Allocating Time to Write an Essay

Pre-writing helps students generate ideas that support an argument.
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Allocating time to write an essay can be difficult when you're juggling several classes, extracurricular activities and other responsibilities. Although it can be tempting to procrastinate until the night before your assignment is due, starting essays early and working through the writing process in small chunks help you write a better paper and feel less stressed.

1 Writing Process

Understanding the steps of the writing process can help you budget time for your essay. The first step is pre-writing, which involves coming up with ideas through free-writing, clustering, writing lists or other brainstorming strategies. The next step is writing a rough draft; get your ideas down on paper, selecting the strongest and most relevant ideas you produced during pre-writing. Then revise your draft by organizing your ideas, ensuring your argument is clear and perfecting your topic sentences and thesis statement. Finally, edit your essay, proofread and polish. Reading your essay aloud can help you catch errors, according to the Los Angeles Valley College Writing Center.

There's no right amount of time to spend on each step; some students may prefer to write a detailed outline, for example, while others may begin drafting after free-writing and drafting a thesis. However, it's important to budget plenty of time for pre-writing and revision; skipping these steps can result in a poorly organized or incoherent essay.

2 Creating Tasks

As soon as the essay is assigned, consider the tasks you'll need to complete. For example, if you have to write a research essay, you might need to visit the library and make note cards. If you have to analyze certain poems, you'll need to read and annotate them. In addition, consider breaking the steps of the writing process into smaller chunks, such as writing two pages of the rough draft. Set deadlines for each task, and don't wait for inspiration; use pre-writing to generate ideas.

3 Example Schedule

Your deadlines will vary based on your time frame and assignment. For example, if you have an essay due in 10 days, devote the first two days to reading the material and taking notes. Spend the next day pre-writing and then allocate three days for writing your rough draft. Spend the next three days revising, and then edit and polish your essay the night before it's due.

4 Avoiding Procrastination

Budgeting your time can help you avoid procrastination. If you wait until the last minute, you won't have time for each step of the writing process, and you won't have breaks between steps. Divide your assignment into smaller tasks to make it less intimidating, and reward yourself after completing each task. For example, after you spend time brainstorming, go for a walk or hang out with your friends. If you're busy, set a kitchen timer for 15 minutes and force yourself to write nonstop for that time, recommends San Francisco State University.

5 Getting Help

Most schools offer resources to help students struggling with time management or other aspects of writing. If you're stuck on your assignment or have trouble starting, make an appointment at your university writing center, ask your professor or adviser for help, or consult a librarian. Don't wait until the night before to ask for help; reach out as early as possible.

Rebekah Richards is a professional writer with work published in the "Atlanta Journal-Constitution," "Brandeis University Law Journal" and online at She graduated magna cum laude from Brandeis University with bachelor's degrees in creative writing, English/American literature and international studies. Richards earned a master's degree at Carnegie Mellon University.