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The ABCs of Writing a Final Paper for Your Online Class

The ABCs of Writing a Final Paper for Your Online Class

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By Dr. Anthony Patete
Faculty Member, School of Business, American Public University

There you are, sitting at your computer during Week 1 of your online class reviewing the syllabus. As you read your instructor’s words that a research project is due at the end of the course, you cringe in your seat and think, “Where do I start?”

Whether you are an undergraduate or graduate student, good writing begins with an idea, materializes into an outline, and becomes a paper with a beginning, a middle, and an end. (Graduate students: Your outline is the table of contents of your thesis or dissertation.) It is that simple.

Start with Getting Organized and Creating an Outline for Your Final Paper

Prepare to write your paper by creating an outline for pre-writing, research and drafting. Follow the instructions your instructor has given to you for the final paper. Use those instructions as a guide for your outline. This format will keep your final paper better organized.

Your final paper can be broken down into several sections:

  • Your thesis statement
  • An introduction
  • Body text with your main points
  • A conclusion
  • A reference page

Thesis Statement Sums Up the Theme of Your Final Paper

Your thesis statement is more than just general statement about your main idea. It establishes a clear position and provides the direction and focus of your paper.

In general, your thesis statement should make a claim that can be argued or a point that can be reached through analysis; that brings a sense of purpose to your writing. Be specific in your thesis statement and make sure your thesis statement meets the following criteria:

  • The thesis aligns with the requirements and goals of the assignment.
  • The thesis is clear and easily recognizable; it uses keywords that can be used for research.
  • The thesis is supported by good reasoning, preliminary research, data and/or emotional appeal.

Introduction Provides an Overview of Topics You’ll Discuss in Your Paper

The introduction is a general statement of the specific facts and points you’ll discuss in the body of your paper. An effective introduction establishes an issue, explains both sides of your argument and contains your thesis statement.

Ask yourself: Why is this topic important and why should the reader care about it? Your introduction will also impact your conclusion, which cements your position on this topic.

Ideally, both the introduction and the conclusion should be written after you write the main body of your paper. Completing the main body of your paper first makes it easier to write an introduction and conclusion; essentially, you will be summarizing the main points you made and developed in the paper.

Use the Body of Your Final Paper to Argue Your Main Points and Provide Supporting Evidence

The body is the largest section of your paper; it’s where you develop your main points and support them. Use this section of your paper to show your ideas and support them with factual details from your research.

The paragraphs in this section require topic sentences. Topic sentences provide direction to the reader and connect your main points back to your thesis statement.

Once you have written each topic sentence, using a main point from your outline, clarify that point by adding sentences with details or research that support your point. Details and examples validate your position and lend credibility to your statements, provided that you use research from credible sources.

Draft all paragraphs as described above for every main point in your outline. When you write the paragraphs in this section of your paper, each paragraph should naturally lead into the next. Be sure to use transition words or phrases such as ‘eventually,’ ‘therefore’ and ‘as a result’ to maintain a logical flow throughout your paper that helps the reader follow your train of thought.

Your Conclusion Summarizes Your Paper and Restates Your Proposition

The purpose of the conclusion is to create a logical closure, to resolve the topics discussed and to succinctly summarize your paper. Make sure that your conclusion relates back to your introduction and reestablishes your position on your topic.

Also, restate your thesis in your closing paragraph. Your conclusion should not introduce new information that should have been included and explained in the body of your paper.

Some things to consider when writing your conclusion are:

  • Did I restate my topic?
  • Was the thesis statement restated, either generally or specifically?
  • Were any opposing viewpoints mentioned?
  • Was there a call for action or an overview for future research possibilities?

The Reference Page: Listing Specific Sources Used to Write Your Paper

The reference page is the last page of your paper. The reference page is not the place to list all of the materials you read in preparation to write your paper and it is not the place to dump extra resources to make you look smart. This section is where you provide a list of the resources that you used and specifically cited in the body of your paper.

Readers can use your reference page to find and read your source materials. Each source you cite in the paper must appear in your reference list. Also, each entry in the reference list must have an in-text citation within your paper.

Don’t Forget to Check Your Paper before Submission to Your Instructor

Lastly, spell-check and proofread everything you write before submitting it. Be especially careful with spell-checking software, because it cannot differentiate between similar words such as “form” and “from.”

Use the correct citation style for your academic program. Depending upon your major, your citation style will vary.

Also, be mindful of GUMS:

  • Grammar
  • Usage of words
  • Mechanics of sentences
  • Spelling and punctuation

By following these simple instructions, you will ensure that you meet all the requirements of your final paper. In addition, you will make it easier for your instructor to give you a good final grade.

About the Author 

Anthony Patete is a faculty member at American Public University’s School of Business and other universities. He has been teaching law and business for more than 14 years and on campus at various schools and has been an administrator in post-secondary education. “Dr. P,” as his students affectionately call him, provides his students with seasoned instruction and career guidance.

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