We’ve all done it. Even if you are the most studious of all students, you at one point in your life have waited until the last minute to write your paper. Yes, even if it wasn’t intentional and completely by accident, you are still accounted for in this roll call. Forgetting that you have a 10 page paper due at the end of the week is frightening. Forgetting that you have a ten page paper due tomorrow with 5 properly cited scholarly sources in a neat annotated bibliography is stomach churning and terrifying.
Before you start blaming yourself and finding all of the reasons why you forgot to write your paper, calm down, take a breather and just start writing. It’s better to start brainstorming ideas on paper than it is to sit there and stare at your screen in utter panic. If you’re strapped for time or even just so anxious about your paper that you can’t seem to get the writing process going, here’s a few pointers that can help calm your nerves.
1) Read the Directions!- You don’t have a chance for “paper writing survival” if you have no idea what structure you need to be following. Search through all of the documents you have to find out how long your paper needs to be, what the purpose of your paper is intended to be (are you writing to inform, persuade, debate?) and what key points need to be thoroughly addressed. Take it from a girl who’s spent the better part of her college education typing her fingers to the bone. It’s always better to write more and narrow your content down than it is to not write enough and have holes in your thesis.
This goes hand in hand with our next pointer.
2) Choose a Familiar Topic- You may be one of those students who will encounter professors that make you pick a paper topic weeks in advance to be approved before you even start writing. If you’re writing your paper last minute, chances are you haven’t yet sent that topic off to your professor and most likely won’t get an answer by your 8 A.M. class and due date. It’s always great to research and study new topics that you haven’t had a chance to fully explore before, but make sure what ever topic you pick is something you already have some general knowledge on.
Usually, teachers tell you to write a paper on a subject that you feel particularly emotional about or have some prior knowledge on. This may be because they want to see how your opinion or thesis may change after doing extensive research on the topic, or it may be because they want you to have enough emotion and content to write an interesting piece full of scholarly sources and up to date information. If you’re choosing your topic for a last minute paper, choosing a topic that you are completely unfamiliar with is almost like shooting yourself in the toe. You’re crippling yourself in terms of being able to write a meaty, substance packed paper with personal experiences and prior background knowledge. You’ll spend more time researching the history and background of your topic to try to understand it than you will actually coming up with useful information that you can use in your paper. Write about what you know and use some up to date (and credible) research to back up your reasoning. This will make you feel more confident, and help you speed up that writing creativity.
3) Create an Outline- Most professors will require you to create outlines on your chosen research topic before you start writing the body of your paper. This isn’t to be tedious and cram you with extra work (okay, but not ALL the time), but to help you become organized before you start writing. If your brain can get as scrambled as mine before writing a big paper or article, you know that a little organization can go a long way. Often times in college, I’d have the topic of my paper picked and I’d be stoked to start writing. Then, just as I got past that attention grabbing introduction and first paragraph I’d get unorganized and jumble my thoughts all around. Creating an outline beforehand allows you to break your topics or ideas down by sections, and order them by importance, persuasion, or debate. You may have heard some of the most successful writers and speakers following the “first inform, then hit ‘em where it hurts!” structure. This is carefully planned through an outline, informing the audience to adhere to their emotions and logic, and then introducing their point of debate after they’ve created an emotional stirrup. A strong paper is made from a strong outline. If you have the time, have someone look over your outline before you start writing for order and fluidity.
4) Don’t Ramble On!- Trust me, if anyone knows that this is easier said than done, it’s me. I’ve always been the type of student who over-writes, even if all points included aren’t completely relevant to my topic. This is where the “it’s better to write too much than to not write enough” mantra comes in to play. If you happen to accidentally write too much, you can always narrow it down to the nitty gritty. If you’re one of those students who has trouble writing enough, organize your research by points of argument and support your idea with 2 to 3 supporting details with facts from credible sources. Keep it short and simple, with the “knockout” points that show you really know what you’re talking about. Keep it interesting for your reader by keeping the fluidity of your paper moving from start to finish. If you do happen to ramble a bit, read it over once for your own personal enjoyment and then cut the excess out. Reading that you wrote one point 3 different times in the same paragraph is entertaining, but most likely won’t be to your professor.
5) Create a Checklist- After taking all of the directions from your project descriptions and assignment instructions; create a checklist for yourself for things to include before you type that final conclusion. “Did I thoroughly explain my thesis? Did I provide enough history and background information? Did I answer all questions asked in the instructions? Did I meet the length requirement? Did I alphabetize my annotated bibliography with the proper formatting?” All of these tips will help you score those extra 5 points all the way across the board. So, even if your paper wasn’t as good as you would normally do if it wasn’t last second, the effort and substance is there. As long as you really try your best, you can’t fail. Well, unless you stay staring at your screen in panic until you pass out on your keyboard. You might fail then. Stay up, stay alert, and crank that paper out. You’ll feel so much better after you wrote it, and who knows, you may even get an A!