If you are new to scholarly writing, it may be helpful to remember that writing is a process, not an event.
Learn More About the Writing Process
Taking the time to prepare for your writing will help make the writing process smooth and efficient. Follow these steps to ensure that your page does not stay blank for long. All of prewriting resources should be used simultaneously—you will often find yourself switching back and forth between brainstorming, critical reading, organizing, and fighting off writer’s block as you begin a new assignment.
Take Careful Notes
While reading, make sure that you are taking notes on relevant information.
Group your notes by topics or main ideas so you can see the connections among the material you have read. Try some of the Writing Center's brainstorming activities for help generating and connecting ideas.
Be sure to provide a citation (author, year, and page number) for every note that you take. This way, you will not have to interrupt your writing process later to find citation information.
Knowing how to read effectively will be one of your strongest assets in the prewriting process. Review the Academic Skills Center's resources on critical reading for more tips on getting the most from your research and reading.
Choose a Topic
Review the notes you have made to identify trends and areas of interest. Ask yourself where you have taken the most notes, where the most information is focused, and where any gaps in the literature might be. Do not discount your own interests—it is easiest to write a paper on a topic that intrigues you!
Use our brainstorming resources to help narrow down your paper topic, or consult your instructor for extra help. Once you have chosen a topic, you may need to go back to the note-taking stage and find more information to flesh out the body of your paper. Do not forget that most scholarly papers should advance a clear claim, articulated in the paper's thesis statement.
Develop Your Analysis
Good scholarly writers ask questions as they research, and the answers to those questions often become the organizing arguments in their papers. As you continue to read and take notes, think about the major claims that exist already about your topic. Ask yourself if you agree or disagree—or think the major claims should have a different direction entirely! Our resources on critical thinking can help you develop the main points of your paper before you begin writing. Remember that you will likely also be continuing the brainstorming process as you develop your analysis.
Drafting refers to actually writing the words of the paper. As part of the writing process, you will write multiple drafts of your paper. Each rough draft improves upon the previous one. The final draft is simply the last draft that you submit.
If you are stuck, here are tips for helping you put words onto the page.
Writers often think of paragraphs as units of length, but the paragraph measures something more abstract than inches of paper: it measures ideas. Each paragraph in an academic paper acts as a concrete unit of the central argument. Every paragraph advances a new claim, building on the claims that have come before, until the writer conclusively establishes the position of the entire paper. See below for more examples and explanation!
Duke University's Thompson Writing Program (n.d.) recommends that you organize the material within a paragraph according to the MEAL plan:
Main Idea: Your topic sentence stating the concrete claim the paragraph is advancing.
Evidence: Paraphrase or direct quotations from the source material you are using to support your topic sentence's claim.
Analysis: Your explanation and evaluation of the evidence; explaining the evidence you provided and its relevance in your own words.
Lead Out: Concluding; preparing your reader to transition to the next paragraph (and the next claim).
The MEAL plan matches the general format of academic writing on many levels: that of assertion, evidence, and explanation. Many students make the mistake of writing toward a topic sentence or claim, rather than from one; keeping the MEAL plan in mind as you write will help you begin your paragraphs strongly and develop your analysis thoroughly.
Duke University Thompson Writing Program. (n.d.). Paragraphing: The MEAL plan. http://twp.duke.edu/sites/twp.duke.edu/files/file-attachments/meal-plan-2-1.original.pdf
In an online learning environment, discussion postings often serve as key modes of class participation. As a result, these posts are a great way to demonstrate you have read and thought critically about course readings. Although generally shorter and narrower in focus than a traditional essay, discussion posts should be as coherent and scholarly in tone. Think of these posts as a mini-essay, in which you want to have a single central argument and clear evidence to support that argument. It is important to keep length requirements in mind, limiting the scope of your response, so it will remain clear, focused, and relevant to the topic at hand. On the following subpages are some tips for crafting an effective discussion posting.
Writing thoughtful peer responses to discussion posts is a significant part of the online learning experience. This resource offers strategies for providing constructive, specific, and professional feedback to peers.
Have you ever felt unsure about how to write a discussion post? Today on the blog, we offer a 7-step strategy to help you create a discussion post with clear purpose, effective organization, strong evidence, and logical reasoning.
Writing instructor and contributing faculty member Hillary joins Beth and Brittany to chat about the purpose of the discussion board and how to be an effective participant.
A dynamic discussion board lies at the heart of any productive online learning experience... the discussion board serves as a space to reflect on course concepts, consider the views of others, and engage in thoughtful dialogue with classmates.