Last week in particular was rough--I wrote a total of 6000 words for essays and short-answer assignments, and it was a struggle getting it all done in time. Having had to shift gears quickly and learn to be efficicient in order to get all of my academic writing done, I picked up some good strategies for ensuring that my writing process only spans the allotted time.
1. Spend a few hours researching/reading/outlining
This part of the process is easy to overlook, but skipping it can result in many more hours of wasted effort rewriting sections of your paper and sometimes starting over completely when you realize that you’ve lost the point you were trying to get to. Ideally, you should plan out each step of your argument beforehand, and beneath each step list the evidence that you’ve collected in support. In a lot of ways, the paragraphs and descriptions of this evidence are just a pretty setting for this fundamental structure. Outlining and being thorough with your research and support helps you to make sure that everything you’re saying comes back around to the main point of your essay and that you don’t waste time writing irrelevant passages that you’ll have to delete later.
2. Once you have the outline, expand on each point.
Essays will always read linearly, so if you start at the beginning of your outline and work your way down, you have the advantage of a natural flow. However, sometimes when you’re rushing to meet the deadline, it’s a better idea to start with your easiest points first. This is where the outline is helpful--you can write the easiest sections early without getting confused as to how what you’re writting will fit into the larger structure. Another way of expanding on your outline is rather than going top-down, slowly increase the levels of specificity for each of your points. For instance, say your second section has 3 pieces of evidence summed up in 10 words. Starting with evidence 1, try to expand on your point until you have 100 words (about a paragraph), and do this for all points going down. Once you’ve gone through all these points, go back to the first point and expand it to 200 words, doing the same with the others. This way, you can stick with conscision while avoiding what can be a daunting task of straight-up writing 600 words.
3. Once you have your essay done, read over it once.
This is also an easy last step to forget. Oftentimes when I finish a speed-written essay, I want to be done with it and cast it into the sea. This is generally a bad idea. When your writing method is piecewise, it can be faster, but you may also find that certain sections aren’t gelling. Giving it a linear read provides you the opportunity to add in missed transitions and glue everything together into a cohesive assignment.
The basic idea behind all of this is to set up your essay as a series of smaller tasks rather than one insurmountable hardship. This means that your brain will get smaller but more frequent reqard signals as you check off the paragraphs you need to write, and you’ll waste less time being overwhelmed and spend more time writing the words that you need to write.
-- Joanna Slusarewicz