Thursday, June 23, 2005

How to write a paper in a week or less

As many of you may have recently discovered, the demands of intersession courses are intense. For instance, it’s not uncommon that you are required to write a paper (or more!) per week. Given that this is the hard reality of taking a short course, how does one survive? Here are a few tips for the time-crunched writer:

  • Start immediately! There is no time to waste during intersession. As soon as the tasks are assigned, get going on them.

  • Whenever possible, write on a topic that you know something about. This way, you don’t waste a lot of time at the research stage figuring out the basics of the topic.

  • Keep the topic narrow and simple (straightforward?). Whenever possible, compare two ideas or authors, not four or five, for instance.

  • Choose less, better resources to write the paper. Chances are that you will not have time to read that stack of 12 books, 9 journal articles, and 3 websites. Go for fewer, more recent (in the last 5 years) academic sources, or sources that your professor tells you are the most influential.

  • In the case where you do need to use several resources to write the paper, read the introductions, chapter summaries, titles, and the first sentence of each paragraph to carefully determine which chapters, sections, or pages to read carefully in order to gain useful information which you can quote, paraphrase, or summarize.

  • Create the bibliography or reference list as you read the texts.

  • As you read, start making an outline (point form) by organizing: your thoughts, the main ideas that reoccur in the texts, and useful quotes or paraphrases. When you are done reading, you will have the skeleton of your paper (it may require some rearranging). Then you can add in the explanations (full sentences) to create paragraphs.

  • Likely you will be writing for several hours at a time. Take an occasional short break. Clear your head and get back to it!

  • Make a plan of attack. While a regular session paper can be planned over weeks, now you need to make a short-term action plan. To reduce that feeling of being rushed, plan for more time than you likely need each day. If you finish early, great! Go on to tomorrow’s task.

No comments: