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Friday, June 3, 2011

How To Write A 10 Page Paper With Less Than 24 Hours Before It's Due (and still get an A)! PART ONE

I am a self proclaimed professional procrastinator when it comes to writing papers.

Paper due in a few days?  Wow, my closet really needs to be cleaned out like right now.  Hmm... that paper is due tomorrow- BUT I've really been meaning to organize my stamp collection and iron my socks, so I should probably do that instead.

Yeah, that's basically my internal dialogue during the school year.

I work best under pressure and I cut everything close.  It's awful, but it works for me.  Even if you're not a procrastinator, I want to share my paper writing method in case you ever find yourself in a bind.

As an English major, I typically write about four 6 page papers (which I can sometimes pull off in 3 hours) and six 8-10 page papers (which will be my primary focus here) each semester.  The papers are often based around a piece of literature, history, plus some brilliant (in my mind) idea that I've managed to think up.

So, here is my personal writing process that I have used for the past 3 years.  I've never gotten less than an 85, with an average score of 93 (with my professors, getting a real 'A' is pretty much impossible), but then again I am an English major which might be an explanation to this.

Let's begin- Part 1: Thinking and Researching.

I usually try to brainstorm paper ideas as soon as the paper is assigned so I have a vague train of thought about where I am headed.  These ideas often come to me while driving, in the shower, or during class when we are discussing the subject.  If you can't come up with anything, hopefully the lack of time available will spark some sort of epiphany.  Be sure not to simply settle on a topic, since you will be writing about it for 10 very long pages, more than likely in Times New Roman 12 pt. font.

Alright, so it's Saturday- midnight (technically Sunday!) and the paper is due by 6pm on said day.  This is as close as I am willing to cut it, and now the work starts.

JSTOR is my BFF in this situation.  My 8-10 page papers require 8-10 sources, and if you're lucky you won't need this many.  If you're a college student with any sort of paper writing experience, then you know that Wikipedia and random websites are never to be used as academic sources.  JSTOR is great for papers on literature, and it's my personal favorite.  I know that there are many others out there, you just have to find the right fit for the subject that is being written about.

Search broad, then narrow keywords... read (uh-skim) the first page of each article to see if any of the content can be used in the paper.  If there's nothing there, don't keep reading.  If it seems like there could be something there, hit the middle of the article and the last page for the good stuff IMO.  Copy and paste note worthy quotes and set them aside for future use.  To be honest, I pad my papers with any and all articles that contribute inspiration to the paper but don't necessarily have a quote that I want to use in it.  Mastering the "art" of pulling articles efficiently does take some practice, but after a few rounds it's second nature.

While pulling the research articles, you should also have an additional tab to create your bibliography open.  I use EasyBib because it formats in MLA 7 (I forgot to mention that MLA is the only form I use...if you're an APA or Chicago, you're on your own- sorry).  EasyBib keeps all of your works cited history which is super nifty for future use.  I don't think it's cheating and I'm certain that all of my other classmates use a website of this sort as well.  Anyway, it's an absolute must.

As an example paper, let's say that I am writing about how authors in early English literature would hide behind their characters to voice their own opinion.  I want to focus on content we went over in class (obviously) and then something beyond that.  I've decided to write about:

  • The Canterbury Tales (Chaucer)
  • Utopia (More)
  • Hamlet (Shakespeare)

JSTOR will have a plethora of junk (aka treasured academic jewels) on the above pieces for me to pick apart and argue with until I am blue in the face- guaranteed.  

By now, it's probably 1am if you were super speedy about all of this.  You now have:

  • a topic
  • 8-10 sources with quotes and additional padding
  • a bibliography
  • a sense of where your paper is going and what your developing thesis will be.
  • about 16 or so hours until the paper is due.
It is now time to go to sleep.  

Images Courtesy of Pinterest. 

Note: Sarcasm within this series is completely intentional.  If you read my blog or know me in at all, you'll get this immediately.  This is also not to encourage people to procrastinate.  =]

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