I surprised my inner procrastinator this week and thought about my final essay for my junior seminar a week and a half before midterms. I had written about an interesting theme in my Blackboard response, and thought in passing that it could make a good topic for an extended essay. I didn’t take this thought too seriously at first, because with finals being months away, I didn’t want to add any extra stress overthinking
everything. But then I realized that thinking long-term about finals, even casually, could actually make Dean’s Date a lot less stressful. I then made a mental note of this potential essay topic and planned on consistently revisiting it as I progressed through the course.
Several difficulties come with courses that have final papers. Some prompts are open-ended, leaving you to find a relevant and interesting research topic related to the course with little guidance. Others are more specific, requiring you to tailor a semester’s worth of information and synthesize it into a creative argument. I’ve compiled some tips below on how to take steps throughout the semester so that your final paper (almost) writes itself.
- Identify what interests you. During a class, you’ll notice one or two things that keep jumping out to you. For my Comparative Literature class on Don Quixote, it was a theme of madness as choice. Track this idea throughout the course, and see how it changes and complicates itself. This is especially helpful when an assignment is open-ended, because you already have a nuanced and specific point of view upon which to build your research.
- Identify key concepts. If an essay topic wasn’t made clear in the beginning of the course, you may want to try and predict one by taking note of important concepts that keep reappearing in class and extrapolating from these. One way to do this is to look at the syllabus, check what the goals of the course are, and relate the key terms and ideas brought up in class to these goals. I like to keep these in the back of my mind as I progress through course material. Making a point to write these ideas down every week in your notes could make these concepts even more concrete.
- Use your midterm essay as a starting point. Halfway through the course you’ve already decided on a topic that interests you and synthesized what you’ve learned so far. A final paper could be a way to further develop these points. Look at how what you’ve written fits in with the bigger picture of the class (again described in the syllabus!), and see how parts of your essay could be complicated to fit in with this picture. If you’re having trouble with this, you could ask your professor or preceptor what stood out to them in the midterm as a potential research topic for the final.
Thinking about finals as early as you can goes beyond saving you from cranking out a paper at the last minute. Doing this also allows you to actively engage with the course material (even from the earliest weeks!) and make connections through the lens of what most interests you in the course. While making Dean’s Date as painless as possible is certainly appealing, I’m equally as excited about getting as much out of a class as I can, and this approach is one way to do so.
–Elise Freeman, Humanities Correspondent