As a student studying history, my classes are essay heavy. Whether it’s a short, 5-page paper, or a longer 10-to-15-page paper, I write a lot. And surely, I’m not alone; as Princeton students, we are expected to write a lot, whether it be academically, extracurricularly, or professionally. With so much writing, it becomes easy to grow tired and forgo editing. After all, with an outline and ‘rough draft’ in hand, it’s easier to call it a day and pray for an A.
The rewriting process is perhaps the most underrated yet important step when it comes to essay writing. Rewriting is not just about catching misuse of the dastardly Oxford comma or misspellings of common words but finding out what fundamental aspects of the essay work and do not work. This is asking yourself the basic questions: Does the essay make sense? Does the structure create a naturally flowing, cohesive essay? Are my references in order? Is everything grammatically correct?
With a new semester coming up ahead, and those dreaded 5-page or 10-to-15-page papers coming along with it, I thought it was best to outline some of the strategies I use to rewrite my essays. These are strategies I took away from Writing Seminar (mine being WRI 146: Constructing the Past), some of my history classes (most notably HIS 281: Approaches to European History), and my own writing exercises to rewrite and edit my essays. This list is not exhaustive, not meant to be followed point-by-point nor used for every type of essay; in fact, I would take this list as blend of different strategies to mix-and-match. Nevertheless, here it is!
Last fall, in a cubicle on the B-floor of Firestone, you might have seen me scrolling through my unfinished JP. It would have looked unremarkable. I had been working on my JP in the same cubicle for weeks. Except this time, my JP was due to my department in two hours and I was realizing I had about 25 pages of footnotes to complete. I was panicking: crying and shaking while typing faster than I’ve ever typed before.
Luckily, I was able to complete the citations and submit my JP with three minutes to spare! But it took me the rest of the night to recover from the experience (and, to be honest, I still get a rush of anxiety every time I think about it). I promised myself I would never allow myself to end up in the same situation again.
Whether it’s a final paper, a JP, or a thesis, here are some tools I’ve been using to help me beat the panic of independent work:
I’ve always struggled with citations: remembering where I should put commas, how to format journal names, how many authors I should list before writing et al (or was it et. al.?). Last year, my roommate caught me using my freshman year copy of A Pocket Style Manual as I complained my way through the tedious formatting of my junior paper citations.
“You don’t use Mendeley?” she asked me. “Oh, wow. Let me help you.”
After saving many tedious hours with the help of a citation manager, I’m passing my roommate’s wisdom on, by way of a 12-minute guide that can get you started using Mendeley. If your experience is anything like mine, you’ll never go back!
Mendeley and Zotero, the two most popular free citation management programs, store sources and create formatted in-text citations, footnotes, and bibliographies. I use Mendeley, which has the benefit of allowing you to highlight and annotate PDFs within its desktop app. But I also have friends who swear by Zotero, which is better with non-PDF sources. (If you’re torn, you can check out this helpful comparison.)