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One of the biggest challenges in online learning is writing. Many colleges and universities no longer depend on the traditional method of measuring your knowledge in a subject by taking a quiz or exam. Instead, a student’s comprehension and understanding of a topic are based on a written assessment, such as a reflection or research paper.

Whether you are writing a reflection paper or research paper, the process is similar. You write a thesis statement, followed by three to five supporting points, and then a conclusion. The difference is how you support your thoughts and ideas.

In a research paper, it is relatively straight forward. A thesis is given, followed by three supporting facts or evidence that proves it to be true, and then a conclusion.

A reflection paper is much different. In a reflection paper, you write about your understanding of the topic, your opinion about the topic, and how it applies to your life. How you validate your opinion, thoughts, and ideas is the difference.

As an instructor, I like reflection papers. It is a good way for a student to show me three things. One, if they understand the topic, two, if they can provide an opinion on the topic, and three, how it applies in their life. Most students do not have any difficulty telling me what they understand about the topic or how it applies to their life. Where they have difficulty is in telling me why they have the opinion they do. The ‘why’ is what makes the difference between an opinion and a validated opinion that is supported by evidence.

Everyone has an opinion about most anything. But in the world of academics, you need to show support for your opinion. You do this by answering the question, “Why do I believe this to be true?” As an instructor, I would ask you to show me what you have read that led you to your opinion. In a paper, you answer this question by including a quote or paraphrase from something you read in preparation for writing the paper.

This is why I recommend you review the assignments before completing the reading each week. When you do, you can be on the alert for things that you can use in your paper. How do you know if it is appropriate to use in a paper? As you are reading, highlight the statements that make you pause and say to yourself, “Oh, that makes sense,” or “Oh, I get it.” Those are the ideas that will help to show why you have the opinion you do about the topic.

So, next time you have to write a paper, be sure to take your time in completing the reading assignments and take note of those insightful thoughts that you can use in your reflection paper. Doing so will make the difference between a paper that merely states an opinion or one that makes a clear case for why you believe something to be true, a validated opinion.

Over the next few weeks, Beth will be posting tips and strategies helping you with providing support in your papers. Watch for the first in this series later this week.