Get it done: Knocking out your final paper

Rebecca Saenz

Santa is coming! So are final papers. We all have that final paper we should already be working on ‐ or starting on. We put it off, work a bit, put it off again ‐ then all of a sudden the thing’s due in two days and we’re stressed out. But it doesn’t have to be this way!

As an English major (Word Samurai, Level 10), I write papers all day long, all semester long. Trust me when I say there are definitely things you shouldn’t do when you write. Plus, I know a few shortcuts. Following through on the following tips will help you produce better papers faster. There’s no getting around final papers, but you can try to make yours as trouble free as possible.

Tip #1: Create a thorough outline. I recommend outlining with headings and subheadings to keep your structure organized. If you’re researching, keep things organized as you go and consolidate everything (all research, outlines and drafts) into one folder. I will typically write my whole paper within my original outline beforehand and then simply delete my headings once I’m done. First draft! If you’re thorough in the preliminary writing phase, it’s unlikely that you’ll need to go back for more research or reorganize your ideas. Blueprint before you build; outline first.

Tip #2: Break down the workload, especially if it’s long and complicated. Don’t try to tackle the whole paper in one sitting. I’ve tried that and lasted as long as a snowflake in South Texas and didn’t finish anyway. Instead, use your outline to help segment your assignment. Work on one or two sections at a time and then put it away for a while, maybe a few hours or a day at most. Don’t put it away for too long, though, or you’ll be out-of-focus and unmotivated. Most of all, don’t save it for a caffeine-packed night right before it’s due, when you especially won’t want to do it. It’s important to pace yourself.

Tip #3: Start now. In fact, start right this instant if you’re not busy (you may finish reading this splendid article first). Procrastinating is a guilty pleasure for many of us, but it doesn’t make deadlines go away and will leave you scrambling to finish everything later. It also doesn’t produce the same level of subject mastery as a slow-cooked piece of writing, and professors can tell. Starting early can build your momentum, let you work comfortably and leave enough time to make changes. Additionally, you’ll probably have other finals and projects approaching before winter break, so knock out time-consuming, methodical papers first. Start now. Finish early.

If you start on your papers ahead of time, plan thoroughly and work through them steadily. You will likely finish them ahead of schedule. Minimize your stress and maximize your efficiency by taking the systematic approach. Then you can kick your feet up. I wish you the best; cheers to the fall 2018 semester!