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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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How the GI Bill® Can Help You Advance Your Education

by South University
December 7, 2018
A photo of two South University nursing students in their commencement garb.

Many military members know that the GI Bill®* can help them pursue their education, but the details of GI Bill® benefits and eligibility are lesser known. So what is the GI Bill®? First passed in 1944 and since revised many times, the GI Bill® encompasses multiple education benefit programs provided through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). While each program’s eligibility and benefits vary, over the years, the GI Bill® has helped millions of qualifying servicemembers, veterans, and their families further their education, training, and skills.

GI Bill® Benefits for College Degrees

Military members and veterans can use GI Bill® benefits for undergraduate degree or advanced degree programs. You can also use the GI Bill® to pay for multiple degrees if you have remaining benefits after your first degree. For example, you might pursue an undergraduate degree in Psychology and then a master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling.

In cases where the GI Bill® does not fully cover college tuition, Active Duty, Reservists, or National Guard members may qualify for Department of Defense (DoD) funding such as Tuition Assistance or Top-Up benefits, which can cover part or all of the remaining tuition costs. Some states and/or schools also offer military scholarships/grants. Beyond these DoD and VA education benefits, you may qualify for financial aid through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

When using DoD or VA benefits, it is important to know your benefit limits and that eligibility may depend on successful course completion.

Major GI Bill® Benefit Programs & Eligibility

Post-9/11 GI Bill®: The Post-9/11 GI Bill® provides up to 36 months of education benefits for servicemembers who have served on active duty for at least 90 days after 9/10/2001 or were discharged with a service connected disability after 30 consecutive days. Honorably discharged veterans awarded a Purple Heart after 9/10/2001 can also qualify.

Individuals entitled to 100% of this benefit may have their entire cost of tuition and fees covered and paid directly to your school. In addition, you may qualify for a Monthly Housing Allowance (MHA) and book and supplies stipend. Active duty members may be able to transfer unused benefits to a dependent or spouse. See for more information.

Yellow Ribbon Program: The Yellow Ribbon Program can assist veterans with 100% Post-9/11 GI Bill® eligibility whose tuition and fees exceeds the VA’s annual cap. Once you reach this cap, the VA and the participating school each cover half of the remaining tuition and fees until the new cap year begins (August 1 – July 31). (Select South University programs may be subject to a maximum yearly tuition & fee reimbursement.) Fry Scholarship recipients as of 8/1/2018 are now eligible to participate in the Yellow Program. Child transferees of active duty servicemembers may be eligible if the servicemember is qualified at the 100% rate. See for more information.

Montgomery GI Bill® Active Duty: Servicemembers who have paid into this benefit while on active duty may have a significant portion of their tuition and fees covered. This program can provide up to 36 months of education benefits paid directly to you, so you will need to work with your school on a financial plan. To qualify, servicemembers must have an honorable discharge and meet other eligibility requirements set by the VA. For more information, visit

Montgomery GI Bill® Selected Reserve: This program provides up to 36 months of education benefits. It is intended for members of the Selected Reserve and National Guard who have enlisted or re-enlisted in the Selected Reserve with an obligation to serve 6 or more years after June 30, 1985. To be eligible, you must complete initial active duty for training (IDAT). Eligibility expires upon leaving the Selected Reserve. This benefit is also paid to you monthly, so you’ll need to work with your school on a financial plan. For more information, visit

Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment: This program supports eligible servicemembers and veterans with service-connected disabilities. Designed to help you prepare for, obtain, and maintain suitable employment, it may cover the entire cost of tuition and fees. Before receiving this benefit, you will meet with a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor to develop an education plan. For eligibility details or to contact a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor, visit

Fry Scholarship: This scholarship provides the Post 9/11 GI Bill® to children of servicemembers and surviving spouses of Armed Forces members who died in the line of duty after 9/10/2001. Qualifying individuals may receive up to 36 months of benefits at the 100% level as well as a Monthly Housing Allowance (MHA) and a book and supplies stipend. For more information, visit or

Survivors' and Dependents' Educational Assistance (DEA): DEA provides educational assistance to spouses and dependents of veterans who have died or are totally and permanently disabled as a result of their service. This benefit pays directly to the student, so you’ll need to work with your school on a financial plan. For more information, visit

Using Your GI Bill® Benefits at South University

To learn about using military and VA education benefits at South University, visit our Military Benefits page or view our Military Brochure. When you request information online or call South University at 1.888.444.3404, we’ll connect you with a team member who specializes in supporting military students as they prepare to pursue a college degree.

*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 7, 2018
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How to Stay Focused & Productive This Holiday Season

by South University
December 5, 2018
A photo of two South University nursing students studying a piece of medical equipment.

The holidays can be a time of celebration and fun, but they’re also known for being hectic and stressful. If you’re already busy with work and school during the rest of the year, here’s how you can better manage your time, focus, and productivity this holiday season.

Prioritize wisely

With everything going on this holiday season, clear your mind by getting your to-dos out of your head and onto paper. Whether it’s about school, work, or your personal life, write it down and decide if it should be done, today, this week, or later this month. You may be able to delegate some personal tasks to a helpful friend, family member, or spouse. If you explain that school is making you busier than normal and that you need to stay focused on working toward your goals, you’ll likely find someone willing to pitch in.

Make sure you’re also strategic in what you say yes to. For example, you likely don’t need to attend an event every weekend. To stay focused, you first must choose what to focus on and prioritize what matters.

Break down big projects

When you’re feeling overwhelmed by a school or work project and you already have a long list of holiday to-dos, skipping straight to the holidays is tempting. Instead, stop procrastinating and break down your project into manageable tasks. Ask yourself what is the first thing you need to do for your project. The second? Third? Keep going until you have a clear plan. Then work your way through each part and enjoy the sense of accomplishment that comes with completing each step.

Dividing time between your project and holiday list is fine as long as you’re not ignoring your project entirely.

“Give yourself time each day to work on your project until it’s done, so that you can get to your other priorities,” says Alexandra Young, Student Services Manager for South University.

Keep others informed

“The holidays are a wonderful time to get together with friends and family,” Young says. “However, you should let them know when you’ll be taking time before your gatherings for schoolwork. This allows you to stay ahead of the due dates so you won’t be worrying about assignments while you spend time with loved ones.”

Communicating in advance also sets expectations, so that you have fewer interruptions and can finish your work faster. The same goes for telling the people who live with you, especially if they’re taking time off work or your children are out of school while you’re at home working. Let people know what you’re doing and for how long so you can stay focused.

Shop smart

A photo of a South University student using a computer.

Whether you’re shopping online or in person, it’s easy to get caught up browsing the pages or aisles without realizing how much time has passed. Before shopping, create a to-do list and set a limit for how long you’ll shop.

Online shopping also makes it tempting to buy things as they come to mind. But don’t let shopping distract you from your work. Instead, decide what day and time you’ll shop and add it to your calendar. When you think of something to buy, simply add it to your list or online calendar event, so that you can do all your shopping at once.

On shopping days, stick to your list and keep an eye on the clock. For an even more productive day, squeeze in some reading or an assignment in before or after shopping.

Take advantage of days off

Over the holidays, you’ll have some days off class, but you can still work on coursework over your break. Young suggests, “Try to find time for readings or submitting a discussion response before big events.” (That way there’s no need to leave early and you can fully enjoy yourself.)

If you’re caught up, check your syllabus for upcoming work and find ways to get ahead. This helps you to stay in the routine of doing schoolwork, so that you’re still in the zone and ready to keep learning when your classes resume.

Enjoying the Holiday Season

Whatever tips you use for how to stay focused this holiday season, make sure you give yourself time for fun and family.

“Going to school can even be a great talking point to share with those who care about you! Let them know what assignments you’re working on during this festive time and share what assignments you really like,” says Young.

“Don’t look at school as a hurdle through the holidays; instead see it as a great accomplishment that you are progressing toward something positive!”

by South University
December 5, 2018
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How Earning a Degree Could Change Your Life

by South University
September 25, 2018
A photo of South University students at their commencement ceremony.

Earning a degree could benefit your life in many far-reaching ways—some perhaps that you’ve considered and others that hadn’t yet crossed your mind. While everyone's experience and goals are unique, here are just a few possible outcomes of earning your degree.

Land a new job or promotion with upward mobility

Some employers require or strongly prefer that new hires have a degree. Check job descriptions for the roles that interest you to see the education requirements and preferences of local employers. In many cases, earning a degree can not only help you qualify for new jobs, but it can also get you on a career path with opportunity to continue growing and advancing over the years.

Earn a higher salary

Whether at your current job or elsewhere, having a college degree can lead to higher earnings over time. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that those with a college degree have both higher earnings and lower unemployment rates than those without a degree. In salary negotiations, your degree, your course projects, and your various college experiences are all things you can use to demonstrate the value you have to offer a company.

Get more responsibility at work

If you like your industry or company but you’re in need of something more challenging, earning your degree could be exactly what you need. Continuing your education can give you the skills and credentials to convince your employer that you’re ready to step up at work in big ways. As you take on new, interesting tasks, you’ll get a chance to prove yourself—something that could lead to a future raise.

Qualify for a job with better benefits

Higher-level jobs that require degrees may have good benefit packages—including insurance, retirement plans, and increased time off—that allow you to better care for yourself and your family. At the very least, having a degree can allow you to be more selective in what jobs you take, and you can consider factors like benefits when picking what’s right for you!

Experience higher job satisfaction

If you earn a degree in a field you’re passionate about—from nursing to information technology to psychology—you can pursue a career you’ll find fun and rewarding. Of course, you’ll still occasionally have long days, but wouldn’t you rather set yourself up to be happy as often as possible? Why not choose a career that brings you joy? When you like your work, that happiness can spread throughout your life, decreasing stress and increasing well-being.

Become more active in the community

With your college education, you’ll develop more skills that allow you to contribute in your community through work or volunteer hours. At South University, we strive to foster community awareness and involvement in all of our online and on-campus students. As you engage with your community, you can experience fulfillment from helping others, while also forming new connections and expanding your personal and professional relationships.

A photo of South University, Online Programs student studying at a computer.Approach life with more confidence and self-esteem

Earning a degree is not just about learning industry-specific knowledge; you can also build skills like professionalism, teamwork, time management, critical thinking, and more. You’ll be challenged and pushed and eventually realize how capable you really are. Sure, sometimes you’ll need help, but college can also make you see that there’s never shame in asking questions or requesting support. After earning a degree, you can be confident in both your professional skills and your ability to succeed at what you put your mind to.

Gain new friends and mentors you can count on

In many ways, college is about connection. At South University, you’ll take classes with like-minded peers who share your career goals and aspirations. As you support each other through your program, you can develop strong bonds that continue long after you earn your degree. So too will you work closely and connect with your instructors, who will serve your as mentors and may even remain a professional contact throughout your career.

Start a journey of lifelong learning

Once you discover the value of education, you may set your sights and goals even higher, so that you move on to the next degree level and the next stage of your career in less time. Earning your degree can also inspire you to continue your professional learning and development by attending industry conferences, trainings, and webinars or simply doing increased research and reading.

Inspire family members to follow in your footsteps

By going to college, you’re setting an example for everyone you know. Whether your friends and family choose to do the same in a few years or much later down the road, you can serve as inspiration. They’ll also know you’re there to answer questions and support them through the journey of earning a college degree.

Want to know more? Talk to our admissions team about finding the right degree program for you at South University. Call us at 1.888.444.3404 or request information today.

by South University
September 25, 2018
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Tips for Transitioning from the Military to College

by South University
September 21, 2018
A photo of South University faculty member teaching a college course.

After leaving the military, earning a degree is a strategic way to prepare you for your next career move. Of course, any transition this big involves a lot of questions and decisions, so we’ve compiled a few tips that can help along the way.

1. Pick a program and learning style that’s right for you.

Look for a program that matches your interests and strengths while also preparing you to achieve your professional goals. If you're considering multiple programs, reflect on what you liked most about your military career. What civilian careers offer those same aspects? To help you decide, ask schools for details on program curriculum and outcomes.

If you need to balance school with family and work obligations, choose a program where that’s possible—whether that means learning 100% online, taking evening classes on campus, or perhaps mixing both online and campus-based learning. Whatever you do, remember that your military benefits are limited. Make the most of them by choosing a program you’ll stick with.

2. Discuss your military benefits with financial aid representatives.

Once you’ve researched schools and programs, be sure you understand your military education benefits and the availability of any additional military scholarships.

At South University, our financial aid officers will guide you through the financial aid process and exploring your options. When discussing your benefits, ask questions and pay attention to the details, including payment limitations and timing. If a school isn’t experienced in working with military students and veterans or their military benefits, then that school may not be right for you.

A photo of South University student studying at a computer.3. Ask about transfer and experience credits.

Veterans bring invaluable experience to the classroom and your school should recognize that. Look for a university that will evaluate your Joint Service Transcript or corresponding official service transcript to determine if you can receive college level credit for your prior learning and military training courses. South University also recognizes credit from non-traditional educational sources such as College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) and DANTES (Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support) Subject Standardized Tests (DSST) exams. Taking advantage of such opportunities can save you time and money.

4. Create a plan for your success.

You’re used to direction and structure from the military, and now you need to create that structure for yourself. Give yourself deadlines for making progress on course assignments and follow a regular schedule for studying and doing coursework. Success starts with making a plan and sticking to it.

5. Get help when you need it.

In the military, you knew you could count on the people around you. You were part of a team working together with one goal. The same is true in school. Your success is the mission, and, at South University, you’ll be surrounded by people ready to support you, from tutoring to academic advising to helping you navigate library resources in person or online. As you approach graduation, career services can also to help you find and pursue positions that match your goals.

Remember, learning in the classroom, online or in person, will be a different experience than learning in the military. That’s okay. No one expects you to excel at everything or go at it alone. Help is available; all you have to do is ask.

6. Don't neglect your physical and mental health.

Leaving the military is a challenging transition, no matter what you're planning to do next. To minimize your stress levels as a student, always leave room in your daily routine for taking care of yourself! Getting enough sleep, exercising, and eating right will help you stay at the top of your game in and outside of the classroom. We also encourage all veterans to explore the mental health resources available through their local Department of Veteran Affairs.

A photo of South University student studying at a computer.7. Connect with others who’ve been in your shoes.

Look for and get to know other veterans at your school from the start. The Student Veterans of America is also a great resource. In both instances, you’ll find other veterans who understand your struggles and successes and who may have advice to help with the transition. Whether you attend South University classes online or on campus, know that you’ll have many ways to connect with classmates with shared interests and talk outside the classroom.

8. Get involved with student life.

Student veteran organizations are a great place to start, but don’t stop there. Even if you’re nervous you might not belong, push yourself to join student groups and participate in school activities. Soon, you’ll realize how many people also feel out of their comfort zone. At South University, our diverse student body includes many adult learners, with a variety of life experiences, who are going to college for the first time or returning after many years away. Befriending your college peers can give you a sense of community, and you'll gain more people to check in on you, encourage you, and talk to about your schoolwork or your goals.

To talk with the military admissions specialists at South University, call 1.888.444.3404 or request information online.

by South University
September 21, 2018
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