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How to Write a Research Paper

by South University
January 15, 2019
A photo of South University students.

If this is your first time writing a research paper, it’s nothing to be scared of. Like all of your schoolwork, this will require time and effort, but you can do it! Learning how to do research, analyze and evaluate ideas, and communicate your perspective will be valuable in whatever career or area of study you’re pursuing.

Below, we break down how to write a research paper in six steps, covering everything from how to write a thesis and research paper outline to how to write a conclusion. Follow these steps for your writing process and you’ll be well on your way to crafting a strong research paper.

Confirm Your Requirements

“The most important part of successfully completing any assignment is to understand the scope of the assignment,” says Rachel Mitchell, MLIS, Director of Online Library Services at South University. “Don’t lose points on simple things like page numbers, word count, or citation style and formatting.”

To avoid mistakes, read your assignment and grading rubric carefully. Know whether to use APA or MLA format and citations, and always make sure you understand the goal of your paper.

Start Early

Set yourself up for success by starting as soon as possible. If your topic isn’t assigned, begin by brainstorming research paper topics. Choose something that interests you and is specific enough that the research process won’t be overwhelming. Because you’re starting early, you may have time to review potential research paper topics with your instructor.

The earlier you pick a topic, the more margin you have for the entire process. “Margin allows you to get clarification on the research paper format and requirements and to leave enough time to revise your first draft and get feedback from a colleague or tutor,” advises Mitchell. “Start early, plan your paper, and you should be done on time.”


Begin the research process for a new topic by reading high-level information. From there, you’ll need to dig deeper and be selective about sources. Look for peer-reviewed books or articles referenced by others in the field. Websites with .edu, .org, and .gov are usually reliable.

As you research, save any source that might be useful, highlighting and annotating key points. Keep your notes in one location, clearly noting information and opinions from your sources versus your own thoughts and commentary. For help finding sources, ask your school librarian and utilize the online library.

Next, Mitchell recommends starting your MLA or APA citation page. “Once you know which sources you want to use for your paper, go ahead and format that reference page,” she says. “Start with citation generators, and double check with help from your librarians and library citation resources. Then, once you finish writing your paper, you are done!”

Organize and Outline

When your research is complete, group or color code your notes based on topic, looking for related ideas to write about. After reviewing your notes, write a thesis statement that explains the main concept or argument you want to convey in your paper. A thesis should be specific enough that someone could reasonably disagree with it. Remember, your thesis won’t be perfect on the first go-round. Write something down and edit it until it feels right.

Now it’s time to build out your research paper outline by listing and ordering the points that support your thesis. Under each main point, list sub-points or supporting information found during the research process. Creating this research paper outline can make writing a research paper much easier because you already know what you want to say and what order to say it in.

Begin Writing

Before starting, review your assignment instructions and research paper format requirements one more time. “Format as you go,” advises Mitchell. “Microsoft Word and the online library provide paper templates that allow you to plug-and-play as you complete portions of your paper.”

Use your outline as a guide, knowing things may change as you’re writing. In your introduction:

  • include your thesis
  • preview supporting points
  • offer background about your topic and its importance.

As you write, support your statements with statistics and information from your sources but don’t fill your paper with overly long quotes. Instead summarize and analyze what you read, making relevant connections and adding your own commentary where possible.

Finally, drive your argument home in your conclusion paragraph by summarizing how your individual points add up to support your thesis. The conclusion paragraph may also demonstrate the importance of your ideas, tie your argument into a broader context, or propose an action readers should take in response to your paper.

Revise Your Work

Once your first draft is complete, let it sit for a day or two. Then, approach your research paper with fresh eyes. Check your paragraph writing for:

  • complete and coherent arguments
  • concrete details and examples
  • logical structure and sequencing
  • relevant sources and supporting data.

Read your paper aloud and edit any odd-sounding sentences, transitions, or word choices. Cut or expand ideas as needed. When you’re satisfied, ensure that in-text citations are done correctly and all sources are on the citation page. Look for typos, grammatical errors, and anything not following the required research paper format. Do a final re-read before submitting your research paper and celebrating your hard work!

South University Academic Support Resources

South University is here to help our students throughout the writing, editing, and research process. If you need assistance at any stage, you always have somewhere to turn, including:

  • The campus & online library
  • Tutoring center staff
  • Your academic advisor
  • Your instructors

Some instructors even design assignments with check-ins along the way, so that you meet with them to review your thesis statement, research paper outline, and even a first draft before submitting your final research paper.

If you’re interested in starting or continuing your education at South University, contact us at 1.888.444.3404 or request information online.

by South University
January 15, 2019
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When Animals & Occupational Therapy Meet

by South University
January 11, 2019
A photo of two South University occupational therapy assistant students.

As they approach the horse, some students are hesitant and nervous. Others are thrilled—they’ve been looking forward to this day since their pediatrics class started. Part of the Associate of Applied Science in Occupational Therapy Assistant program South University, Richmond,* these students are visiting the Wings of Hope Ranch for a case study project. They’ve been given a description of a patient and now they need to determine how to meet the needs of that patient using animal-assisted therapy with horses.

For those unfamiliar with the field, occupational therapy helps patients to develop, recover, and maintain the skills needed for their daily lives, whether they’re at home, work, school, or in public spaces. To build these skills, occupational therapy assistants and therapists employ a number of tools and methods, and lately, more and more animals—including horses—are finding their way into therapy sessions.

What is Animal-Assisted Therapy?

In animal-assisted therapy, healthcare professionals use trained therapy animals to help patients engaged in occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech therapy, and other related practices. Their therapy goals remain the same, with the animal serving as a motivating or calming factor for the patient.

“You could use these horses, or the family's pet dog or a cat, or almost any animal. A nursing home I worked at years ago had a pot-bellied pig,” says Kimberly Alford, the Occupational Therapy Assistant program instructor who leads the South University students on their visit to Wings of Hope.

Recent research has shown that animal-assisted therapy can increase patient communication, language use, movement, play, and overall engagement in therapy. “Research shows especially individuals who've experienced trauma do much better when using animals in therapy,” notes Alford.

Animal-assisted therapy is also a common tool for working with children with autism spectrum disorders, Down syndrome, ADHD, cerebral palsy, and many other conditions.

Using Animal-Assisted Therapy in Occupational Therapy

The Wings of Hope Ranch outside Richmond where our students visit is home to eight rescued horses used to help a variety of children in need.

Brushing a horse can be a particularly effective means of occupational therapy, explains Alford. “If we need to increase shoulder and arm strength, reaching to the top of a horse involves a lot of repetitions of moving your arms up high, like you would in exercise. Because many patients are more motivated to brush a horse than to lift a one- or two-pound weight, we can get more repetitions with this method.”

To understand how this might help a patient, the South University students try their own hand at horse grooming. From there, they’re tasked with creating a treatment plan for the patient described in the case study. “They have to understand everything grooming the horse requires and how to teach that,” says Alford. “Things like sequencing multiple steps, bending and stooping, grasping different items, changing positions, safety awareness, attention to task, there are all of those components.”

Grooming horses can even teach and motivate children to follow personal grooming and hygiene practices. “Kids who won't allow you to fix their hair may allow it to be brushed and fixed to go into the riding helmet,” notes Alford.

Beyond grooming, the animal therapy teaches children how to interact with and build trust with the horses. By sitting on the horse, they also work on balance and their back and trunk muscles.

Many other animals are common in occupational therapy. For example, therapy dogs may be used to distract patients who are being stretched. Alternatively, therapy dogs may help motivate patients to complete activities that improve range of motion, coordination, fine motor skills, and strength. This might include a patient cutting up treats, feeding the animal, putting on a leash, or playing games with them. Tasks involving multiple steps can help patients improve cognitive functioning and memory.

Using animals for therapy can even motivate children who refuse to eat. “Kids who were fed through a tube early in life often have great difficulty eating later in life,” says Alford. “To get them to try new food, you might set it up so that if they eat their food, they're allowed to feed a bite to the dog or other therapy animal as a reward or reinforcement.

Preparing for an Occupational Therapy Career

At South University, learning about animal-assisted therapy is only one aspect of preparing to become an occupational therapy assistant. Our 2-year associate’s (AAS) degree occupational therapy assistant programs include both coursework and clinical experiences. Richmond students particularly interested in pursuing an animal-assisted therapy job may further explore that area through their fieldwork and may return to Wings of Hope for service-learning projects. However, they’ll also gain experience across settings and therapy tools.

“Animal-assisted therapy is a specialized way to use your therapy skills, but the biggest thing for us is that this experience provides another unique opportunity for our students to practice their clinical reasoning,” says Alford of her students’ time at Wings of Hope. “As a therapist, the tools you use can change a lot but that clinical reasoning remains the same.

At a pool, a therapist focuses on aquatics therapy. In the state of Virginia, occupational therapists can’t bring anything into the house with them on home visits, so they use only what’s on hand, Alford explains. “Every situation, every setting requires applying your clinical reasoning skills to use what's available to help your patient.”

To learn more about preparing for an occupational therapy career at a South University campus near you, request information or explore our Occupational Therapy programs today!

by South University
January 11, 2019
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How to Get a Job in the Digital Age: 6 Tips for Your Job Search

by South University
January 9, 2019
A photo of two South University physical therapist assistant students.

If it’s been a while since you were last looking for a job, the job hunting process may have changed a little, or a lot. Your social media, LinkedIn profile, online networking, and your comfort with technology like job search sites, an online application, or a Skype interview—these all can impact your job search in the modern age. See what six tips you need to master to help you find a job that’s right for your career goals, interests, and experience.

Tidy up Your Online Presence

Employers pay attention to your online persona, starting with your email address. What does yours say about you? Hopefully only your name. No nicknames, jokes, or birth years; those things shouldn’t be part of your first impression.

A 2017 poll by CareerBuilder also shows that 69% of employers research candidates on search engines, and 54% of employers have found content on social media sites that caused them not to hire a candidate. To see what potential employers will find about you, put your browser in incognito or private mode and search your name. Unless you primarily post about your field, consider making your social media private during your job search. (LinkedIn is the exception; that should stay public.) Even so, your profile pictures may appear, so they shouldn’t be embarrassing or inappropriate.

Make an Impression on LinkedIn

A strong LinkedIn profile goes far in helping you find a job. For starters, a good LinkedIn profile can attract recruiters, meaning you spend less time job hunting. It also reinforces your experience and skills for potential employers visiting your profile.

You can further demonstrate industry interest and knowledge—and attract attention—by engaging with others’ LinkedIn posts, including those from organizations and people you’d like to work for. For your own posts, share relevant articles with brief commentary or reflect on your professional or academic accomplishments, such as a completed capstone project, recent clinical experience, or graduation ceremony.

Apply the Powers of Networking

Networking is perhaps the best way to find a job, and LinkedIn makes connecting with classmates, instructors, colleagues, and university alumni simple. You can even reach out to experienced people in your field to start a conversation and see if they’re willing to offer advice or mentorship.

When job hunting, check LinkedIn for any contacts or university alumni working at the company before you apply. You might have a contact willing to refer you for the job. If a friend of a friend works there, see if they can make an introduction. If you don’t know anyone at the company, you can message the hiring manager after you apply to briefly introduce yourself, express enthusiasm about the position, and reiterate why you would be a good fit.

Put Your Research Skills to Work

In the digital age, there are so many ways to research organizations. Having expansive company insight can both impress hiring managers and tell you whether an organization is truly a good fit for you. First, visit the company website. Explore their blogs, case studies, online downloads, and social media sites. Check Glassdoor rankings, reviews, and salary information. Look for news articles or customer reviews on Google for a perspective from outside the organization.

Using LinkedIn, see who works there now and who previously held the role you want. A little digging might even turn up employee social media posts about the company and their work. This will give you a sense of their employees, the work they do, and their opinions about the company. In an interview or cover letter, you can reference company projects or values that interested you and how your own skills and values align with what you know about the organization.

Get More from Job Search Sites

From LinkedIn Jobs to Google Jobs to Indeed Job Search, you can choose from a ton of job search sites. In addition to standard job posting sites, some sites are built for new graduates (like College Grad, Way Up, and After College). Other job search sites focus on remote jobs (We Work Remotely) or specific industries like technology (Dice). Whatever you use, experiment with different search terms and filters to find the most relevant results. Then, set up a job alert for new job postings that meet your criteria.

Perfect Your Online Communications

Technology and online communication are essential when looking for a job. Many job listings use an online application, and you’ll need to check your email account regularly for messages. Be prompt and professional in all email communications. One way to save time is to create emails you can reuse for sending your resume and for following up after interviews or networking events. (Following up within 24 hours is best.) This way the bulk of your email is already written and all you have to do is customize a few lines and hit send!

Employers may also request a Skype interview (or other video interview) prior to inviting you into the office. Before your Skype interview, test your camera and audio. Other Skype interview tips including choosing a clean, clutter-free area with good lighting and ensuring you won’t be distracted by kids or animals.

Finding the right job starts with getting the right education. Find the right undergraduate or graduate degree program for your career goals at South University today.

by South University
January 9, 2019
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A Guide to Setting & Keeping New Year’s Resolutions for Students

by South University
December 31, 2018
A photo of two South University physical therapist assistant students.

The start of a new year signals a time to reflect and reset, to decide what new goals to pursue and where to focus your energy. If the idea of growth and development resonates with you right now in your academic, professional, or personal life, creating a new year’s resolution list can help to set you up for success.

Planning Your New Year’s Resolution List

For starters, you can pick either a few goals to stay focused on throughout the year or decide to select one aspect of your life to work on each month. Once you know your new year goals, begin by honestly assessing where you are today. Then set a specific, measurable goal for how much you want to improve and by when, listing the steps you need to take to get there.

To make sure you take action, set reminders to check in with your progress regularly, perhaps once a week. Ask yourself what’s working, what’s not, and what you should change. If you’re not meeting your goals, keep trying different strategies until you do.

Example New Year’s Resolution Ideas

A photo of South University students at their commencement ceremony.

To help you get started, here are a few smart goal examples for students to consider as you brainstorm new year’s resolution ideas.

  1. Complete your assignments early.
    Aiming to complete your projects and assignments at least one day early is one of the smartest academic goals you can set. When you stop procrastinating, you can reduce the stress of finishing projects at the final hour and gain an extra day to resolve any unexpected last-minute issues.

  2. Build your community of support.
    As a student, there will be times when you need encouragement or advice, so it’s good to not only stay close with current friends and family but also try to meet new people, like classmates or colleagues you haven’t talked with. Being social can be the perfect mental break when you need time away from schoolwork. By connecting with colleagues, classmates, and faculty, you’ll have people you can turn to for professional advice as well.

    If this makes your new year’s resolution list, remember to choose specific actionable goals, such as calling your sibling weekly or attending 3 social events per month. If your goal is vague, it’s too easy to not do it.

  3. Join school, community, or professional organizations.
    This new year’s resolution can help you build your network and get out of your comfort zone. By joining an organization, you could try something new, contribute to your community or professional field, and pick up new skills. Pursue this goal by breaking it down into steps—researching organizations, joining, attending, etc.—so that you follow through and stay involved.

  4. Stay focused while you work.
    Learning to stay on task is a big part of time management. To achieve this, find tools and techniques that help you stay focused, like a browser add-on or mobile app that blocks social media sites during set hours or following the Pomodoro technique to do your schoolwork (and only your school work) for set amounts of time. Again, if you choose this as a new year’s resolution, be sure to set measurable goals and track your improvements.

  5. Make healthy eating choices.
    Anyone with a full schedule knows how easy it is to fall into unhealthy eating habits. However, with a little planning, you can eat healthier. Healthy eating starts with smart grocery shopping as well as planning your meals and snacks. When setting health goals, name specific food to eat less of or stop buying. You don’t have to cut out sweets or fast food, but you can set limits for yourself.

  6. Prioritize physical activity.
    Adding more physical activity to your routine can actually increase your energy for your busy days. For the sake of measurement, include a desired number of workouts or a total movement time per week in your physical fitness new year goals. With some physical activity, you can also set goals for speed or reps.

  7. Get more sleep.
    How much sleep do you get on an average night? Do you have a regular sleep routine? Do you stay up late and then wake up early to finish your work? To achieve your goals for school, you need to approach each day with a fresh mind. That starts with a full night’s sleep. Remember you don’t have to get there right away. Instead, work up to 7 or 8 hours. Begin by removing habits that might be making it harder to fall asleep or causing you to wake up in the night.

Help with Achieving Your Academic Goals

If you need guidance or support on creating a plan to achieve your academic goals, ask your academic advisor for assistance. They can help with items on your new year’s resolution list that include goals like to stop procrastinating, earn higher grades, and improve your time management skills, to name a few. Our faculty and staff are here to help you with making 2019 your best year yet!

by South University
December 31, 2018
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Top Financial Aid Questions to Ask When Choosing a School

by South University
December 31, 2018
A photo of a student shaking hands with a support professional, perhaps a financial aid counselor.

Once you’ve selected your top school and found the right degree program for you, the question of how to pay for college is still top of mind for almost every student. Your school’s financial aid team will be key in helping you apply for financial aid and create a financial plan that fits your needs. Here are some of the critical financial aid questions to ask this college department.

What types financial aid options are offered?

Among the most obvious financial aid questions to ask a college, this is also the most important. Below are common types of financial aid for college students your school should mention.

Federal grants: Grants are a form of a federal financial aid that eligible students do not have to repay as long as they remain in school. “A student may have to pay back all or part of a grant if they withdraw from school before finishing an enrollment period,” explains South University Student Services Manager, Brent Whigham.

Federal student loans: “Federal student loans are borrowed funds that must be paid back to the Department of Education, with interest,” says Whigham. “Students are required to begin making payments 6 months after graduating, leaving school, or dropping below half time enrollment.”

To apply for federal student loans and grants, you must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

State aid: State-funded financial aid may be available for some students. Eligibility varies based on the individual state requirements.

Institutional scholarships & grants: Schools may offer institutional grants and college scholarships based on merit or need. Speak with your school to see what’s currently available.

Outside sources: Many non-profit and private organizations offer grants, scholarships, and loans that can help you to pay for college. Even your employer may offer tuition assistance or reimbursement. While many legitimate grants, college scholarships, and lenders exist, do be suspicious of offers that seem too good to be true and particularly those that require a fee. “Be cautious of online scams and consult with a financial aid counselor at your school if you are concerned with a certain online offer,” recommends Whigham.

Who will assist me with financial planning and paperwork?

Being unsure of how to pay for college is normal, and you shouldn’t be left to figure it out on your own. Make sure your school offers a dedicated financial aid advisor who can walk you through applying for financial aid, help you understand your financial aid options, and answer questions as they come up. At South University, this person will be your Student Finance Counselor, who will support you through all aspects of the financial process.

What transfer of credit options are available?

Transfer of credit can be a great way to reduce the cost of your education. Your school may accept transfer credit from:

  • Prior college credit
  • Military experience
  • Military training
  • Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support (DSST)
  • College Level Examination Program (CLEP)
  • American Council on Education (ACE) certifications

At South University, our admissions team will work you with to secure prior transcripts and any related documentation that we can evaluate for potential transfer credit.

What benefits are offered to military members, veterans, and family members?

For military personnel, veterans, and military family members, this is a must-ask financial aid question. Eligible institutions may offer programs such as Tuition Assistance, GI Bill® benefits*, the Yellow Ribbon program, and more.

“South University is proud to accept most military benefits available. Finance counselors can direct students to resources to determine what benefits may be available,” says Whigham. “We are also glad to offer a 10% tuition scholarship for qualifying military personnel, veterans, and active duty military spouses.”

When will I find out about and receive a financial aid award?

If you complete the FAFSA online, you may receive a Student Aid Report with basic details about financial aid eligibility in as little as 3 days. For a paper FAFSA submission, this may take up to 3 weeks. If you entered a school code in your FAFSA, that school will receive your FAFSA information and, depending on their processes, should be able to discuss your college financial aid options with you shortly.

Timelines for dispensing aid vary by school. At South University, once all of your documents are on file and your financial aid plan is approved, your aid typically pays around 4 weeks from the start of class. You can check financial aid status anytime on the My Finances page of your online portal.

Connect with the Financial Aid Team at South University
Our financial aid counselors are here to answer all of your college financial aid questions. To speak with our admissions and financial aid teams, request information online or call us at 1.888.444.3404.

*GI Bill® is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). More information about education benefits offered by VA is available at the official U.S. government Web site at

by South University
December 31, 2018
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