When you rush to write a paper the night before it’s due, it’s going to be a painful process. But with a structured formula making it more manageable, you’re going to have a much better experience (and, most likely, grade).
Say goodbye to having to stare at a blank Word document, strategizing different ways to meet the minimum word count. And, please, never again consider making periods and punctuation marks a size larger to make the paper appear longer.
The following steps can be used as a foundation for just about any written assignment. For this article, we’ll use the standard persuasive/opinion essay– including those god-forsaken peer-reviewed sources.
The most important thing for any writer, of any form or fashion, is to, first, above all else, get words down. Editing and revising is where your paper will go from shitty to acceptable, maybe even great, but it’s hard to edit words you haven’t written yet, right?
Step 1. Write in a stream of consciousness.
Set a timer for anywhere between 10-20 minutes– longer if you’re up for it. From the second you hit start until the timer goes off, type away. Or write, whichever works better for you. Hell, you can even use the voice dictation feature on Google Docs to, literally, sit there and talk about the topic for 15 minutes and watch the words appear before you. (Do this when you’re alone, please.)
It is not going to sound good, and it’s not supposed to… not yet. Write about everything off the top of your head you can think of pertaining to the topic: What you have learned in class, what opinions you have, what questions you still have, etc.
It’s not necessary to even know what your argument is going to be yet. Do not edit. Do not worry about length. Do not stop because you’re getting off topic. Just keep writing until the timer goes off; no exceptions.
Step away– preferably for a day, but if you waited until the very last-minute like an asshole, then go do something else for at least a half hour.
Step 2. Create a separate document with a general outline for the paper.
This may seem juvenile, but it is fundamental and ultimately effective. Label each section with a different number or letter. For example:
B. Thesis Statement/Argument
C. Supporting Point & Detail
D. Supporting Point & Detail
E. Supporting Point & Detail
Step 3. Start highlighting the points you want to include in the paper.
Go back to that crappy first draft of your thoughts, and read through it. Anything that is relevant, even if at this point it is very poorly articulated, label it with the appropriate letter according to the section you think it would belong in the paper. You’re just getting a rough sketch right now.
Get your notes/textbook. Read through. Start taking out pieces you know fit with what you want to say; drop these in the appropriate spots on the outline. (Just remember to go back and reword it, or cite it appropriately. You can use WriteCheck to make sure you’re not accidentally plagiarizing anything once you’re done.) As you do this, the outline will start to fill– jagged and incoherently for the most part, maybe, but still… some structure.
Step away for a little while again.
Step 4. Gather your sources.
After reading through the outline, and seeing what you now have to work with between your first draft and notes and textbook, you’ll have a more specific idea of what’s missing– what holes you need to fill with peer-reviewed articles, quotes, data, etc. Use the library database and, as you find them, make sure to document the appropriate citation, whether in MLA or APA, for both the in text and work cited reference list. Label each for the section in outline of paper it would go in.
The meat of your paper should be your own thoughts and ideas, and references just to nail those in and fasten them, that’s why they come later. You’re essentially making the sources work for you, not the other way around.
Step 5. Begin the editing process.
Read through. This is where it should all start coming together. You will still need to bridge some gaps, do some rearranging and revising, and grooming it to be more grammatically, structurally and intellectually sound and cohesive. But it’s much easier to highlight 6 words that need to be changed, or a sentence or two that should be worded/structured differently, than it is to sit in front of a blank screen and try to come up with 500-1,000 of the right words right off the bat.
Step 6. Finally, make sure the style and format is correct.
Check your references, citations, etc. Have someone else proofread it. If time allows, let it sit for a day or two then come back to read it again. You may still have to make changes, but they will be minimal at this point if you did the above steps thoroughly.
This process makes it so you are basing the paper off your own thoughts, which are pretty easy to express, even if they are a bit sloppy at first, and refine them as you go. Just sit there and type your thoughts (or even say them!), with no pressure. Once you do that, the rest of the process is, essentially, some-what mindless activities– reading, dragging and dropping– taking other people’s words, resources and texts, installing them in the appropriate place where it fits best with yours. All you’re left with is grooming and polishing it to perfection.
If you try to build it all at once you’ll wear yourself out, but if you do it a little bit at a time, piece by piece, putting one word in front of the other, it’ll be a walk in the park.