Term Paper Tips
There are stages to every term paper: Assignment, denial and procrastination, panic, frenzied labor, relief and post-paper woe.
Assignment occurs when you realize you have a paper on your syllabus and your professor expects you to turn it in, denial and procrastination are where you put it off until the last possible minute, panic happens when you realize you’ve done this, frenzied labor ensues, and relief comes when it’s over. At least, it comes until post-paper woes kick in as you worry about your grade and promise yourself you’ll do better next time.
I know how it goes. We’ve all procrastinated on enough papers to know how it goes. And once again, term paper season is right around the corner, which means now is your chance to make good on those promises to yourself. But even if you’re starting a project late, these tips should help you get it done on time and keep your sanity.
If it’s not too late, start now to divide and conquer. If you already have the project on your to-do list, there’s no time like the present. The earlier you begin, the more you can break up the work into smaller chunks: do research one day, outline another, warm up with an intro, write the body in three sessions and et cetera. I once put off a research paper until two days before it was due and spent about 36 hours straight working on it before class. I only did it once.
Yes, you might have a good idea of exactly how long you can procrastinate before you can just barely make it. My advice? Don’t do that.
Another helpful tactic is to change your scene. If you’re prone to distractions, take yourself out of the distracting environment. Pay attention to the factors that influence your productivity. If you work better when you’re fully dressed in business casual, sitting upright at a desk with a cup of joe, do that. If you do better with a cozy bathrobe and a couch, go for that. Take your work out of the house and go to a coffee shop, where you can’t get sidetracked doing laundry or making 20 trips to the fridge.
No matter where you’re working, though, be sure to take breaks. Sometimes the reason you can’t stop rewriting one sentence is you’ve been looking at it too long. You don’t have to be gone for hours and hours, but every hour or so, reward yourself with a stretch of the legs, a quick scroll through social media, a drink refill, or whatever refreshes you enough to keep going. Just be sure you get back to work.
If you’re really crunched for time or really stuck, you could try the best quick-paper-writing tip I ever got, which unfortunately for me came just before I wrote the final essay of my college career.
It’s a little formulaic, but it works in a pinch: open a document and write down every idea you want to cover in the essay, whether you have full sentences, key words or a mix of both. Make sure they’re grouped according to some logic, and break each idea onto its own line. Then hit enter to space each line across the document. Space them so that they cover the total number of pages you have to write. Then, when you write, continue on each topic until you’ve covered the spaces between each idea. You might have to do a second draft to smooth out some transitions, but if you have a hard time with a big topic, this can help break it up.