Last week, Yuem wrote about keeping track of his progress on his senior thesis—a project with distant deadlines. As an underclassman, I usually face shorter-term deadlines for class essays and problem sets, and these require a similar, but condensed approach.
This post has real-life inspiration. Next Thursday, I have a paper due for my philosophy class on Nietzsche. Weekdays are busy with problem sets and assignments. I do not expect myself to start consolidating material for the paper till this weekend, which leaves me plenty of time to plan an effective essay.
Here’s the schedule I successfully used last time, when I was looking at parts of Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra and the Gay Science. Granted, the whole process I’m proposing is longer than just two days, but I promise if you use the pre-writing steps I suggest, you’ll be able to do the actual writing in a much shorter period of time!
5 Days before Due Date: Finish the core readings!
I spent about half of my weekend finishing the readings for the class that I had not been able to finish in time for lecture. Surprisingly few people realize how helpful this is. In a paper-based class, certain prompts will lend themselves to specific readings. You can write a decent paper–maybe even get a “good grade”– by reading only what is absolutely necessary for a paper, but it will fall far short of your potential. You are surrounded by world-class facilities and faculty–don’t waste your time on something sub-par. The best part about writing a paper is finding unexpected connections, after all.
4 Days before Due Date: Summarize the readings.
After I finished reading and highlighting parts of the books, I sat down with a notebook and wrote down the gist of each section using what I had previously marked in the books. I used to do this as I read, but found it to take a long time to finish the process. Now, I read in whatever small bursts of time I have, and revisit my books to quickly take notes in one go using what I have highlighted. Now, I had a short summary of the assigned works in front of me as a map of what to reference.
3 Days before Due Date: Finalize essay topic and write an outline.
I narrowed my essay topics down to two, and drafted points I had in mind for each one. I did some outside research as well, and chose the topic I felt better prepared with. I started to construct an outline by selecting relevant quotes (using my summary of notes) and finally had a blocked version of evidence for different points in the paper. At this point, I started to work around the pieces of evidence I had written down and formulate logical arguments and transitions.
2 Days before Due Date: Talk to my professor, revise outline, and start writing!
By this point, I realized what crucial questions I had for my professor. I ran through some of the main points I was going to make in the paper and discovered that a few of them were faulty. I adapted accordingly and started to write!
Writing an eight page paper in two days was surprisingly easy with a well-developed outline. Do yourself a favor and spend the bulk of your time in the “planning” stage of an essay: reading, summarizing, outlining, and discussing ideas with classmates and professors. The actual writing process will be a matter of a few hours spent at your computer transferring thoughts from outline to paper in a format that flows well. Have a friend or two help you edit your paper, and you will emerge feeling rewarded.
— Vidushi Sharma, Humanities Correspondent