So it’s a weeknight and you’re sitting there at your desk realizing how much of a fool you were to spend your last few nights watching television, facebooking, or spending time chatting with friends. And now you’re staring at the empty page of what needs to be a five page research paper. And of course said paper is due tomorrow.
Well…unless you’re planning on failing your class it’s important to get that paper done, and with the limited time you have your strategies need to be effective.
Now, for any teachers or professors out there ready to blow a gasket because of the procrastination I seem to be advocating for, I assure you I definitely think it’s best to plan and write a paper a few days in advance if not more. However, when circumstances like these arise, I like to have strategies to solve the problem.
First a couple of tips about all-nighters:
- If you have to have some caffeine use tea rather than coffee or soda. It doesn’t make you crash as hard when you’re done and is healthier overall.
- Keep laptop screen on low brightness and your room lights on high preventing you from feeling too sleepy or your eyes from feeling too overworked.
- Stretch and walk around regularly.
- Avoid “napping” in between and try your best to push through and get a more solid amount of sleep at the end.
- Keep some healthy snacks and water on hand.
- Keep yourself cool and avoid laying down. It’s easier to fall asleep when it’s warmer and when you’re reclining.
- Focus, focus, focus. I advocate for dividing out work into nice equal sections of time and setting a timer for 5-15 minute breaks depending on how much you have to do. Get rid of distractions (shut down facebook, pinterest etc.) and reward yourself for work with brief intervals of relaxation.
Now about the actual essay process here is what I strongly recommend and along with my approximation of time used:
1. Make sure you know what your topic is.
2. Set about doing your research. I highly recommend not leaving this part for the last minute as it can be very hard to do. Research is where you should be spending much of your time (unless this essay is just a personal reflection). Gather sources. If you’re not doing this the night before spend some time reading through and sticky mark places that look useful. If the night before, skim through and grab bits that look useful. If a book seems to be rather unhelpful put it aside and look for a better source. See step 3. 1 hour + (less if sources are provided by professor and more if you do not already have any sources gathered)
3. Pick out quotes/information from your sources and collect it all onto one document. I recommend already citing the source if you’re using MLA format (“blah blah blah quote stuff here” (Randomwriter 33).) This saves you time later. Just focus on picking out any information relative to your topic/thesis. I advise forming a basic concept of what you’re writing about and then narrowing down your thesis after you have all your information. 2 + hours (depending on length and number of sources required)
4. When you’re finished with step 3 you should have a random “blob” of facts and information. Go through and see what facts fit together. Determine categories for your various bits of information and then shuffle pieces around til they are each in a separate category. If some pieces don’t seem to fit at all put them in a “random” section and save them in case you end up needing them. I always advocate for building your points around your facts rather than your facts around your points. It’s so much easier than flipping through books for hours to try to find something that supports the paragraph you’re currently working on. 1/2 hour +
5. Evaluate each topic, decide which ones are most important and then organize based on a logical system. If you’re writing on history maybe try a chronological approach. Remember starting broad and narrowing in is usually a good system. For example writing on the portrayal of Native Americans in early American literature you might start with a broad overview of the racial interactions of the time, followed by a paragraph about how specifically one author evaluates these relationships. If possible find logical ways you could transition between each paragraph, building on the others. If for some reason your topics aren’t fitting together reevaluate your research or try to categorize differently. 15 minutes +
6. Now that all of your quotes and facts are lined up in a logical outline all you have to do is fill in with your own commentary. Most of the paper is already written for you. Write up your introduction and get a solid thesis connecting your points. Then go through and start writing your own portion, putting in the evidence you’ve already built up. I recommend highlighting/bolding all of the information you use on your outline. This way it’s easier to keep track of what information and sources you’ve used. 1 hour +
7. Remember those transitions between paragraphs. Try not to just “jump” to another topic but do your best to relate it back to your thesis. You don’t want to beat your main point to death, but clarity is important. 20 minutes
7. Finish up your paper with a brilliant conclusion tying it together. Make sure you restate your thesis, just not in the exact same words. Sometimes summarizing some of what you talked about in your paper is a good strategy to tie it up. 15 minutes
8. Make sure to edit in some fashion or form. Either give it to another friend to look over. Even a roommate who doesn’t claim to be good at writing can probably point out a few simple mistakes you made due to fatigue. If there is no one else available because it’s three in the morning, read through it out loud. This helps you better catch errors. 1/2 hour plus
9. Check what sources you used to compile your bibliography/works cited page. If you followed my advice and highlighted each source used on your outline then your work shouldn’t be too hard. In my experience library catalogs and online research material often have the work already cited in a number of styles, check for that first to avoid having to individually cite out yourself. 15 minutes (depending on writer’s familiarity with citation style)
10. Glance over rubrics/assignment sheets to make sure there’s nothing you’ve left out or forgotten. 5 minutes (more if mistakes are noticed)
11. Congratulations you have an essay finished and ready to hand in! Sure it might not get 100%, but if you’re a decent writer you should at least avoid failing*. For anyone lacking in writing talents I highly advise spending much more time on this process and for papers requiring 5+ sources or 5+ pages I definitely would recommend at least two nights.
*this blogger is not responsible for any of your grades on papers formed through this process as it is mere personal opinion and not a professional process.
As you can see for night-before papers I recommend at least 5 to 6 hours of work on an essay of about 5 pages (more for longer essays). So make sure to get an early start if possible and keep those all-nighter tips in mind. I suggest trying to get some sleep, especially if you intend to go to class the next day. Coffee can only do so much. And really…do try to avoid working on papers the night before they’re due. It’s a horrible habit.
So that’s all from me! Anyone have their own strategies to add? I always love hearing what others suggest for writing essays. The process is tricky but if you have a good strategy you can definitely do well.