So you procrastinated. You waited too long to start your essay, and now the deadline has arrived and you’re in a panic. You probably feel guilty, overwhelmed, and really stressed out. It’s time to take a step back, take a few deep breaths, and reassess the situation. Whether it’s a two-page paper or a twenty-page paper, you can still do it. There’s no doubt that the essay you turn in won’t be as good as an essay you spent weeks working on, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still do a good job and turn in an impressive paper! Here are some tips on how to write in a time crunch.
- Get organized. Put together all your notes, sources, and materials from class within arm’s reach. Get your paper and pen ready. Grab your highlighter, post-it notes, or whatever else you use to keep track of important things as you study. Don’t go overboard with the organization; you shouldn’t be spending precious time color-coordinating your notes, but do spend at least five minutes gathering all the materials you need and putting them in an order that makes sense to you and your paper. This will take a lot of the stress out of the writing process as you go along, and you won’t constantly be running away from your desk looking for that article you buried at the bottom of your backpack.
- Take a little time to read over your materials and take notes. Take 30 to 45 minutes refreshing yourself on the paper topic, and brainstorming. It’s a lot easier to write when the information is fresh in your brain, and you’ll find yourself writing a lot more in a short period of time than when you’re constantly looking things up. Make notes as you read through your materials, and jot down the basic things you’ll be talking about in your essay in an outline. If it helps you can create an actual outline on your computer with the major points of your essay, but don’t take too much time reading material and brainstorming or you’ll waste precious minutes.
- Start writing, and don’t stop. Start at the strongest part of your essay, the part that you’re most confident in. Don’t worry about writing your essay in its logical order: you can write your introduction, conclusion, and even your thesis, last, if it helps you. The trick here is to start writing, get your creative juices flowing, and don’t get caught up in the minutiae. If you run out of ideas at a certain point, jump to another part of the essay and keep writing! Don’t worry about grammar, spelling, or sentence structure at this point. You can – and should – always go back and edit, but at the moment you just need to worry about getting words on the page.
- Devote a lot of time to your thesis statement. A strong thesis statement is the hallmark of a good paper. While you don’t need to devote an hour to your thesis statement, you should spend as much time on it as you do one paragraph of your paper. If you’ve already begun to write some of your paragraphs, this could make it easier for you to craft the thesis statement. Your thesis statement will provide the foundation for your paper, so make sure it’s strong and really makes a strong argument. If you find that your paper veers from your thesis as you write it, don’t worry. Just figure out if the point you are making fits into the rest of the paper, and if it does, revise your thesis. If you can’t figure out how the point you are making ties into the thesis, it might be time to examine what you’ve written and see if it really has a place in the essay.
- Take a break, even if you don’t feel you have time. At some point, you should take a moment to get up, stretch your legs, eat a snack, or run around the block. After about 4 hours without a break, your writing and thinking really start suffering. You’ll work better and faster if you take just five minutes every two hours, or fifteen minutes every four hours, to recharge.
- Edit thoroughly. Once you’ve exhausted yourself by writing the actual essay, this isn’t the time to quit. You’ve probably been working very quickly, so you’ll have made some mistakes. The most insightful papers, written with great zeal, will still lose points due to poor grammar and spelling. You also want to make sure that every sentence in your paper supports your thesis in some way; any sentences that come from right field or don’t actually advance the paper should be discarded or rewritten. Have a parent or friend read the paper, as well; sometimes your eyes are so numb to what you’ve already that written huge errors get skipped over!