Tips for Succeeding in an Online English Class

Tips for Succeeding in an Online English Class

8 minute read

Many students will have to take an English class at some point during their college journey, no matter what their major. From reading and writing to critiquing and analyzing, English classes have come a long way since the days of endless lectures about Shakespeare. 

Dive into what makes online English classes different than what you might expect from an in-person class or what you remember from middle school, and how you can succeed in this standard college requirement. 

Are Online English Classes Hard?

While some students find online classes easier due to flexibility, the difficulty level varies based on individual learning preferences and your comfort level (and aptitude for) reading and writing. In that way, they’re neither harder nor easier than in-person classes. It just depends on the student.

What Can Affect Your Success in an Online English Class?

As with most classes, both online and in-person, you get out of it what you’re willing to put into it. However, there are a few factors that can really make a difference. Let’s take a look.

How Much Time You Can Devote to the Class

English classes generally require more time reading, writing, and editing than it takes to solve a set of math equations. Depending on what else you’re juggling in your life, you might need to set aside larger blocks of time to get all your work done.

Whether You Ask for Help When Needed

It’s important to seek help from your instructor, tutor, or study group as soon as you need it so you don’t fall behind. There may be different types of help you need, from brainstorming ideas for a paper to someone who can help you spot typos before you turn in a final draft. The skills required to critically read and analyze a text and write a thoughtful essay develop through trial and error, so try to ask for help as soon as you realize you need it.

Your Personal Learning Style

Everyone has different learning styles. For those who are more hands-on, English might prove challenging, whether online or in-person, because it’s mostly a subject of thinking rather than doing. However, for those who are motivated by the chance to read, analyze, and respond, online learning can be as beneficial as in-person learning regarding English classes.

Online English classes aren’t always about reading boring, old texts and trying to figure out what the authors meant. English classes can be vibrant and exciting ways to learn critical thinking skills and even cultural studies. Because of this, online English classes can be just as robust and engaging as in-person classes. By following the steps listed below, almost anyone can find success in an online English course.

How To Succeed In Writing For Your Online English Course

As we’ve mentioned, everyone has different learning styles and has different levels of experience with English courses. However, these tips are meant to provide both general guidance for succeeding in online classes as well as help specifically for those who may shy away from courses that require high levels of reading and writing.

A great deal of time spent in English classes is used for reading various texts. However, the most significant part of English classes — online or in-person — is usually spent writing and editing papers. These tips, however, will also be helpful for college writing across a wide range of humanities topics, from research papers for a history course to creative writing.

Figure Out Your Format

There are different styles of academic writing, but these are the most common types of college essays you may be tasked with:

  • Analysis

  • Critique

  • Evaluation

  • Interpretation

  • Synthesis

If you’re unsure about what your college essay is asking you to do, you can always reach out to your professor for clarification. Try re-reading the writing prompt carefully first, in case you missed a helpful instruction.

Brainstorm Your Topic

The brainstorming process generally involves identifying the themes you have to write about and how you’ll present them cohesively and articulately. At this stage, there’s really no such thing as a “bad” idea. Throw everything out there so you can narrow your essay down to a few topics that seem really relevant to your assignment. If necessary, ask your professor or advisor for help or have a brainstorming session with your classmates.

Approach Your Assignment

Regardless of the course you’re taking, always carefully read (and then re-read) the instructions for a writing assignment. In particular, make sure you can answer the following questions:

  • Who is your audience?

  • What is the purpose of your writing?

  • What kinds of information will you need in order to complete this assignment?

  • What are the technical requirements?

  • How will you be graded? 


It may be necessary to do research for your paper, particularly if you’re asked to back up your ideas with facts. As you learn more about your topic, you should take notes that you can then organize into an outline. 

In some cases, research may not be necessary, like if you’re writing a critique or analysis of a piece of literature. In that case, your “research” might include finding examples in the text that support your opinions. 

Create an Outline

An outline is like the skeleton of your piece, upon which everything else will be built. Remember that sometimes “research” is just re-reading the text and looking for clues that support your critique. Your outline will vary depending on what you want to say or the argument you’re trying to make, but overall, it should look something like this:

  • Introduction – the hook that grabs attention and establishes the purpose of the essay.

  • First main point, supported by evidence from your research.

  • Second main point, supported by evidence from your research.

  • Third main point, supported by evidence from your research.

  • Any other points that are appropriate.

  • Conclusion – summary of key points that pull the whole piece together and perhaps leave the reader with something to think about.

Write Your First Draft

It’s usually easier to get going on your first draft once you’ve done your research and created a solid outline — it helps you avoid that “blank document” paralysis. This is especially true if you haven’t written an essay in a long time or have historically never felt comfortable writing them. It’s important to remember that first drafts are not meant to be great; they’re just a cohesive way of organizing your thoughts and ideas into a text.

Check for Plagiarism

Most (if not all) colleges and universities have strict codes of conduct regarding plagiarism. And while most students don’t set out to plagiarize when they’re working on an essay, it’s possible to accidentally copy a sentence or section without realizing it. This is why it’s essential to run your essay through a plagiarism checker before handing in your final draft.

Get Feedback

Some professors might want to read your first draft and offer notes before you continue. Other times, it helps to get a classmate or mentor to read your draft and give honest feedback to help you make it better. This might include grammatical fixes, tone adjustments, or even whole sections that could be added or removed. Once again, keep in mind that this is just a first draft and meant to guide you along the way, so all feedback should be taken as helpful and not a critique of you as a person or student.

Write Your Next Draft

Whether your next draft is your final draft or just another step along the way, it’s important to really dive into your writing and make it shine. That means fixing typos and grammatical errors, adjusting sentence structure as needed, making sure your points are clearly stated and supported, and checking that your introduction and conclusion make sense. 

The Final Polish

Before handing in your paper, give it another read-through. Read it out loud to hear how it sounds. Check for the flow of content and see if it makes logical sense as you go from one point to another. Catch any errors or typos that have made it through the cracks this far. If you can, have one more set of eyes read it over for mistakes. 

Find English Success With StraighterLine

Online English classes don’t have to be boring, and they can, in fact, be fun and engaging — with the right online learning platform. StraighterLine offers several English classes, including English Composition I and English Composition II, and all of our classes are designed for student success. Our composition classes aren’t only useful for earning college credit, but the skills you learn with us can be applied across subjects and professional fields in college and beyond. 

Try an online English class from StraighterLine at an affordable rate with the flexibility to fit your schedule, as well as the 24/7 student support you need.

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