How to Write a Seminar Paper

Writing a seminar paper is very similar to writing other kinds of essays like term papers. The main difference with a seminar paper is that you are going to be asked to present your paper to your academic peers. In all likelihood, you will also probably be workshopping the paper with other students in the intermediate stages of writing, perhaps even at every stage. This sounds intimidating, because it means you’ll be getting more criticism of your work than you are used to, especially when your work isn’t complete. However, you should think of this as a good thing, because getting other perspectives on your work is very beneficial if you are open to constructive criticism. Otherwise, the principles for writing a great seminar paper are similar to writing other kinds of academic essays.

Here are some things you should keep in mind:

  • Brainstorm like crazy. Don’t just wait for a good topic or thesis to spontaneously jump into your head. Get writing. Get all of your ideas out there, even if they are just vaguely formed impressions. You can always refine, narrow, or combine ideas later. Write down even things that seem ridiculous. The point is just to generate ideas. Bad ones can always be thrown out.
  • Be an active reader. Read and reread. Write down your reactions and thoughts as you read, in the margins of books or a notebook. Underline important passages or copy them out. Close and careful reading pays great dividends in the long run.
  • Cite your sources. At times when you’ve been doing a great deal of research and then begin to write, you can’t even remember whether an idea was yours or whether you read it somewhere. If you’re not sure if you should cite a source or not, cite it. This is the best way to avoid plagiarism.
  • Write what you are passionate about. You’re going to be spending a lot of time with a seminar paper. Even if you love your subject, you might be tired of it at the end. If you don’t love it, you will surely come to hate both the subject and the paper you are writing about it. So choose wisely.
  • Don’t get defensive. Criticism is good, and it helps you write a better paper if you are willing to listen.
  • Follow the appropriate format (MLA, APA, etc.)