Term Papers Writing Guide: General Intent

Term paper assignments vary by discipline, by specific subject matter, by institution, and even by instructor. One of the critical aspects of writing a term paper that will receive a good grade is to understand the general intent of the assignment.

What is General Intent?

General intent signifies the goal of the assignment. For example, some term papers might simply have the general intent of demonstrating that you’ve learned and understood the material of the past semester. For example, a history class research paper assignment that focuses exclusively on a topic covered in class usually falls into this category.

Examples of General Intent

As stated above, some papers are simply meant to show you’ve learned material from the term. However, usually the general intent is a bit more complex. An English Lit term paper may have multiple goals. The general intent may be to show that:

  • The student has learned how to perform literary analysis
  • The student has learned the literary terms taught in class
  • The student is capable of researching a historical piece of literature adequately

A cultural anthropology term paper which requires the student to cover a cultural group which was not studied might have the general intent of demonstrating that the student has learned to apply concepts studied in class to a new topic.

Why is General Intent Important?

Your instructor will be grading your paper with general intent in mind. If you write your term paper without taking this into consideration, that can translate into a great deal of effort wasted on your part. Even if a paper is well written, it can lose points if the instructor feels you didn’t fulfill the general intent of the assignment.

Finding Out the General Intent of Your Assignment

Your syllabus or the handout or assignment posting you received for the class should outline the general intent of the term paper assignment. However, if it doesn’t, or you’re uncertain of the instructor’s purpose for the assignment, it’s perfectly acceptable to ask for clarification. Not only is it acceptable, it’s actually extremely important to do so.

Your instructor will appreciate it, also. It’s very frustrating for instructors to receive a paper into which a student has clearly put effort, yet doesn’t fulfill their expectations for the assignment. You can avoid missed points and lengthy rewrites by being clear from the beginning on the intent of the term paper you’ve been assigned to write.