Writing Tips for Online College Students

Whether you are responding to a discussion question or compiling a research paper, writing is an indispensable skill for the online college student. Taking on each portion of your assignment systematically will allow you to break the project down into smaller sections and help you feel more in control. Here are some tips to help you get started.
writing tips for online college students

Make sure you understand the assignment.

This might seem obvious, but some students are in such a hurry to get started that they don’t take the time to understand the assignment. Read the instructions thoroughly and ask the professor any questions that you have before you start.

Create an outline.

For a longer writing assignment, organization is key. It is sometimes easy to get distracted, so creating an outline can help you sort your thoughts. An outline doesn’t have to be long or thorough. It is simply a list of points that you want to cover in the order that you want to cover them. Taking the time to create an outline before you start writing can actually save time long term.

Keep your citation guide handy.

The CSU Citation Guide is available to assist Columbia Southern University students. It’s your friend! The guide is a comprehensive resource regarding APA formatting and citation. Make sure you have a copy handy before you start writing. The CSU Citation Guide and other learning resources are available in the CSU Student Portal under the Resources menu.

Work from a template.

Creating an APA template paper for your courses can save time and effort. The CSU Citation Guide includes instructions on Page 17 for setting up the running heads and the title page with a placeholder title such as “TITLE OF PAPER.” When you need to write a new paper for class, open this file, change the title and save it under a different name so you don’t lose the template. This can save considerable time compared to redoing the APA formatting for every assignment.

Write the content.

Using the outline, write out the content of each section. Make sure you include an introduction and conclusion, and use transitions between ideas. Write using a formal tone with complete sentences and paragraphs to organize your points.

Make adjustments.

Everything in an assignment should support a main argument, but don’t fret if your argument isn’t crystal clear at the beginning of the process. Sometimes you might have an idea or argument you want to make, but as you write about your topic, that argument changes. Don’t be afraid to pivot away from your initial idea.

Print and read your first draft out loud.  

Many times, the first draft is very different compared to what you end up turning in for the final assignment, but it is a vital part of the writing process. Your first draft helps you see early on how your topic relates to the assignment. Printing your first draft helps you identify some of these things easier than seeing it on the screen. Reading the assignment out loud can also help you identify issues in tense, word usage and sentence structure.

Read the assignment one last time.

Once you’ve reviewed your first draft and made your initial edits, take a moment and go back to the assignment directions. Does your draft cover all of the required points? Are you able to cut any unnecessary information? Re-reading the directions is a quick step to ensure what you turn in meets the professors’ expectations.

Reach out for help.

Many universities have teams of professional writers that help students with writing assignments. Maybe you have a question about a certain writing style, or maybe you want another set of eyes to look over your research paper before you turn it in. At CSU, the Success Center is available to help students before, during and after they turn in writing assignments.

To learn more, visit ColumbiaSouthern.edu/Success.

Related: How to Improve Your Writing Skills Before You Head Back to College