How to write a term paper at the University of Vienna

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Table of Content
I.What software should you use?
II.Setting up
III.Citing
IV.Creating a Table of Contents and structuring the document
V.Conclusion

As I’ve seen many of my peers being a bit lost with the technicalities of writing a term paper, I’ve decided to write a short all-in-one guide about it. Now, I’m not going to delve into wording, grammar and word-choice, as for that we have the Schreibmentoring at the University of Vienna (German only) with excellent guides and materials. Instead, we’re going to look at the part which is going to waste most of your time in the beginning: the software you should use, and how you should use it.

Make sure to also check out the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology’s guide to scientic writing, it’s very helpful to get a general idea about the structure. (Only available in German)

For the software provided by the University, please see: Software for students

I. What software should you use?
1. Writing

Generally speaking, any office software that can style a document should work for this task, as long as it can create a table of contents, number the pages and enable you to set the typeface (font), it’s size and page margins. However, it’s strongly recommended that you either use LibreOffice or Microsoft Office, as these are very powerful programms with several useful integrations which will be important later on.

Furthermore, I urge you to choose LibreOffice over Microsoft’s Office suite for several reasons:

  • It is free of charge, no license required,
  • It is open-source,
  • It doesn’t analyse everything you write,
  • From an ethical perspective, science should never rely on dubious companies like Microsoft, as they abuse their position of power without a second thought,
  • In the EU, it is a legal grey area to write down personal information of your survey participants into Microsoft Office, if you don’t make them accept their Privacy Policy, even if they agreed to you processing their data.
2. Citations

Technically speaking, a word-processor is all you need to get started. However, if you don’t want your life to be eternal suffering, then you’re going to use citation software. These programmes enable you to speed up the insertion and styling of citation and, more importantly that of the bibliography. It’s all fun and games to do it manually, until you realise that you have more than just 10 pieces of literature and that they’re all a different type, with different citation rules.

Now, for citation software you have many options, the most popular of which are Citavi and Zotero. You can acquire Citavi through the University of Vienna at a discount for 25€/Year. Zotero is free and open-source and perfectly capable of handling all of your sources. I’m going to demonstrate the use of Zotero in this guide.

II. Setting up

After downloading your software of choice, make sure they work together. For Zotero, it usually should be able to detect what Office software you are using, installing the integration automatically. However in some rare cases (especially on Linux, if you installed Zotero from Snap or Flatpak) it might not integrate straight away, so you’ll need to quickly reinstall it from the preferences menu. For more details see the official documentation.

If Zotero is installed correctly, you should be able to see the following icons in Writer/Word, as detailed here.

The Zotero Toolbar

When you’re collecting literature, be on the lookout for easy importing possibilities. Zotero can process most file types, the most common of which are BibTeX and RIS. Usually these files can be downloaded from sidebars and submenus on the page of the literature under titles and buttons named “cite” or “citation”.

In the case of u:search, the bibliography file can easily be obtained through a button labeled “RIS”/”BibTeX” located directly under the title. When prompted to choose an encoding format, UTF-8 (the default option) is fine.

Either option is fine, I personally prefer BibTeX

After downloading the file, open Zotero and click on “File” -> “Import…” and follow the dialogue to automatically fill in all required fields. Beware that these files aren’t correct 100% of the time, so make sure to double-check and correct mistakes by hand.

Alternatively, you can fill out all required fields manually by clicking the green plus at the top and choosing the citation type. Usually you’ll only have to do this when citing websites or documents and similar. Luckily, the hardest citations have a downloadable format available most of the time.

A handy feature of Zotero is that you can organize your citations into different folders called “collections”. Every citation can be included in every collection, making sorting easy and efficient. Furthermore Zotero saves all data automatically. That being said, it never hearts to create the occasional backup of your data by going through “File” -> “Export Library…” and following the dialogue.

III. Citing

Once you’re ready to insert your first citation, click the appropriate button depicted below and search for the literature you need. You can select several titles. After you’re satsified with the selection simply hit enter and voilà! you have your first citation.

The Citation Button

You have to insert a citation before you can insert a bibliography. For this to happen, just click the correlating button, which will create the bibliography where you are currenty at in the document.

After this step, whenever sou insert a new citation, it will automatically be added to the bibliography. The citation and bibliography style can be adjusted by choosing the “Add/Edit Bibliography” Button. Here you can choose from the most popular styles like the Chicago, the APA and ASA styles. If you don’t find the citation style of your preference, you may add a new one. When you’ve made your choice simply hit OK/Apply and Zotero will take care of the rest.

TIP #1: Always ask your Mentor/Lecturer what citation style you should use, if you are unsure.

The pop-up you get when inserting the first citation.
IV. Creating a Table of Contents and structuring the document

Having the art of citing under our belt, we’re now fully prepared to tackle the next challange: coherence and structure. Coherence, in this case, doesn’t mean contextual coherence, but rather coherence in styling and formatting.

I recommend you set the interface of LibreOffice to “Tabbed” under the option “View” -> “User Interface…”, and afterwards enable the “Menubar” from the tab “View”. This layout has worked best for me thus far, but feel free to experiment as you go. Do note though, that you’ll need to re-enable the Zotero plugin and restart Writer for the toolbar to be visible after changing the interface.

Some general rules and settings for your document:

  • Use a Sans Serif typeface (like Arial or Liberation Sans)
  • Set text alignmet to “Justified”
  • Do not use more than 2-3 different sizes for the text (and the flowing text mustn’t be bigger than 12 pt or smaller than 10 pt)
  • Line spacing mustn’t be smaller than 1,15 nor bigger than 1,5 lines
  • The all around margins should be between 1,5-2,5 cm
  • The pages itself need to be in the standard A4 format
  • The cover page is exempt from these rules, as it displays little but important information
  • Insert page numbering beginning on the second page with “2”

TIP #2: Check with your Mentor/Lecturer what specific settings would be appropriate for your assignment.

To configure the page margins and the page format, simply right-click anywhere on the document and choose “Page Style…” from the list. In the new window choose the “Page” tab where you can adjust the margins and choose the format.

Change the Format to A4 and adjust the margins as required

For all other settings you should use a feature called Styles. Styles enable you to quickly format several aspects (as mentioned above). For the purposes of this guide I’ve inserted some placeholder text. In tabbed view, you’ll notice this part:


These are the default Styles that are available. This panel may be useful later, but first you’ll want to create your own Styles. For this to happen navigate to “Styles” -> “New Style from Selection”, or simply press the keys Shift + F11. In the first step, you’ll be asked to name the new Style. This name can be anything, as long as the name isn’t used by another Style already.

Let your imagination run wild

Now you’ll notice that your new style has been added to the list of Styles:


Next, you’re going to edit the new style. Click on the little pencil symbol next to the list of Styles or go through the menubar “Styles” -> “Edit Style…” or choose the same menupoints after right-clicking on the document. Doing this will reveal a large assortment of options. First choose the “Spacing and Indents” tab, so you may adjust these parameters.

Having 0.50 cm of space under each paragraph makes the whole text more easily digestable

Next is “Alignment”. Set it to “Justified” like this:

The “Justified” setting stretches every row to the maximum, so the text looks nice and tidy

To top it off, let’s move on to the “Font” tab. Here you can adjust the type and size of the typeface for this Style.

With these settings we can adjust many settings for a paragraph with just 1 click. You’ll generally want to create 3-4 Styles for: Chapter Titles, Subtitles and the main body (Fließtext). Let’s create three Styles as an example for this tutorial:

Parameter || StyleMain BodyMy TitlesMy Subtitles
FontLiberation SansLiberation SansLiberation Sans
Font Size11 px20 px 11 px
Font StyleRegularBoldBold
Font EffectsSmall Capitals
Spacing Above Paragraph*0 cm0 cm0,50 cm
Spacing Below Paragraph*0,50 cm1,0 cm0,50 cm
In some cases it might be wise to adjust these individually form some (sub)titles

Applying the above settings gives our text more or less the following appearance:

Having created a nice looking text, your next concerns should be 1. the cover page; 2. the table of contents; and 3. the page numbering.

1. The Cover Page

Creating a cover page is fairly easy, the University even provides a template. However, using these templates isn’t always ideal, so let’s create one from scratch. First position your cursor before the first letter in your document and hit Ctrl+Enter (Strg+Eingabe): this is called a Page Break. On the new page write down the title of your paper, your name, your matriculation number, your lecturer’s /mentor’s name, the name of the course, the semester and the field of study. It may look something like this:

Something like this is acceptable

TIP #3: If you’re unsure, you can usually check all official titles of your professors on u:find.

Make sure not to use any of the Styles you have created on the cover page!

2. Page Numbering

Numbering at the bottom of the pages is a must for your term paper, and it’s rather easy to accomplish. First click under the margin of any page and then click on the small blue prompt that appears labeled “Footer (Default Page Style)+” or go through the menubar “Insert” -> “Header and Footer” -> “Footer” -> “Default Page Style”. Make sure you’re inside the Footer with the cursor and click on the blue prompt once again. From it’s menu choose “Format Footer” and uncheck “Same content on first page”. Hit ok, make sure you’re in the Footer on any page but the first and go over to “Insert” -> “Page Number”. Lastly align the text in the middle.

The ominous blue prompt
3. Table of Contents

A table of contents is more often mandatory than not, and Styles play a major role in their creation. Once again go to the start of the text and insert a Page Break. On the new page select “Insert” from the menubar then “Table of contents and Index” -> “Table of Contents, Index or Bibliography…”. In the new window choose the “Type” tab. Under “Create From” enable “Additional styles” and click on “Assign styles…” where you can assign your own Styles to the desired Level. In our example it looks like this:

TIP #4: Also uncheck “Protected against manual changes”, so you can adjust the look.

This gives us the following Table of Contents:

V. Conclusion

It’s not easy to figure out the technology the first time you use it, but the more you use it the more you’ll get used to it. To make the entry easiera and to potentially save you some time, I’m providing the example document from above as a template file that you can use for your own term paper with ease. Download it here:

For further questions or remarks, see my About Me page for contact infromation.