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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.”

Research

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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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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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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Practical Study Tips for College Students from South University Faculty & Staff

by South University
September 7, 2018
A photo of South University medical assisting student studying at a computer.

When you start classes, it’s normal to be nervous about how to study for a test or fit coursework into your daily life. Whether you’ve been out of school for years or you’re just unsure about beginning a new program, we’re here for you. To help you build good study habits, we’ve compiled our favorite study tips for college classes provided by South University faculty and staff, including:

  • Mark Fabbri, PhD, Online Programs, Psychology Chair
  • Alexandra Young, Academic Manager
  • Rachel Mitchell, MLIS, Director of Online Library Services

A photo of South University, Online Programs student studying at a computer. 1. Carve out time for studying in your day.

Mark Fabbri, our Online Programs Psychology Chair explains, "Finding time can be the greatest challenge to studying. We all have busy lives and sometimes putting studying on top of the list is difficult."

To address this problem, use a journal to track how you spend your day, noting when you’re doing something valuable versus simply passing time—but don’t count all down time as wasted. For example, Fabbri prioritizes playing Minecraft in the evenings because it’s his way to relax.

"I also have a grandchild to watch, parents to care for, my daughter's new novel to proofread, and I need to somewhere find the time to work and exercise," says Fabbri, who is currently working on adding another degree to his extensive credentials. "By looking at what I do daily, I was able to block out 1 to 2 hours a day to read and study early in the morning when I first get up. That also seems to be when I am most alert for studying. Everyone is different, but the key is finding the best time to study for your own schedule."

2. Be smart about the places you study.

Fabbri asserts that where you study is equally as important as when. "Removing distractions so you can focus on reading your text or articles needs to be a priority," he says.

Don't study in front of the TV or somewhere your children or housemates will distract you. Quiet libraries are often among the best places to study, as are coffee shops. If you study at home, play white noise or classical music (some of the best music for studying) to drown out distracting noises.

3. Make your study habits routine.

"Consistency is critical to success," says Alexandra Young, an Academic Manager at South University. "Do your school work at the same time and in the same place every day to start forming good study habits."

To stay on track, set regular reminders through South University"s online learning platform Brightspace or mark time off for repeat tasks on a physical calendar or agenda. Just remember—creating a routine isn’t easy. If you slip up, don’t feel guilty. Recommit to your routine the very next day. “It can take months for good study habits to stick," Young says.

A photo of South University, Online Programs student studying at a computer. 4. Study in short bursts.

Cramming in all your studying at once is not effective. "You will learn the material for your assignment then forget it,” says Young. It’s also not the best way to study for a test, as you might forget what you studied by the time the test is in front of you.

Young advises studying for 20 to 30 minutes at a time and then taking a 5-minute break, repeating this process 1 to 2 hours a day. "Set a timer for studying. Stay focused and don’t check your phone. If you struggle with getting distracted, use software or apps to block extraneous websites for set times," says Young. "During your break, stand up, walk away, and give your mind a chance to rest."

5. Plan ahead and start early.

Planning ahead leaves room for surprises, says Director of Online Library Services, Rachel Mitchell. "Waiting until the last minute depletes any margin you might need due to technical issues or unexpected circumstances," she says. "It's possible you'll need clarification on an assignment or reading. When you procrastinate, there's no time left to hear back from an instructor, colleague, or tutor."

Mitchell suggests noting important course dates in your calendar and setting deadlines for yourself ahead of those dates to give yourself that extra wiggle room. She also likes psychologist Tamar Chansky's recommendation to "set up the launch pad and walk away." The idea is that if you set yourself up for a task beforehand, you're less likely to procrastinate later. "Before your study session, get out your computer, pen, paper, whatever you need," says Mitchell. "Take a quick break and then come back to everything all set up and ready to go."

6. Ask for help.

Admitting you don't know something can feel intimidating, but South University makes so many resources available to you--including tutoring, the library, instructors, and writing centers.

"As soon as you have a question, reach out! Asking saves you time and energy," says Mitchell.

"If you’re unsure about an assignment, contact your instructor right away. Anytime you need help with research, citations, or finding information on a topic, contact the library. We are here to help!"

Young agrees, adding that Admissions Representatives and Academic Counselors can also help with questions about how to study in college. "If your graduation team knows your concerns, they will be better equipped to point you in the right direction."

Get moving on your academic success!

Students can find contact information in the Campus Common for their Admissions and Academic support teams, instructors, campus or online libraries, and other resources that can help you build your college study skills.

If you’re interested in learning about South University and our programs, request information or call 1.888.444.3404 today!

by South University
September 7, 2018
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A Quickstart Guide to Forming Good Habits

by South University, Online Programs
November 18, 2014

The word habit often carries negative connotations, but a good habit is something worth developing. From finding a study routine that suits your personality to getting into a flow with household chores, tasks become easier when they are almost second nature. The benefits that come from things like a good exercise routine, diet regimen, or schedule for coursework are well worth the effort.

ReminderMaking Changes That Stick

Set a time frame of at least a month when looking to develop a habit, and re-evaluate after that time has passed. This is the conditioning phase, when you are getting used to doing something that you want to become a part of your everyday life.

Be consistent, and do your task on schedule. If it's the kind of thing you do every day, make sure to set aside enough time. If you are tackling it less frequently, it's even more important to strictly adhere to the schedule you have set for yourself.

Find a trigger and reminder. Use something as the impetus for your new behavior that will serve as the trigger. Additionally, something that is a simple reminder helps. Try anything from an app on your smartphone to a message from a friend who is committed to helping you develop your new habit.

Choose the right habits, and take them on for yourself. Don't set upon making changes because you think it's what others expect of you. Turn your successful habits into expressions of what you want to do to better yourself, your relationships or your career.

Trim the options. Essentially, this means narrowing your choices. Don't give yourself easy outs that allow you to pass on developing your habits. If you force yourself to get it done when it's hard, you'll do it almost automatically later. For example, don't give yourself multiple options for times to start studying. If it's possible, set a specific time and stick to it, so you'll be less likely to put it off.

Tracking Your Progress

Writing your goal down and checking that against how you are actually doing can serve as a great motivator. It doesn't matter how you track progress, just that you do so. Having a metric representing where you started, where you are now, and where you are going sets the stage for success.

Following a plan of attack increases the likelihood that your new behavior will transition into a full-blown habit. If the first couple of weeks seem difficult, remember the positives that come with sticking to the plan. If you are studying to get that degree or taking on a weight loss plan, it's the art of transforming the seemingly difficult into the seamless routine that will get you to where you want to be.

by South University, Online Programs
November 18, 2014
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