Essay Writing 101

I know, I know. I promised no chiding advice on how you want to get your essay started early because, let’s face it, that’s not going to happen. But even if you don’t start writing until the night before it’s due, this can save you a lot of grief in more ways than one. Today I’ll explain the how and the why of starting your research early. 

How

After your paper is assigned, go to the library, and get some books. You know what kind of books you need, we covered that last week. Get those books. Don’t worry, you’re in no danger of reading them. But get them. Put them in a pile near wherever you study or do homework. Whenever you get bored or distracted, pick one of those books up and flip through it. Skim it like we discussed last week, and then shuffle it to the bottom of the pile. Any time you don’t feel like working, just do that. You’re not reading, you’re just skimming. Resting your eyes even.

In a week, you’ll likely have cycled through the pile at least once. You may have even accidentally learned something. This is good. Continue doing this. Add more books to replace the ones you’ve eliminated. In the next week, you might be thinking about writing your paper. This is okay. You may even start writing it, and begin reading more intensively. But even if you begin writing the night before, you’ll do better.

Why

The reason this helps is obvious. As you read, you learn things, even if you’re not doing it intensively. While you’re writing your essay, these things will come back to you and these, along with the short notes you’ve taken as per the skimming lesson, you’ll be well prepared to write. It’s easier to hold it all in your head if you didn’t try to cram it in there five minutes ago. At the same time, you’re not pushing yourself to do it intensively right out of the gate. Little bits, here and there, will work their way into your memory.

There’s other reasons for doing this, though. Logistical ones, chiefly. First, if you start writing your paper the night before, it helps to have all your books at hand, rather than also having to do all the research the night before as well. More importantly, you might notice that when the due date draws near, the books you need get pretty scarce. This is often because your more studious peers are already reading them thoroughly in preparation for their papers. The fools. Securing the books you need early will help you stay ahead and make sure that you’re not scrambling. A trip to the library sooner rather than later, can make a big difference.

So start your research early. You were going to have to go to the library anyway, and as an added bonus, you can use that stack of books to hold your door open, or to steady your bong. Take a picture of your study space and post it on Twitter to show how hard you’re working. Even if you only read a paragraph a day, you’ll be better off than you were before. And that’s what counts.

Jim Tigwell’s study space is actually full of duckies and strange objects. One day he’ll write about them at Concept Crucible, his blog about ideas. Find him on Twitter and explain that duckies don’t tweet.

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