Essay writing is often so dreaded that many people avoid doing it until right before the paper is due. While some writers insist that they do their best work under pressure, more find that procrastinating does not serve them well. Procrastinating usually only adds to a sense of panic that leads otherwise good writers to throw anything together to meet the looming deadline. Worse, writers may bring the bad habit of procrastination with them to their next paper. It is time for writers to take back their power, write papers that reflect their true potential and earn better grades.
Preparing to Write
Highlight the due date on the assignment sheet. Write the paper’s due date in your calendar. Plan, however, to begin writing the paper one full week before it’s due instead, penciling in “Write Essay Draft today.”
Eliminate all distractions. Turn off the television, radio, or phone. Eat, get a glass of water, wear comfortable clothes and inform others of your writing plans.
Gather all materials, including all class notes and texts. If writing by hand, have pens, pencils, and paper handy. If writing on a computer, have paper in the printer and jump or flash drives to save work frequently. Work at an uncluttered desk, either at home or at the library.
Prewriting (Generating Ideas)
? Free write: As fast as possible, write for five or ten minutes everything you know about the topic. Focus on identifying a main topic and supporting points by circling all repetition and patterns.
? List: Create headings for your topic and possible subtopics. List everything you know about each on paper or on a large whiteboard. Review the lists for repetition and patterns. Circle all common elements for a possible main idea.
? Cluster: Place the main idea/topic in a circle, with supporting ideas branching off from this center.
? Diagram: Place your main idea/thesis (essay topic and your view toward the topic) at the top of the page. From the top to bottom of the page, draw one square for each paragraph: the introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion. In each square, fill in topic sentences and supporting points.
? Outlining: Place the main idea/thesis at the top of the page. Below, number each topic sentence. Underneath each topic, place a letter before each supporting detail, mapping out the complete essay.
If not assigned, imagine a reader for your paper. This is your audience. Combined, your view (pro or con) and the view of your reader(s) helps determine what evidence to use when developing the paper.
Provide background information about the topic, including controversy, and discuss why the issue is of concern or interest. Move from the general to the specific, ending with the thesis statement. The thesis expresses one main idea and includes how you really feel about your topic.
Writers who take a clear stand have a much easier time gathering supporting evidence and proving their points.
Body Paragraphs Begin with a topic sentence that tells the reader what the paragraph is about, is directly related to your thesis and repeats your view toward your topic. Discuss only one topic per paragraph. For example, music and clothing are one topic too many for one paragraph.
Back up assertions with descriptive details and research (if required). If you think that “Driving while texting should be banned because it is dangerous,” prove it. Devote one paragraph to each reason. If slower reflex ability is the first reason, include two or three supporting examples, such as facts, statistics or personal experiences that report how many extra feet or time it takes to stop.
Conclusion Remind readers why your topic and your views are so important. Restate each main point (taken from topic sentences) and at least one example of the most significant evidence. Clearly state what is at stake and encourage the audience to take action.
Tips and Warnings
Avoid turning in a first draft. Instead, put the essay away for a few days, and then print it out to revise.
Revise. This means rethink your entire paper. Review its organization. Check that the thesis is located at the end of the introductory paragraph. Make sure your view is clear to the intended audience. \"There are pluses and minuses to \" is unclear. \" has many benefits\" is clear.
Edit for style. Use a conversational tone. If you never say “It behooves today’s youth,” while talking with friends, so avoid doing so in a paper. Likewise, parents are not parental units. Big, fancy words are distracting and are often used incorrectly.
Refer to a style guide. Combine short, choppy sentences for flow. Correct grammar, punctuation and mechanical (formatting, titles) errors.
Print out your paper and repeat this process until you are happy.
If you get tired or frustrated at any stage of the drafting process, take a break. Stretch, take a walk, take a nap, ride a bike. Starting early provides that luxury. You control your own destiny.
- An Easy Guide to Writing, Pamela D. Dyskstra, 2006.
- The Hodges Harbrace Handbook, Cheryl Glenn and Loretta Gray, 2010.
- Brand X Pictures/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images