any mistakes on the formatting. One area that students struggle with is in defining terms.

  • Know the location: When you are defining the terms in your research paper, you should be sure to put the terms in the proper place. This part of the paper should be placed at the beginning of the paper, after the statement of the problem and the reason for the study.
  • One paragraph per term: Each term that you define needs to be done in its own paragraph. These terms should be from the thesis statement and the definitions need to be written in your own words. As you break apart the thesis, define the nouns, verbs, and descriptive words that support them. The terms should be italicized and the definitions should be in quotation marks. For example, if you were defining the term “climate change” you might write a sentence that look like this: The term climate change is used to mean “the altering states of the weather in various places around the globe.”
  • Know the proper formatting for terms: While most formatting styles require that the terms be in unique paragraphs, there are some styles that require the terms are listed or that actual dictionary definitions are used. If you do need to use dictionary definitions, be sure to include the bibliography entry for the dictionary and the in-text citation, too.
  • Use several dictionaries: Instructors are impressed when students use a wide variety of sources. If you have several terms to define, you can get a variety of different definitions from dictionaries from different publishers. Those subtle differences in meaning can influence the content of your paper.
  • Try your definition first: To make sure you are using a term correctly, try defining it on your own. Then check the definition in the dictionary to be cement your understanding of the word. You instructor will be impressed with the vocabulary of your term paper when you are able to use a variety of sources as well as your own knowledge for this section.
  • Use several dictionaries: Instructors are impressed when students use a wide variety of sources. If you have several terms to define, you can get a variety of different definitions from dictionaries from different publishers. Those subtle differences in meaning can influence the content of your paper.
  • Try your definition first: To make sure you are using a term correctly, try defining it on your own. Then check the definition in the dictionary to be cement your understanding of the word. You instructor will be impressed with the vocabulary of your term paper when you are able to use a variety of sources as well as your own knowledge for this section.
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