Abstract. This document contains guidelines for writing a term paper and tips for writing it well.
Tues 11/02: Topic must be selected and approved. After this date, the topic cannot be
changed, so choose wisely.
Thur 11/18: First draft due. Ideally, this will be a complete draft. The minimum requirement is to have a detailed outline of the sections of the paper, including precise statements
of theorems, supporting lemmas and relevant definitions, and indications for where to put
examples. A list of references must also be included at this point. The minimum length for
this (formatted according to the guidelines below) is 5 pages.
Tues 11/30: Second draft due. This is due if and only if you did not submit a complete draft
on 11/18. This must be a complete draft meeting all the formatting guidelines below and
should already contain any content you intend to include in the final version. The only
thing that can be missing from this draft is the introduction.
Thur 12/09: Final draft due. No extensions. No exceptions. No penalty for being early.
Formatting Guidelines:
Length: The term paper should be approximately 10 pages. It can be no fewer than 8 pages
and no more than 12, including figures and references.
Margins: All margins (top, bottom, left, right) should be between 1 inch and 1.5 inches.
Font: Use a font size between 10 and 12 points (11pts preferred). Use a neutral font, such
as times (preferred) or sans serif.
Spacing: The paper should be single spaced. Equations may be in-line or separated out, as
appropriate. Either indent the first line of each paragraph or skip a line between paragraphs
(but not both).
Typesetting: You must typeset the paper (LATEXpreferred, though not required) and all
equations. Figures may be hand drawn with care.
References: You must include at least 2 references. Wikipedia is not a valid reference
under any circumstances. Please follow the Academic Code of Conduct when using/citing
materials. Any MLS approved format for citations is acceptable.
Submitting drafts: Only hard copy drafts will be accepted. Do not e-mail drafts. Print
them out (double sided saves trees). Using the clean side of scratch paper is perfectly
acceptable for all but the final draft, but the paper must be white(ish).
Tips for Writing Math Papers:
• Plan a bullet point outline of the paper before you start writing anything.
• Plan and write from the theorems out. This means write down the theorems you plan to
prove, then list what supporting lemmas you will need to make the proof easier, then list
what definitions you need.
• Add examples or illustrations whenever you can. A paper littered with examples is often
easier to read. Make sure the examples illustrate as many of the subtleties of the definition
or theorem as possible. Non-examples are sometimes just as useful (e.g. a planar graph K4
and the non-planar graph K5 ).
• The introduction should be the last thing that you write. It should not contain much
notation or terminology. It should read like a high level overview of the topic, explaining
why it is interesting and/or important. The end of the introduction may contain an outline
of the rest of the paper: “In section 2 we give basic definitions... The main theorem is
presented in Section 3... We conclude in Section 4 with an application...”
• Be precise. Statements of definitions, propositions, lemmas and theorems should all be
clear and correct. You may use looser language when motivating a definition or result, but
statements and proofs must be mathematically precise.
• Have a classmate or someone else read over your draft, checking for grammatical errors,
convoluted sentences, confusing explanations, etc. Ask them to point out the parts they
like as well so that those don’t get lost in subsequent drafts.
• The best way to learn to write a good paper is to read lots of other papers. In our case,
read at least one (the paper you will/did present in class). As you read it, make notes about
what works well and what doesn’t work so well. Try to implement the former and avoid
the latter.
• Use a spell checker before you print. Watch out for homonyms (e.g. to, too, two). Avoid
split infinitives (e.g. to go boldly, not to boldly go). Figure out the difference between
less and fewer and use them correctly (hint: it comes down to continuous versus discrete
• Terry Tao’s blog post on Writing Mathematics Papers: