How to Write a Paper in a Weekend (By Prof. Pete Carr)
How to Write a Paper in a Night
While you may never plan for it, writing a paper in one night is a stressful experience. Not only do you need to produce a certain amount of words, but to get a decent grade you need to create an argument and address the prompt. Fortunately, by preparing yourself and efficiently planning, writing, and editing your paper, you may be able to create a good paper in a single night.
Maximizing Your Time Through Preparation
Create a schedule for the night.After you’ve found a good location and loaded up on your favorite caffeinated beverage, you need to put together a schedule for the evening. To do this, plan your evening out half hour by half hour. You might find you have 4, 6, or 8 hours to write. Without a schedule, you won’t be able to manage your time. If you don’t manage your time, you won’t complete the assignment.
- Set aside some time for planning your paper – perhaps 25%.
- Set aside the bulk of your time for writing it – maybe 50%.
- Put aside about 25% of your time for proofreading and editing your paper.
Read the directions.Ultimately, your first major responsibility is to make sure you respond to the prompt. While you don’t have a lot of time to write the greatest paper ever, you should at least fully address the assignment. To do this, print out the assignment and read it slowly several times. Feel free to underline or highlight parts of it.
- Most paper assignments will revolve around a single question that you’ll need to respond to – your prompt. Spend as much time as you can making sure you completely understand the prompt.
- Read the details of the assignment. For example, your instructor might have specified that you need to include a certain number of sources, meet a word limit, type in Times New Roman, and double space your paper. Make sure you follow these directions.
Spend an hour getting informed.Ultimately, you won’t be able to write anything worthwhile unless you are at least minimally knowledgeable about the topic. Because of this, you need to spend time reading up on the subject of your paper. Don’t worry, though, you won’t be doing much in-depth reading. Focus on skimming the text and any required research.
- If your prompt is limited to one text, focus only on that text. However, you may need to conduct some research, especially if you need to incorporate support into your paper. In this case, do a quick search on academic databases, such as JSTOR, EBSCO, and Google Scholar. Quickly skim the results to improve your understanding of the text and find good quotes to cite in your paper. Be careful when choosing your keywords!
- Read topic sentences, and then allow your eyes to skim toward specific examples in whatever you are reading. Use a highlighter to help you move through the text quickly.
- If you’re allowed to rely on and cite outside information, look for Spaknotes, Shmoop, CliffNotes, book reviews, online articles, and other sources that can briefly explain the subject matter.
Formulate your thesis.Your thesis is the most important part of your paper. Without a strong thesis that articulates a clear and concise argument, your paper will necessarily be weak and unfocused. To get a good thesis, come up with an argument, and rewrite that argument until you can express it in one clear and concise sentence that expresses the topic and your position.
- Your thesis is typically one sentence that takes a clear stance on a specific argument. For example, if the paper prompt poses a question about the cause of the decline of the Roman Empire, a good thesis would state a specific cause, such as the Empire’s reliance on non-citizens in its army.
- Once you have a good thesis, write it out and keep it in front of you at all times. Your thesis is essentially your mission of the evening – prove it or fail.
Brainstorm.Spend about half an hour jotting down ideas, notes, and specific examples that may support your thesis. Be liberal and creative when it comes to this. You won’t have to use everything you write down, but you may want to use a lot of it.
- If you need, take a minute to look up specific ideas or facts you may think of while brainstorming.
- If it helps, organize your ideas in a graphic manner. Link ideas and facts together with lines, or as if they are branches or leaves on a tree.
Outline your argument.After brainstorming, spend about half an hour outlining your paper. Do this in bullet points. Don’t bother writing full sentences unless you think you have extra time. Your outline should include a few ideas for your introduction, three body paragraphs, and a conclusion.
Writing a Quality Paper
Write your introduction.Start your introduction by addressing the general subject or topic of the paper. Do this in 2 or 3 sentences. Then, introduce your argument and state your thesis. For example, write that "The Roman Empire collapsed because it expanded too quickly and was unable to defend its vast borders from its enemies." Use the last sentence of the introduction to either provide a roadmap of your overall argument or to transition into your argument.
Create your support paragraphs.Every support paragraph should begin with a topic sentence that informs the reader in a clear and concise manner what that paragraph is about. After your topic sentence, you should provide several pieces of evidence that support the point of the paragraph. The last sentence of your support paragraph should analyze/interpret your evidence and transition to the next paragraph.
- It's a good idea to write all of your topic sentences for your support paragraphs before you write your paper. This helps you understand where each paragraph should begin and end, which will make writing your paper easier.
- You should have a minimum of three support paragraphs.
- Every paragraph should have a mini-thesis/argument that supports the larger argument of your paper. This could be the same as your topic sentence.
Finish your conclusion.Your conclusion will restate your argument, revisit some of your most important points, and be your final effort to convince the reader of what you’re trying to prove. Ultimately, your conclusion is your last chance to sum up and reinforce your argument.
- Write a sentence or two addressing the subject of your paper.
- Restate the thesis. Instead of rewriting your thesis, reformulate it: "The Roman Empire's overextended military was unable to defend its vast borders in Europe and Asia Minor."
- Make a final appeal to the reader to believe what you’ve said. You may want to remind the reader of some of your most compelling evidence.
Cite your sources.Whenever you incorporate knowledge (either facts or an argument) that is not common knowledge, you need to cite where you got that information. If you don’t provide a citation, you are technically plagiarizing.
- Use whatever citation method/standard your instructor requires. This could be MLA, APA, or Chicago, depending on the course.
Rest before your final proof.Once you’ve finished writing the body of your paragraph, you should rest or take some sort of break. This is important because you’ll probably be both physically and intellectually exhausted. Depending on the time, you may want to consider different types of rest:
- If it is really late, you might want to just get a few hours of sleep and wake up very early to proof and edit your paper.
- If it is somewhat late, like around midnight, you may want to take a walk, watch a TV program, and get a cup of coffee before resuming work on your paper.
- If you’re really determined to get your paper done as soon as possible, take a half hour break and grab a cup of coffee and do some light exercise to get your juices flowing.
Edit for clarity.Since you don’t have much time, focus your effort on making your argument as clear and concise as possible. A tight and forceful argument will go a long way in making sure you do as well on the assignment as you possibly can.
- Do just one quick run-through to edit for clarity. For a standard 1,500-word paper, this might take 30 minutes.
- Your statements should be self-explanatory and make sense.
- Topic sentences should concisely describe the subject of the support paragraph.
- Your thesis statement should be apparent throughout the paper.
- A clear paper should flow and proceed in a logical manner. Pay special attention to missing transitions and lack of logical flow.
Proofread.After you’ve edited for clarity, you’ll want to do a final proof of the paper. Proofing is important so you can catch simple and (often) obvious typos and mistakes you made in the writing process. In the end, the less typos and grammatical mistakes your paper has, the better it may fare when your instructor is grading it.
- While proofreading might be your final step, it is perhaps the most important one – do not neglect it.
Avoiding Distractions and Pitfalls
Find an isolated location.Look for a location that is quiet and has minimal distractions. This is important, as any distractions could take time that you’ll need to finish your paper. Some of the best locations are:
- Quiet areas of your campus library. Don’t hang around the coffee shop or computers where people access social media.
- A coffee shop far from campus – where you won’t run into friends.
- Your bedroom or home office. Make sure to unplug your TV and let your roommates know you’re working.
Use caffeine to stay awake if you aren't sensitive to it.Whether you like caffeinated beverages or not, there is no doubt that they’ll help give you the energy to stay awake and finish your paper. As a result, pick your favorite beverage and get a lot of it. Whether you prefer coffee or Mountain Dew, you’ll need the help. However, stick to caffeine alternatives if you are sensitive to caffeine or have anxiety.
- Be careful drinking products like Eight Hour Energy.
- Don’t combine caffeinated products with prescription drugs.
- If you’re not into caffeine, consider hydrating yourself and exercising a little before and while you write. In addition to drinking lots of water, you could try adding lemon to your water, eating an apple, or increasing your protein intake.
Take breaks.Although you’re in a hurry, you’ll need to take a few breaks while you write your paper. Breaks are important since they’ll help recharge you and make sure you can focus on proving your argument. As a result, consider taking a break every half hour to an hour.
- Take a break when it seems appropriate. If you’re on a roll writing and making a lot of progress, put your break off until you run out of steam.
Do not plagiarize.Use your own words to support your argument. Never copy anyone else’s words without citing them. If you do plagiarize, you’ll face serious consequences. At a minimum, you’ll receive a failing grade on the assignment. Chances are, though, that you could wind up failing the class, being suspended, or even being expelled if you’ve plagiarized before.
- Many high schools and colleges require that papers be run through a program to check for plagiarism. These programs can detect similarities to any text that's appeared online or in a published book. Additionally, the program will check your work against other papers turned in by students, both currently and in years past. Plagiarism isn't work the risk, as you'll likely get caught.
Avoid procrastination in the future.After you’ve successfully written your paper in a night, you should make sure that you won’t have to face a similar challenge in the future. This is important, as the quality of your writing will likely be higher if you give yourself more time. There are several things you can do to make sure you get your papers written on time:
- Use a day planner to plan all of your course work. Write down due dates and other important information.
- Start your work at least two weeks ahead of time. Start researching when the paper is assigned, then begin outlining once your research is complete.
QuestionWhat are the best sources to develop critical thinking and creativity in our writing style, especially for newbies in research?
Adjunct Assistant Professor of EnglishAdjunct Assistant Professor of EnglishExpert AnswerYou can try WikiHow's article "Develop Critical Thinking Skills." While links aren't supported here in the Q&A, you can search this title in the search box at the top of the page.Thanks!
QuestionWhat topic is a good topic?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerIt depends on what you find interesting. Find your passion and extend upon that topic. If you choose a topic you find captivating, you are more likely to write a better paper.Thanks!
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