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Online Writing Lab: Skills

Writing Lab services for online and distance students.

Purpose:  To understand the author's point of view, to stay focused and involved with the text, to monitor and improve comprehension.



If you are struggling to understand the author's idea or main point, re-read the first and last pages or paragraphs--the introduction and conclusion.


Spot the thesis, and make it stand out (underline it, highlight it, draw stars around it).  Rewrite it in your own words to make sure you understand it.


Circle or underline words you don't understand.  Look up the definitions of these words and make sure they make sense to you.  Put the definitions in your own words.  Try to minimize them so they can fit on the page.  If possible, write a one word definition right above the word you don't understand.


Underline all key ideas.  Look for ideas that are repeated or emphasized.  Look for personal examples, expansive descriptions and the use of other sources.  Also look for anything that makes the author's point clear to you.


Put the underlined ideas or phrases into your own words in the margins.  (This forces you to process the information).  Locate significant quotes.  Look for clues about the organization of the text.  Write a short summary of each paragraph or main idea beside it so you can quickly review what the author has said.  Draw graphs, charts, diagrams, or sketches if it helps you understand or remember a main point.


Be ready to evaluate your own beliefs based on new evidence and arguments you encouter when researching, reflecting, and asking questions.


On your reading.

On class discussion.

On your own perspectives.

Does this new information support your current understanding and beliefs?

Ask Questions

Do I agree with this?

What is this text showing me?

How did I reach this conclusion? Is it true?

Is there bias in this text?


fact is not a fact because it is argued well—even false ideas can be presented with sound logic.


Explain the ideas and concepts you are learning to others. Use your own words and examples. Through explaining to others, the idea may become clearer to you, and you will be more likely to remember it.

Points of View

Learn from others’ perspectives and gain  confidence in sharing your own ideas. Looking at a topic from multiple points of view is a key critical thinking skill.


Determine the validity of ideas based on evidence and sound judgment, and remain open to the possibility that your beliefs might be untrue. Weigh ideas against evidence to help you avoid leaping to false conclusions. Root out any conclusions based on logical fallacies (see Logical Fallacies below).


Get to class early, or take time before leaving for class to prepare.  Review your notes from the previous class period.  Look ahead at the topic or the chapter that the professor is going to cover this period, so you are familiar with the ideas.  Prepare to take notes by writing down abbreviations that are relevant to the topic and that you plan to use in your note taking, so that you don't have to spend time doing that during the lecture.

When in Doubt, Write it Down

This is not to say that you should write everything down.  Only, if you are debating writing something, don't spend time wondering, just write it down.  Better to have a little too much information than to waste time wondering if something is important.

Thin Your Notes

Don't write down too many words.  Leave out unimportant ones.  Use abbreviations.  Write down a list of the abbreviations you will use pertaining to the subject.  For example, if the lecture is about King Henry VIII, make a note somewhere that H = King Henry VIII.  H could stand for a lot of things, but since the lecture is about King Henry VIII, it makes sense that you should not write his name out every time he is mentioned.

Know Your Professor

Different professors have different lecture styles.  Choose a note taking style that fits well with the way your professor presents material.  For example, the Cornell method works well if you professor is using an outline to lecture from, or is otherwise very organized.  If a professor frequently jumps from topic to topic and back to previous topics, the note taking for visual learners style might be more useful.  After the first lecture of the class, show your notes to your professor.  Ask for feedback to see if you captured the main points of the lecture well.

Review Your Notes

Take a moment right after the lecture to go over your notes.  Later, test yourself on the different points.  If you review your notes interactively and at different points after the lecture, you will not have to cram the night before a big test.  This relieves a lot of test-taking anxiety!

Type or Rewrite Your Notes

Not only is this a good review, but now you have a neat copy of your notes that you can use to study.  It sounds like it will take extra time, but in the end it will save you time stressing and cramming for the final.


Think through your thesis.  Take time to fully develop it.  Outline your argument.  This brings clarity to your ideas and helps ensure that the organization of your paper will be consistent.


Introduce your paper with a clear, specific statement of your main idea.  Your thesis sets up the argument that your paper makes from the beginning to the end.

From Start to Finish

Build your paper around three structures:

the introduction, which presents your thesis and begins the argument of your paper.

the body of your paper, where you present evidence and reasoning in support of your thesis.

the conclusion, which ties your ideas together and directs attention to the main idea.

Topic Sentences

Begin each paragraph with a topic sentence that introduces the main idea of that paragraph.  Effective topic sentences connect the idea of the preceding paragraph to the idea of the new paragraph.

1.  Plan Ahead
Look at your schedule as soon as you receive the assignment and decide when you have time to do it so that it will be completed several days before the actual due date.

2.  Get Started
Start the assignment the day it is assigned.

3.  Manageable Chunks
Break up the larger assignment into smaller sections that don't seem quite so overwhelming.

4.  Limit Distractions
Find a place free from distractions to work.  Turn off your phone or put it out of sight.  Don't get online unless it is required to complete the assignment.

5.  Set Goal
Set goals and make steps to accomplish them before spending time with friends or doing other enjoyable activities.

6.  Be Accountable
Join a study group so you will feel accountable to accomplish assignments before the meeting.  Or, ask a friend to check in on you to make sure you are doing what you said you would.

7.  Say "No"
Learn to say no to additional commitments, especially if you have things that need to get done.

8.  Save the Best for Last
Look at each subject and decide what your favorite subject is.  Save this assignment for last so that you are looking forward to completing it.

9.  Change it Up
Alternate subjects so that you don't get bored or tired from studying one subject all at once.

10.  Rewards
Reward yourself after a certain task or assignment is completed.

Repetition, Repetition, Repetition 

Repetition leads to habit.

Timely Review

Reviewing notes and ideas immediately after each section helps build memory.


Write important concepts on post-it notes or notecards.  Attach them to the refrigerator, bathroom mirror, etc. . .


Review regularly.


If it is a longer session take 10 minute breaks every hour.  Rejuvenate the mind. . . get up!

Flash Cards 

Use flash cards.


Try to link ideas from one class to another, from one aspect of thought to another.


Try to relate the material to your everyday life and incorporate it in conversation.

Make Use of the Wait

Always carry a book for class to fill in times when you have to wait.

Need Help?

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Writing Lab Consultants
Morgan Library Learning Center
574-372-5100 ext. 6427
574-372-5100 ext. 6297
Morgan Library - Learning Center
Grace College & Seminary
1 Lancer Way
Winona Lake, IN 46590
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