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Sound Writing

Subsection 4.4.4 Meeting Deadlines

A simple line drawing of a clock.
Good time management helps prevent frustration. Since one of the greatest sources of stress during the writing process is being pressed for time, try to manage your time wisely by planning your time well in advance. Because this is such an important part of succeeding as a student, a whole section of this handbook, Section 10.3, is dedicated to overcoming procrastination and developing good time management practices (including SMART goals and time charts). If you often find yourself writing papers at the last minute, read this section or try making an appointment at your tutoring center to practice scheduling and time management. Time management is a skill we as students have to learn and you shouldn’t feel like a failure if you don’t have it completely figured out, but taking these steps will set you up for success in the future.
However, you may find yourself reading this section after it is too late for a well-developed plan or tutoring appointment. Don’t despair! This happens to the best of us, and it’s still way better to turn in a rushed paper than none at all. The following strategies can help you through your last-minute writing marathon.
Also, especially if you’re running late due to illness or other circumstances out of your control, remember that you can always (politely!) ask for an extension. Still, you should never expect an extension and even if you sent that email you should start writing as soon as possible!
List 4.4.4. Strategies for Meeting Deadlines
  • Create a schedule.
    Figure out how much time you have until your assignment is due, and plan accordingly. How much time will you need to do the initial research or data collection? Even if you’re short on time, make sure to save time for planning—it will save you time in the long run! Aim to have time to complete a rough draft, to revise, and to polish a final draft. Planning ahead also enables you to schedule an appointment at the tutoring center or your university library early enough to get an appointment time that works best for you.
  • Start early.
    If planning a timeline is too structured for your personal writing process, you should at least plan to start early!
  • Make a tutoring appointment.
    Making an appointment at your tutoring center can give you an intermediate deadline to work towards and is a great way to practice scheduling and time management.
List 4.4.5. Strategies for Managing Time when you’re Pressed for Time
  • Don’t put it off any longer. Start!
    You might be frustrated with yourself, but don’t let that frustration derail the time that you do have left. Procrastination happens to everyone, so it’s best to forgive yourself, to move on, and to remember that frustration next time you think about procrastinating. Now, take a deep breath and figure out where you are in the writing process. If you haven’t yet started . . .
  • Do your research.
    Unfortunately, you may not have as much time as you would like to investigate everything you had hoped to. You have to be as efficient as possible, so don’t dilly-dally while you’re looking for sources. Use the research terms suggested in Chapter 1 to search more effectively. Read the title of an article and, if it looks promising, click on the link. Read the abstract. If the paper still looks useful to you, download the full article. Skim the introduction and conclusion. Scroll through the article and read section headings. If any part in particular might contribute to your research, skim that section (see Subsection 2.1.3). Look for arguments the author is making or any relevant data you might be able to use. When you find something you think you’ll need for your paper, stop skimming and read carefully. Make a note of whatever you have found, and make sure that you label or code the note so you know which source it’s from. Save the source in whatever way you save sources to keep track of them. Don’t let researching become another way for you to procrastinate. When you have a sufficient amount of information, move on. You can (and should) always research more later.
  • Get out a piece of paper or a whiteboard and plan.
    Hopefully you will have previously played around with/practiced different types of outlines so you know which to use (for outlining ideas, see Subsection 4.1.3). Even if you haven’t, choose a planning and an outline format that you think will enable you to organize your ideas most logically and effectively. Before you begin an outline, try writing down all the ideas you have and connecting them in a way you see fit. Let those connections guide your outline. For your outline, focus on the components of your argument: your main claim, supporting claims, and evidence. Use the six-step process outlined in Section 3.4 to develop a solid working thesis. Identify an order for the body paragraphs of your paper, and then determine where your evidence will go and how you’re going to use it. Be sure not to get too caught up on planning. You might need to revise your plan as you write, so the plan doesn’t have to be perfect. It just needs to give you a solid idea of what your paper is going to look like.
  • Start writing as soon as possible, but make sure that you’re going into your draft with background research and a plan in mind.
    Some people write well under pressure, while others feel too stressed or stifled to begin writing. Identify which type of writer you are, and then relax and act accordingly. If writing under pressure works for you, then go for it. Just be sure to leave time for revision. If writing under pressure makes you freeze up, then relax! Remember why you chose your topic, what excites you about your research, or what compelling points you plan to make in your essay. Writing last minute is not ideal, but you can still write an amazing paper and develop important ideas in a short amount of time. Yes, your paper most likely would have been better if you had started earlier (remember that for next time!), but you can only move forward now. So take a breath and start writing! You have your research and your plan, and now you only need to put the ideas together. Good luck; you can do it!
  • Unless your paper is due in five minutes and you’re still writing, save a little time for revision..
    Even in that case, consider finishing up what you’re writing and try revising for a minute or two—a solid, logical argument and the absence of small, accidental errors might benefit you more in the long run than a little extra length. However, when you have more time, save as much as possible for revision. Ideally you’ll be able to take a short break to clear your mind before you begin revising, so aim to block off at least 15–20 minutes. As long as you have a complete draft, the more time you save for revision, the better. Taking a break and stepping away from your paper, which you’ll likely have been staring at for a while, will help you have a better perspective when you return to revise. Take a walk, look out the window, do some stretches, talk to a friend, or grab a snack. When you return, take a breath and read through your paper. Focus primarily on your thesis (Does it make sense? Does it reflect what you ended up arguing throughout your paper?), your topic sentences (Do they tell the reader what each paragraph is about and how each point connects to your main argument? Are they clear?), and your introduction and conclusion (Does your introduction begin without clichés? Do you introduce the topic concisely but effectively? Does your conclusion summarize your argument without simply repeating what you’ve said? Do you raise questions about significance and further research? What do you leave the reader with?). If you have more time, visit the Revision Checklist. If you have even more time than you thought you would, you can also look for places where elaboration or explanation is needed, where your evidence is weak, where you could reorganize, or where sentences need to be revised or rewritten.
  • Think about next time.
    You might have survived this paper, and maybe you even end up getting a great grade, but don’t make a habit out of starting your papers late. It’s amazing how much more you can learn and how much better you can get at writing when you have the time to reflect on what you’ve written, to revise thoroughly, and to talk to others about your ideas. See Section 10.3 to set yourself up for success next time!