By: Allison Huskey
Finals week is coming, and for many students that means working non-stop on long essays and group projects. We as students tend to procrastinate (EXHIBIT A: I have a ten page paper due in five days that I haven’t even started on yet…), and add to the stress. It can be overwhelming to have to keep up with so much work while studying for exams, but writing a final essay doesn’t have to be as hard as it appears to be. Splitting your work into smaller chunks can make the process less stressful and gives you a little bit to work on each day, rather than all at once.
The first step you want to tackle is brainstorming. If you’re not assigned a very specific topic, think about what is most interesting to you, what you are passionate about. After all, if you’re not interested in the topic of your paper, no one else will be interested in reading it. Personally, I like write down a list of arguments I can make, then choose what I can develop best. Also, I tend to highlight important passages in the assigned readings so they’re easy to find when drafting. Trust me, it really does save a lot of time.
After you’ve got an idea of what you want to talk about, it’s good to write an outline. Outlines help organize thoughts and will be the basic framework of the paper. Write the thesis statement, or the argument, first as a reference. Think of how you may want to hook the audience and introduce the paper. This is honestly the hardest part for me, because it requires a lot of creativity (something I seriously lack), but if I can do it, you can do it! List the main topic of each body paragraph, as well as details from the text or evidence to discuss the topic. Think of the “so what” of the paper for your conclusion, and write that down as well. After you are finished outlining, draft away!
While you are drafting or after you’ve finished drafting (however you prefer), always always always check if your paper needs revisions or editing! Reading the completed draft out loud can be helpful if you are an auditory learner, as hearing errors will be more noticeable than glancing at them. If you’re a visual learner like me, marking mistakes or writing in new ideas and sentences on the draft in pen is really helpful. Ask someone to read over your paper to see if it makes sense, if the argument is thoroughly developed, and if the thesis statement and topic sentences are clear. Think of it as “polishing” the paper—revisions and editing make it shine.
Finally, always know that if you ever need help brainstorming, drafting, revising, editing, finding sources, or even just to talk about your paper, the tutors at the Writing Lab want to help! We love getting to collaborate with writers (yes, you are a writer!) and learning together. After all, writing is an important part of learning, and the more you share with others and allow them to share back, the more you’ll know.