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Academic Skills


Organization is the way that you format your ideas on the page so that others can follow your thoughts and understand your points. Developing well-organized writing is a first step in having others understand your ideas.


All NU students will develop their scholarly voice according to scholarly writing conventions and APA format. The key to academic writing is to be able to give credit to the ideas of others while at the same time using your own voice to express your views and conclusions.


For many of you it might seem like you are learning a foreign language as you encounter the style and formatting characteristics of graduate writing. Academic writing is a learned skill that takes practice. Much of that practice is focused on conforming to certain conventions of formal structure, writing style, and uniform rules, particularly for citations from other peoples’ work.

Pro Tips
  • Read the assignment carefully and underline important parts that must be addressed.
  • Use the underlined assignment pieces to create a heading and subheading structure (see Academic Writing Resource).
  • Keep one idea to one paragraph.
  • Use transition words and sentences to help show the flow of your ideas from one point to the next.
  • When you find a resource that really helps you, bookmark it!
  • Consider resources such as the Academic Success Center, Library, and Graduate Studies Support Center (formerly CTL) an important and necessary part of the NU experience. See their services and links to resources in Unit One: NU Resources. Bookmark these resources in your browser for easy access.
Resource Spotlight

One of many ways to assist with organizing a paper is the MEAL Plan. What doe M-E-A-L stand for? Let’s find out!

M: Main idea or topic sentence is the focus of the paragraph.

E: Evidence is scholarly evidence you have found from other sources to support your main idea.

A: Analysis is the point you are making about this evidence and how it supports your main idea.

L: Linking sentence helps to wrap up point and tie your idea to the next, related point.

MEAL Plan paragraph development example

When you are getting used to paragraph development, using this format to organize your writing can be helpful.

Next Step: As you begin academic writing, try using these tips and resources and reach out to your faculty members or to resources such as the Academic Success Center if you have questions and need some assistance.


At National University, APA Style is used to format papers, unless otherwise specified. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), “APA Style consists of rules or guidelines that a publisher observes to ensure clear and consistent presentation of written material” (See What is APA Style for more information). APA Style makes up a large part of what is considered scholarly writing.


Students will learn APA Style and use it properly in all assignments. Students should use the resources provided by National to assist them in learning APA Style and all the conventions of academic writing. Students are encouraged to ask questions to faculty members and to Academic Success Center coaches to aid in them learning APA.

Pro Tips
  • Use formal third person writing voice.
  • Single space after all punctuation.
  • Double space everything in a paper with no extra space between paragraphs.
  • Use direct quotations sparingly; learn to paraphrase in your own words.
  • Always have a developed introduction with a thesis that tells the reader how the paper will address the topics or issues that were outlined.
  • Learn how to use APA level 1 main headings and level 2 and 3 sub-headings.
  • Use peer reviewed, scholarly searches that emphasize research studies.
  • Learn the formatting for references, be consistent, and pay attention to nuances such as capitalization (See the Eight Rules for Writing APA Style Papers for more on each tip).

Where can I learn all of these things? See the Resource Spotlight below.

Resource Spotlight

Academic Writer (formerly known as APA Style CENTRAL) is APA’s interactive supplement to the APA Style Manual that will assist students with learning the research-writing process. National offers students an institutional subscription to Academic Writer to assist with APA formatting and scholarly writing. Academic Writer has Use the “Creating Academic Writer Accounts” resource below to help create your account.

Once you create an account, explore the three main areas of the site:

  • LEARN about APA Style by accessing tutorials, handouts, and other interactive resources that will help increase your APA Style knowledge.
  • REFERENCE by utilizing reference management tools, finding sources, and viewing tutorials that will make the research and citation process more manageable.
  • WRITE by using one of the APA Style templates to structure your paper. Also, utilize the “APA Style check” to ensure your papers are in the correct format.

If you have questions about APA Style, use the Ask a Coach page in the Academic success Center to chat with a coach, ask questions, and search Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs).

Extra Resources
  • Academic Writing Description
  • Outline Example
  • Outlining:
  • MEAL Plan Graphic and Outline
  • MEAL Plan Organizer
  • Eight Rules for Writing APA Style Papers
  • Creating Academic Writer Accounts
  • Paper on APA Style
  • APA In-text Citations
  • APA References