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Academic Success Center

Introduction to the Writing Process

Writing Academically

Academic writing is writing done by scholars for other scholars. Now that you are in graduate school you are part of a community of scholars. At Erikson, you will embark on a journey with which child development scholars have been engaged in for centuries: reading, thinking, theorizing, and writing about profound and compelling ideas regarding children and families.  Being a scholar requires that you read, think, theorize, and write in certain ways. Your instructors will make clear the expectations they have for specific assignments and the many requirements there are for academic papers, and the Academic Success Center is available for support before, during, and after you complete any academic writing. 

Academic writing requires critical thinking about the issues that are of interest to your academic community. Remember that academic writing must be more than a personal response, and while at Erikson there will be ample time for personal reflection, there is a clear dichotomy between academic writing and reflective writing. In other words, you will be asked to write papers that help your reader better understand your topic, or to see it in a new way, but your papers must be based on research (almost always from the course readings) as opposed to anecdotal evidence.

In academic writing, critical thinking takes the place of opinion-based thoughts and ideas.  Critical thinking is essential to the process of both writing and being a student. Critical thinking clarifies goals, examines assumptions, evaluates evidence and assesses conclusions. You will discover that as an Erikson student you engage in critical thinking on a regular basis which should be evident in your academic papers. In effect, your writing must show that your associations, reactions, and experiences have been framed in a critical, rather than a personal way and are fully supported with evidence from the readings.

Writing academic and/or research-based papers is an acquired skill. It is a process that students will have a varied degree of experience with when arriving at Erikson. Whether or not you have written academic papers in the past, please consider reaching out to the Academic Success Center to ask for help with writing. It is always wise to put a second set of eyes on your paper.

Comprehending the Assignment

The first step in the writing process includes comprehending the assignment. In order to begin writing your paper, you need to understand what the assignment is and what your instructor is looking for. 

The assignment description is typically included within the syllabus received at the beginning of each semester. Keeping your syllabus at hand during your weekly reading assignments will help serve as a guide as you gather information to be used in future papers. You should refer to the assignment description frequently, in order to become more familiar with the task at hand, and to be ready when gathering information for the assignment. The assignment description may not make sense the first time you read it – that is ok! As you begin to understand more of the course content, the assignment will begin to take shape. 

Reviewing the assignment description ahead of time will help you feel prepared when your instructor reviews the assignment in class. Take note of any questions you have regarding the assignment and keep them with you until you speak with your instructor about the assignment. Use this time to receive any clarification on the paper before you begin writing! Questions may include: What course readings should we reference in this assignment? Are there specific ideas from the course that we should reference in the paper? What is an example of ________ (topic from paper)?

As you read through the assignment, make sure to ask yourself, “What is my purpose in completing this assignment?” Look for key words within the assignment description such as analyze, summarize, compare, or define to help guide you in meeting the purpose of the assignment. Consider why your instructor provided this specific assignment for you to complete and how it fits into your larger experience as an Erikson student.

The assignment description may also be used as a starting place for creating an outline for your paper. One strategy includes typing the assignment requirements directly into your first draft of the paper and using these requirements to create the general structure for your paper. For example, if you know that you need to include at least three major ideas within each main section, you can create an outline using this information before you start writing your paper. 

Finally, when available, review the rubric for the assignment provided to you by your instructor. This will provide you clear information regarding what your instructor is seeking while reading your paper. This is an additional guide to refer to before, during, and after writing your paper. You will be able to see what is required of you, what may be missing, and what you should work on enhancing before completing your final draft.


Creating an Outline

Why are outlines important?

Creating an outline helps in the writing process, organizes and shows the relationships among ideas, presents material in a logical form, and gives an ordered overview of your writing.

Before creating an outline, know why you are writing, whom you are writing for, and what you are writing about. 

Benefits of creating an outline

  • Brainstorm ideas you want to include in your paper
  • Organize your information 
  • Arrange information from general to specific or from abstract to concrete
  • Structure your outline by labelling headings and subheadings
Reverse Outlining

One way to review the flow and effectiveness of your paper is through Reverse Outlining. After completing your paper, read through it and take note of the topic of each paragraph and how the paragraph topic advances the overall argument of the text. If you cannot complete each step in 5-10 words, the paragraph may need to be revised. You should be able to summarize the topic and the manner of support quickly; if you cannot, revise the paragraph until you can. 

Integrating Course Content

“Course material” may include articles and textbooks, power point information, information from a video or podcast reviewed in class, or a class handout. 

Why use course material in a paper? 
  • To support your ideas 
  • Give more validity, substance, and context to what you are stating 
  • Give due credit to the author who came up with that concept/theory 
  • To illustrate your point (your point should be relevant to answering the question in the assignment. Ask yourself why you are using that course material, why it matters for that specific question/topic?) 
How do you weave course material into a paper? 
  • Brainstorm the main points/ideas that you would like to discuss in the paper. Identify which course material could help support that idea.
  • Pick between 1-3 sources for each overarching topic. You don not need to add a source after every sentence, but you do need to add one after you have explained the larger idea. 
  • Integrate course material by paraphrasing the author’s idea/concept (and then adding a proper citation). In other words, put all that fancy language in your own, understandable words. (For further information on paraphrasing, refer to the ASC handout: “How to Paraphrase.”)
  • Add an illustrative quote into your sentence and then continue with your explanation. 
    • If you do this, you are either using the quote as a springboard to later explain and expand a concept/topic or, as in this example, you are using it as part of your explanation. Course material is very important, but its role is to back-up your thoughts, not replace them.  

Parts of Writing

Writing Introduction and Conclusions

Inforgraphic on how to write introductions and conclusions

Writing Thesis Statements

It is important to include thesis statements in your academic writing at Erikson in order to set up the concepts or ideas that you are trying to impart to your audience.  The following links provide additional information regarding thesis statements and the importance of writing them.

Paragraph Structure

Paragraphs are sections of a paper that focus on one idea. When put together, many paragraphs form a cohesive paper that supports a thesis. Paragraph development is at the heart of your work at Erikson, as it is where you will show your professors that within each paper, you have a strong understanding of each big idea, concept or aspect of child development being referred to. Being able to compose a clear paragraph takes the ability to focus on and remember four key aspects:

  • Topic sentence: The main idea that will be explored in the paragraph. Remember that your topic sentence should always connect to or support the overall thesis of the paper.
  • Unity: The paragraph should center on the idea identified in the topic sentence.
  • Coherence: Paragraphs should be easily understood by the reader. This occurs through the structure of the paragraph and certain words/phrases that can be used.
  • Development: The information in the paragraph should build upon the topic sentence and fully explore that idea through 5-8 sentences.

Remember, your paragraph should begin with a topic sentence. Then, explain any relevant key terms, in your own words if possible. Use course readings to support your topic sentence with evidence from relevant theory/articles. Continue to expand the idea through sentences conveying your understanding of the information. Make connections between your understanding, the readings and the overall thesis. Finally, include a concluding sentence explaining the “so what” or “why does this matter” aspect of the information. This is where you might ask yourself: how does what I just wrote about connect to the overall thesis AND larger aspects of a child’s developmental picture?

Here are some additional links and resources about paragraph structure:

Topic Sentences

The topic sentence of a paragraph includes the main idea of the paragraph. Usually, the topic sentence is the first sentence of the paragraph. See the below video for tips on how to write a topic sentence.

Transitions within a Paper

Creating successful transitions within a paper not only helps the overall flow of the paper, but better imparts the key points of your paper to the reader. See the following links for more information about transitions.

Academic Paper 

Most of the papers you will write at Erikson are considered academic papers. The main goal of an academic paper is to synthesize existing facts or knowledge and provide the reader with new or easy to understand ideas. While a student at Erikson, the purpose of your academic papers is to demonstrate your own understanding and critical thinking of course content, using ideas presented to you in class, through course readings, or through outside research. Your writing within an academic paper demonstrates that you have investigated an idea, expanded upon that idea, and provided appropriate argumentation for the idea.  


Scholarly Voice 

It is important to note that an academic paper for graduate-level writing is intended to be written using a “scholarly voice.” A scholarly voice is the writing style used within scholarly or academic papers. As a graduate student, your writing voice will need to transition from the writing voice used in undergraduate essays or other professional writing. Developing your scholarly voice may be difficult at first, as it may feel confusing and unnatural. Scholarly voice is formal, rather than conversational. It communicates your original thoughts and supports them with evidence from outside sources. 

When writing your academic papers, keep the following points in mind with your scholarly voice: 

  • Scholarly writing is objective, meaning it is free of opinions, assumptions, and biases. 
  • Keep your ideas concise. Avoid unnecessary words or long sentences. Sentences should be clear and direct.  
  • Minimize the use of informal or flowery adjectives, such as amazing, unbelievable, wonderful, fantastic, etc.   
  • Avoid conversational words or phrases, such as contractions (don’t, isn’t), slang, or cliches. 
  • Also avoid writing the word “you,” and replace “you” with a specific group of people instead. 
  • Vary the sentence structure within your academic writing. For example, do not use a transitional word (however, therefore, etc.) at the beginning of every sentence. Use a combination of short and long sentences within your paragraphs and use different types of sentences in your writing. Refer to the Grammar Tools (Common Grammar mistakes page) to make sure you are using the correct punctuation in your sentences. 
  • Do not include ideas, phrases, or words with the intention of making your paragraphs or sentences longer. If you do not understand the meaning of what might sound like a “professional” statement or phrase, do not include it. Remember to keep your thoughts concise and to the point.  



An academic paper includes an introduction, a thesis statement, the main body of the essay - made up of paragraphs with supporting evidence - and a conclusion. Within the main body of the essay, you will include your main points with examples or evidence to support these ideas. This evidence might come from course readings, research you have completed, observation data, or other examples from the real world. 

Use the following links to learn more about the structural components of an academic paper: 


Observation and Analysis

Quote from S. Martin's book Take the Lead
Writing assignments in Erikson courses frequently require students to complete observations of children and families and provide an analysis of the observed behaviors. When writing observation data, it is necessary to be as objective as possible. Objective analysis is a skill that requires practice. Consider the following ideas when observing children and caregivers and when writing observation papers. 




Objective Versus Subjective 

Objective Subjective
  • Descriptions of what is observed provide facts and details with as little interpretation as possible.  
  • The objective observer records what they see without offering opinion or interpretation of the observation.  

Example: There was a crowd of about 50 people in front of the museum. 

  • Descriptions of observations are influenced by past events, opinions, backgrounds, or personal experiences.  
  • A subjective observer records what they think they see and includes opinion or interpretation in their observations. 
Example: There was an impatient crowd of about 50 people restlessly waiting to enter the museum. 

Why is being objective important? 

Each individual has a unique way of perceiving the world around them. To record observations that are accurate and non-biased, it is important to remain objective when recounting descriptions and retelling events. To accomplish objective writing, be sure that observations represent the facts and are not influenced by personal feelings or opinions. Here are examples of subjective and objective observations:  

Example A: The child was so happy to see her grandpa, and she excitedly ran across the room to give him a hug. Grandpa picked the child up and threw her dangerously high into the air. 

Example B: The child smiled and made a squealing noise when her grandpa entered the room. She ran quickly across the room while smiling. Grandpa picked the child up, tossing her in the air above his head and catching her again.  

Example A is subjective: the writer assumes that the child is happy and excited, and the writer assumes that the child is running across the room to give her grandpa a hug. The writer also includes “dangerously high” in their description, which is the writer’s personal opinion.  

Example B is objective: the writer describes what they saw and heard during the observation, without placing meaning on what the child was feeling. The writer also described what occurred when the grandpa came into the room without bias or judgment.  

Here are some additional tips for how to remain objective in your observations:  

  • Avoid preconceived ideas about the child or environment: you might have previous experiences with the child or family, however, these opinions should not influence or be included in in an objective observation.  
  • We each have our own “filters” (values, beliefs, and feelings) that influence and shape how we interpret what we see and hear.  It is important to reflect on and acknowledge these filters to assume an objective position when observing children and recording what we see and hear. 
  • Include only what you see and hear: the information you share in your observation must be the same information that another observer sees and hears.
  • Describe the environment and behaviors in detail using concrete language that does not attach value or meaning to the observed actions: this technique allows others to “see” for themselves what occurred during the observation.  
  • Do not include or interpret what someone might be thinking: we are not able to see the mental processes of individuals during an observation. Rather, only state what the individual does or says. Interpretations come during your analysis. 

Practice! Are these descriptions objective or subjective? 

  1. Mikaela puts dishes on a table for the bear, and the doll and says, “you…one…you…one…ME!” 
  2. Fatima sets the table, probably imitating how it happens at home. 
  3. Jayden has been crying because he misses his mom and is afraid she won’t come back. He clings to his blanket for comfort. 
  4. Luis kisses his mom goodbye and smiles. He cries after the preschool door closes and then crawls on Ms. S’s lap. 

(Answers: 1.  Objective, 2. Subjective, 3.  Subjective, 4.  Objective) 

Observation Analysis 

When analyzing your observation data within your writing, use a similar structure to the one outlined in the academic paper guidelines. Your analysis should include evidence for the point you are discussing within your paragraphs and should also demonstrate that you have investigated the idea, expanded upon that idea, and provided appropriate argumentation for the idea. Include proof from the observation data and discuss why this idea is important to your analysis.  

Some things to remember when writing your analysis:  

  • Remember that you observed a child or family at only one point in time; therefore, avoid jumping to conclusions. 
  • The language you use within your writing to discuss and analyze observations must be objective. For example, use language such as assume, interpret, suggests, implies, might, could be, etc.  
  • Avoid subjective and definitive words or phrases such as always, never, emotional, etc. 
  • Avoid using feeling words like happy, sad, mean, lonely, excited
  • Avoid using words based on your opinion or interpretation like smart, pretty, good, bad, this means that, etc. 


Reflection Paper 

A critical aspect of your work with children and families is your ability to reflect on your work and experiences. As an Erikson student, you will be asked to practice your writing reflection skills within your courses. Reflective writing might vary slightly from scholarly writing in the tone and voice that is used, but the general academic paper guidelines are still utilized within reflective papers. 

Reflective writing is a way to expand your thinking and to explore your own self-knowledge. Reflective writing is different from academic writing in that it requires connections between course material and outside sources and your own personal experiences, opinions, and observations. Reflective writing challenges you to consider different perceptions, possibilities, and solutions. It requires you to discuss what you found interesting, difficult, or inspiring, and why. Because you are primarily discussing your personal experiences and opinions within a reflective paper, it is acceptable to write in first person and use your personal pronouns. However, reflective writing still requires a paper to have a focus, concentration on specific topics, and critical analysis of the material you are reviewing.  

There are two types of reflective writing that you may be asked to discuss in your Erikson coursework. When reading your assignment descriptions, consider if your professor is asking you to discuss your reflections from a critical thinking perspective or an informal perspective.  


Critical Thinking Reflections 

Critical thinking requires you to examine your assumptions, think about knowledge and information you have learned, and compare different views and perspectives. Critical thinking reflections require you to take a deeper look into a topic and your opinions and then use this information as applicable knowledge. When writing a critical thinking reflective paper, your instructor may ask for you to discuss your opinion or reflect on your experience, requiring you to analyze and engage in thought around these opinions and experiences. In addition to reflecting and thinking critically about the topic assigned to you, the use of sources to support your ideas and reflections is necessary within this type of writing.  

You might be tempted to make statements such as “In my opinion…” or “I believe that…” when writing critical thinking reflective papers. Statements such as these weaken the scholarly voice you are still aiming to achieve in a critical thinking reflection. Instead, make the statement that is your opinion or belief without the introductory clause. Your reader knows that the opinions in the paper are coming from you, so it is redundant to state this within your writing.  

Most of your reflective writing assignments completed at Erikson will require a level of formal critical thinking reflection. If you are unsure if your instructor is looking for a formal or informal reflection, it is best to ask directly. However, all students are encouraged to keep their writing sounding formal and scholarly, rather than conversational, as frequently as possible.  

Informal Reflections 

An informal reflection paper is the most conversational of papers you might write while at Erikson. Some examples of scholarly voice are not applicable to this type of paper, as you are writing more from your direct experience. An informal reflection paper might ask you to reflect on a personal experience and discuss what you learned from it. It may require you to make some connections back to larger ideas learned from course content, but it is more “journal” like in style rather than a critical thinking reflection. Grammatical and punctuation guidelines are still necessary for an informal reflection paper.  


Annotated Bibliography

What's an annotated bibliography graphic


An annotated bibliography is your write up of other author’s research, including commentary as to how their research is relevant to your own. For some of your research papers while at Erikson, you will be required to complete an annotated bibliography.

Follow the link below for instructions on writing an annotated bibliography:

How to write an annotated bibliography (PDF)

Paraphrasing & Plagiarism


How to Paraphrase

  • Paraphrasing is different than quoting. To paraphrase means to capture what the other person is saying using different words, often to make things clearer. To quote means to use the exact same words that another person used without changing the wording.

  • You must cite when paraphrasing (and quoting). Regardless of whether you are paraphrasing or quoting you need to cite the original author because the idea is not your own original idea.

  • General strategy: say it out loud and then write it down.Read what it is you are trying to paraphrase, try to say it out loud or explain it in your own words, then write it down. Make sure you are not just reshuffling the exact same words—making this mistake is actually plagiarism.

  • General rule: try to paraphrase rather than quote to minimize the number of direct quotes you use in your writing. Try to paraphrase first because it shows you understand the concept or material. If you use a lot of direct quotes it may appear as if you do not understand the information. Only use direct quotes when you cannot say or describe something any better or clearer than the original, or if it is a very well-known saying (ex. “no such thing as a baby”). Rarely should you use more than a few direct quotes, even in a longer paper



Passage from page 140-1 of Lightfoot, C., Cole, M., & Cole, S. (2013).The development of children(7th ed.). Worth Publishers.

“Newborn babies come equipped with a variety of reflexes – specific, well-integrated, automatic (involuntary) responses to specific types of stimulation. Some reflexes are clearly adaptive throughout life. One of these is the eyeblink reflex, which protects the eye from overly bright lights and foreign objects that might damage it. Other reflexes are adaptive during infancy but disappear over time. For example, the sucking reflex, of obvious adaptive value to newborn feeding, can be elicited by a touch on the baby’s lips. Needless to say, this particular reflex disappears with time.”

Poor paraphrasing:

Newborns come with many reflexes which are spontaneous reactions to certain kinds of stimulus. Some are needed for the whole life. One such reflex is the eyeblink reflex.

This attempt to paraphrase the first few sentences of the passage is done poorly because the words are nearly identical to those used in the passage. They are not reordered, and they are not original; all that has been done here is that a few words are left out and a few words are replaced by synonyms. Even if the information is cited correctly, this is not paraphrasing done the right way.

Paraphrasing done correctly:

All individuals are born with a number of unconscious responses to different stimuli which are called reflexes. Reflexes include ones that are present only as an infant or a young child, as well as ones that last throughout the individual’s lifetime. A reflex that is seen only in infants is the sucking reflex; a reflex that is present for life is the eyeblink reflex.

This attempt to paraphrase is a better attempt because it restates the information in the original passage in an individual’s own words. The information uses different vocabulary and is organized differently. A citation is still required because this information did not come from the person writing the paper.

For more information on paraphrasing and examples of paraphrasing, follow the link below:


Reflecting on Your Writing

After completing your paper, it is good practice to review your writing and reflect on the assignment. Here are some guiding questions for you to consider as you reflect on your writing. 

Did you meet the goal of the assignment?

Your instructor is using this assignment to provide a structured learning opportunity for you. Papers push students toward critical thinking, creativity, analysis, synthesis, and informed judgment. Try to reflect upon what skills or knowledge the assignment asked you to use.  Are you demonstrating comprehension and understanding? Connecting new knowledge to previous knowledge?  Integrating theoretical knowledge into a cohesive body of knowledge?

Did you demonstrate an understanding of the assignment criteria?

The instructor usually writes a general assignment description which can be found in the syllabus.  As the semester proceeds, there is usually additional information provided.  Gather the information together and read it carefully. Pay close attention to the general description of the assignment, the required format, and the required content.  Did you adhere to all of these requirements?

Did you follow the format as outlined on

Did you complete all the steps involved in writing your paper?  It began with reading, pre-writing, and then writing. Did you keep track of the assignment(s) as you were reading?  Did you outline?  What worked well for you? Just as importantly, what did not? 

What timeframe did you use to complete your assignment?

Did you allow yourself enough time to thoroughly complete this assignment?  Did you follow a calendar or schedule?  What deadlines did you give yourself as you were reading and writing?  Did you complete your writing early enough to submit your assignment to for feedback? Did you allow yourself enough time to revise your paper and integrate feedback?

Did you cite resources appropriately and effectively?

Did you use an appropriate number of direct citations, indirect citations, and paraphrases?  Were your citations balanced with a clear analysis of the information showing that you fully understood the content?

Did you effectively communicate your understanding of the material?

Your goal is to effectively communicate your thoughts and knowledge to your instructor through your written words. Every aspect of your paper is focused toward that end goal. Keep asking yourself what you are communicating through each decision you make about your paper.

Is your paper orderly and organized?

Clarity depends on structure and appropriate organization.  Does the structure of your paper follow an organized format and adhere to any outlines given in class or in the syllabus?  Usually, general concepts are written first and narrowed down into more specific information that demonstrates or provides evidence about the general concepts.

Is your style of writing scholarly and academic?  

The assignment should demonstrate your ability to communicate your knowledge in a scholarly way. Graduate students are expected to be able to write with the formal, objective, and concise manner used in their discipline of study. Academic papers adhere to established rules and conventions that are used in a specific context.

Is your paper grounded with information?

The paper should be based on specific and factual information. Even if the assignment calls for your opinion or perspective on a topic, facts provide the basis for your stance. Every statement in the paper should increase knowledge or provide evidence for stated facts. The foundation of your paper is fact, theory, knowledge, and the informed opinion of experts. You are providing information, evidence to support information, or specific ways to look at information and tie it together. Your insight is important, but it should be linked to information. Anecdotal information is often irrelevant and does not add additional knowledge. Use anecdotal information to provide additional examples or evidence of a larger concept.

Did you examine your paper carefully?

Misspellings and typos undermine the time and effort you spent on this endeavor. Proofread carefully and correct all mistakes. Have someone you trust take one last look to make sure you have corrected all errors and have communicated with good clarity. Finally, read your paper out-loud to catch simple mistakes with grammar, word choice, sentence structure, organization, or content.