It’s Monday morning, and I’m sitting at my computer, continuing to procrastinate on an 8-page paper that I need to finish by tomorrow. It’s amazing all the things that you can find to do when you’re avoiding something else, isn’t it?
This got me thinking, and I realized that I’ve been writing essays for a while now – four years of high school, four years as an English major in college, one semester (so far) as a graduate English major, and over three years as a writing tutor. Over that time, I like to tell myself that I’ve learned a thing or two, and I had the idea to share with you some of my top tips for writing a killer paper with less stress.
Divide up your ideas.
Let me start out by saying that I’m not a paper-outliner. In school, I hated when my teachers would force me to turn in an outline of my paper before writing it. It seemed like such a waste of time to me! This process definitely works for some people, but don’t feel bad if it doesn’t work for you. Outlines aren’t necessary for writing a good paper. But a trick that I’ve found that works for me is dividing up my thoughts ahead of time. You could say that this is a form of outlining, but I wouldn’t call it anything that’s super detailed or time-consuming.
Here’s what I mean. Let’s say that you’re writing a paper in which you have to discuss four articles. You might want to outline your paper like this:
You could obviously put the article titles and/or authors’ names in place of “article #,” or you could label them however else you see fit. The important thing is that you create basic paragraph headers so that you can begin writing underneath whichever paragraph you feel like and you won’t get lost.
Start writing wherever you want.
This is sort of a continuation of the first tip, and it may sound kind of obvious, but not everyone thinks about it. When writing their essays, a lot of people think that they have to start at the beginning. For example, they’ll try to start writing with their introduction, but this actually isn’t always the best place to start, and this is where a lot of people get stuck. They can’t think of that catchy first sentence or they can’t figure out exactly how they want to word their thesis. The thing is that no one can tell where you started and where you finished writing. If you have a lot of information about your third paragraph and you really want to start there, do it! The good thing about dividing up your paper under labeled paragraph headings, you can easily skip around and write on whichever topic whenever inspiration strikes.
Wait to write your thesis.
This tip really ties into my last two because traditionally, your thesis statement would be one of the first parts that you’d write, but it’s really not the best place to start. Oftentimes, you won’t know exactly what you’re going to be writing about until you’re well into writing your paper, so if you write a super structured thesis before writing anything else, you’ll feel like you have to stick to it even if it ends up not being quite what you want to write about after all. Hold off on writing your thesis until you’re more sure in which direction your paper is going.
This program is honestly my secret weapon. You can upload your papers to Grammarly and it will check for spelling, grammar, and wordy sentences for free! I find it much more reliable than Word’s spell check feature. You can head over to https://app.grammarly.com and make an account.
But the part about Grammarly are the apps. There’s free Google Chrome browser extension that checks your writing on almost every website you visit. This means that you won’t make silly spelling or grammar errors when you’re writing an email, a document on Google Docs, or a post on Facebook. On some websites, Grammarly will even suggest synonyms for you, which I love! You can also download the native Grammarly for Mac or Windows applications, which check your writing on many of the programs native to your computer, such as iMessaging on Macs.
I hope that these tips were helpful, and if you enjoyed them, please let me know! I’m thinking about starting a series of posts about writing, as well as providing some writing resources here on the blog.