December 2, 2023

How to Write Successful Papers in Your Online Classes

Author: Jarrod Sadulski
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Start a criminal justice degree at American Public University.

By Dr. Jarrod Sadulski
Faculty Member, Criminal Justice, American Public University

Because online classes are an exceptional way to earn a college education, I have completed online classes from my associate degree to my doctorate. These classes also allowed me to balance important responsibilities at work and at home.

The flexibility of online classes is wonderful, but they do limit direct interaction between instructors and students. Unlike traditional classes that have a scheduled day, time and physical location, courses are asynchronous. Coursework in an online class is posted at various times.

As a result, online students must build their abilities as self-starters, learn to solve problems and develop their critical thinking skills. Each of these skills has value in the workplace and reflects the worth of online learning.

However, writing a paper for an online class can be challenging at times.

Understand What the Instructor Looks For in Papers and Don’t Be Intimidated

One of the best ways to successfully manage major writing assignments is to understand exactly what the instructor is looking for and how to provide it.

Online students, like their counterparts in traditional brick-and-mortar universities, are often intimidated by major assignments such as term papers or lengthy theses. These students struggle to keep their writing focused on the assigned topic and to ensure that they meet all of the instructor’s requirements. However, there are techniques you can use to make writing your papers easier.

Organize Your Ideas and Do Research before You Write

A typical term paper or other writing assignment will include instructions and a list of required objectives or elements. One strategy that has helped me is to copy and paste each main idea or assignment objective into a new Word document, leaving space between each idea or objective.

I then conduct my research and answer each of the assignment questions under these different sections listed on the Word document. After that, I revise each assignment objective or question into a section heading. This process saves time and ensures that my paper follows the assignment instructions.

The newly developed section headings are based on the assignment’s instructions to ensure that I meet each of the main elements of the assignment. In creating the section heading, for example, I may shorten the words of the assignment instructions that are addressed in a particular section. The next section heading correlates to the next set of instructions or assignment objectives that I am addressing in the next section.

After proofreading each section under the newly developed section headings, I write the introduction and conclusion. Because the main body of the paper is already completed, these final two sections are often easy to write. This method saves time and reduces the stress of writing long term papers.

Use Citation Generators with Caution

For years, I depended on various citation generators. But I often lost points on my papers because those citation generators were inconsistent in providing correct American Psychological Association (APA) citations.

As a result of my citation mistakes, I took the time to carefully study the APA style before I completed my first assignment in a writing course I took while I pursued my bachelor’s degree. Once I took the time to fully understand in-text references and reference page formatting, I saved more time by simply writing out the references myself without the use of a citation generator. I also found it helpful to keep a Word document of properly formatted APA references on my computer as a style sheet.

Let Your Instructors Know when Feedback about Your Papers Is Unclear

Another important element in online classes involves instructor feedback. It is important for you to let your instructors know when their feedback is unclear; your grade on future assignments may depend on that feedback.

Instructors’ feedback that is either not detailed or takes too long to read is ineffective. What is effective is feedback that focuses on four to six main elements where your paper could be strengthened.

Applying these strategies can reduce stress and save time completing online assignments. Due to the flexible nature of online classes, time management is extremely important. As my colleague Matthew Loux pointed out, “Good planning and time management are critical to a successful academic career.”

About the Author

Dr. Jarrod Sadulski has been a member of the Coast Guard since 1997. His expertise includes infrastructure security, maritime security, homeland security contraband interdiction and intelligence gathering. He has received commendations from the Coast Guard. Currently, Jarrod is a supervisor in the Reserve Program and provides leadership to Reserve members who conduct homeland security, search and rescue, and law enforcement missions.

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