These requirements may vary dramatically from class to class, and from semester to semester. Skim Your Textbook, look over the syllabus, read the newspaper, look through recent issues of relevant journals and magazines, surf the net, watch the evening news, talk to your classmates and friends, find a spare half hour of peace and quiet to just sit under the stars and think - these are all good potential sources for paper topics. On the other hand, don't turn in fifteen pages on cloning Elvis.
By the time you finish your research and writing, you might well be genuinely sick to death of your topic (ask any graduate student who's just completed a dissertation! But if you're bored when you start, you've already defeated yourself, and turned a potentially interesting assignment into yet more drudgery. If cloning is too broad for a five page paper, what about cloning Elvis?
How an instructor or lecturer determines what is meant by a term paper is usually their choice, since the expression is a loose one that may or may not involve extensive research, and may or may not cover all the work in a semester or ‘term.’ Depending on the subject being studied, students can choose excellent topics on which to base a term paper to demonstrate how well they have understood the work or research covered during the term.
Science, arts, business, communications, and engineering subjects all provide absorbing topics that can be used, but care must be taken to devise a topic that engages most of the material studied in a comprehensive way.
In your first draft, say what you have to say, then punch it up or trim it down as need be. Outlining is a genuine pain, which I personally put in the same category as cleaning the litter box - a necessary evil. You should seek out and befriend a competent and helpful reference librarian early on, like Buffy found Giles.
But it actually does help, especially in the early stages of your paper, by forcing you to come to terms with what you want to say about your topic. If you find that person, the path to the information you will need to graduate will be smoothly paved, and may even turn out to be full of interesting roadside attractions. Each page of your term paper should have around 1-3 references per page, as a general rule of thumb.Your tax dollars fund a mountain of research, good, bad, and indifferent, and the results of all of that research end up in the government documents department of the library.Collections of state documents can also be an invaluable source for certain topics, such as local environmental problems. Modern university libraries have most of their collections online. Make sure that you find this topic genuinely interesting, or find some aspect of it that is especially cool. If your topic is way too broad, try homing in on some part of that topic, and exploring that area in more depth. Many good ideas are wasted because students have a hard time focusing on a narrow enough topic.It can also show you where you will need to apply your research time, and reveal major deficiencies in your approach to your topic. So figure for ten pages, about 10-15 references and so on.Use it on your first draft to get your bearings, or on your final draft to check the way you’ve organized your paragraphs. Many papers may have more than that, but if yours has less, you probably skimped in the endless hours in the library department.Every university library has its own database for books and journals.Consult the online catalog first to see what's available. Sign out those library books and copy those journal articles early on in the process, or you may find some prof has absconded with the only copy of your best source, and good luck getting it back before Christmas.Avoid using too many newspaper articles and magazines wherever you can.Magazines like Time and Newsweek often have good focused articles, but they tend to be laden with unsupported opinions, and written to cause a sensation rather than to reveal the truth. For raw data and spirited opinion, government documents can't be beat.