There's nothing like an approaching deadline to give you the motivation (and fear) you need to get writing – don't stress though, we're here to help you out!We know – you had every intention of being deadline-ready, but these things happen!
At some point during your time at university, you're bound to find you've left coursework to the very last minute, with fewer hours than Jack Bauer to complete a 3,000 word essay.
But don't sweat, cause 3,000 words in a day is totally doable! Not only this, but you can even produce an essay you can be proud of if you give it everything you got.
Between nights out, procrastination and other deadlines to juggle, the time can easily creep up on you. However, the worst thing you can do in this situation is panic, so keep calm, mop up the cold sweats and read on to find out how to nail that essay in unbelievable time!
Just to clarify – we're certainly not encouraging anyone to leave it all to the last minute, but if you do happen to find yourself in a pickle, you're going to need some help – and we're the guys for the job.
Are you a procrastination master? Check out these 13 hacks that will do wonders for your productivity levels, or these apps to help streamline your life!
Credit: Dimitris Kalogeropoylos – Flickr
Fail to plan and you plan to fail – or so our lecturers keep telling us. Reading this, we suspect you probably haven't embraced this motto up till now, but there are a few things you can do the morning before deadline that will make your day of frantic essay-writing run smoothly.
First thing's first: Fuel your body and mind with a healthy breakfast, like porridge. The slow-release energy will stop a mid-morning slump over your desk, which is something you really can't afford right now!
Not in the mood for porridge? Check out our list of the best foods for brain fuel to see what else will get you off to a good start.
Pick your work station
Choose a quiet area where you know you won't be disturbed. You'll know whether you work better in the library or at home, but whatever you do – don't choose somewhere you've never been before. You need to be confident that you'll be comfortable and able to focus for as long as possible.
Be organised and come equipped with two pens (no nipping to the shop because you ran out of ink), bottled water, any notes you have, and some snacks to use as mini-rewards. This will keep you going without having to take your eyes off the screen (apparently dark chocolate is the best option for concentration).
Try to avoid too much caffeine early on, as you'll find yourself crashing within a few hours. This includes energy drinks, by the way!
Shut out the world
Procrastination is every student's forte, so turn off your phone (or at least switch notifications off) and refrain from checking Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, or any other social media channels you're addicted to. We mean it!
A good tip is to get a friend to change your Facebook password for you for 24 hours and make them promise not to tell you it, even if you beg (choose a friend that enjoys watching you squirm). Otherwise, you can also temporarily deactivate your account.
Set yourself goals
Time management is of utmost importance when you have 24 hours before deadline. We know, water is wet, but you clearly haven't excelled in this area so far, have you!
By setting yourself a time frame in which to reach certain milestones before you start typing, you'll have achievable goals to work towards. This is a great method of working, as it makes the prospect of conjuring up 3,000 words from thin air much less daunting if you consider the time in small blocks.
Let's say it's 9am and your essay is due in first thing tomorrow morning. Here's a feasible timeline that you can follow:
- 9:00 – 9:30 – Have your essay question chosen and argument ready
- 9:30 – 9:45 – Break/ snack
- 10:00 – 12:00 – Write a full outline/plan of your essay
- 12:00 – 13:00 – Write your introduction
- 13:00 – 14:00 – Take a break and grab some lunch (you deserve it)
- 14:00 – 16:00 – Get back to your desk and do all your research on quotes etc. that will back up your argument
- 16:00 – 20:30 – Write all of your content (with a dinner break somewhere in the middle)
- 20:30 – 22:30 – Edit and improve – extremely important step, so take time with this
- 22:30 – 23:00 – Print and prepare ready for the morning
- 23:00 – (morning) – If you've not finished by this point, don't worry – completing in time is still possible. Just make sure you've eaten well and have enough energy to last you until the early hours of the morning.
Also remember to schedule in a few breaks – you need to spend the whole 24 hours productively, and you can't be on form for a full day without short breaks to rest your eyes (and your brain!).
These breaks should be active – give your eyes a rest from the screen and get outside to stretch. We recommend a ten minute break at least every 1.5 hours.
Choosing a question and approach
Time: 9am – 12pm
If you've been given a choice of essay questions, you should choose the one you feel most strongly about, or have the most knowledge about (i.e the topics you actually went to the lectures for!).
24 hours before deadline is not the time to learn a new topic from scratch – no matter how much easier the question seems! Also, beware of questions that seem easy at first glance, as often you'll find that the shorter questions or the ones using the most straight-forward language can be the hardest ones to tackle.
Next, decide your approach. How are you going to tackle the question? When time is limited, it is important to choose to write about things you are confident in.
Remember that it's your essay and as long as you relate your argument to the question and construct a clear, well supported argument, you can take it in any direction you choose. Use this to your advantage!
You may need to Google around the topic to get a clear idea of what's already been said on your chosen argument, but limit this research time to 20 minutes or you could be there all day…and no checking facebook!
Now, type out 3-5 key points that you'll aim to tackle in your argument, and underneath these use bullet points to list all the information and opinions, supporting arguments or quotes you have for each point. Start with the most obvious argument, as this will provide something to link your other points back to – the key to a good essay.
Once you've done this, you'll now find you have a detailed outline of the body of your essay, and it'll be a matter of filling in between the lines of each bullet point. This method is perfect for writing against the clock, as it ensures you stay focused on your question and argument without going off in any tangents.
Nailing that introduction
Credit: Steve Czajka – Flickr
Time: 12pm – 1pm
Sometimes the introduction can be the most difficult part to write, but that's because it's also the most important part!
Don't worry too much about making it sound amazing at this point – just get stuck into introducing your argument in response to your chosen question and telling the reader how you will support it. You can go back and make yourself sound smarter later on when you're at the editing stage.
Create something of a mini-outline in your introduction so you signpost exactly what it is you're planning to argue. Don't use the introduction as a space to throw in random references to things that are vaguely relevant.
When in doubt, leave it out!
Doing your research
Credit: Photo Monkey
Time: 1pm – 4pm
Now it's time to gather outside information and quotes to support your arguments.
It's important to limit the time you spend on this, as it is easy to get distracted when Google presents you with copious amounts of irrelevant information. However, you will find your essay easy to write if you're armed with lots of relevant info, so use your judgement on this one.
Choose search keywords wisely and copy and paste key ideas and quotes into a separate ‘Research' document. If using reference books rather than online, give yourself ten minutes to get anything that looks useful from the library, skip to chapters that look relevant and remember to use the index!
Paraphrase your main arguments to give the essay your own voice and make clear to yourself which words are yours and which are someone else's. Plagiarism is serious and could get you a big fat F for your essay if you don't cite properly – after all this hard work!
Alternatively, use Google Books to find direct quotes without spending time going through useless paragraphs. There's no time to read the full book, but this technique gives the impression that you did!
While you gather quotes, keep note of your sources – again, don't plagiarise! Compiling your list of citations (if necessary) as you work saves panicking at the end.
Extra referencing tips!
Take quotes by other authors included in the book you're reading. If you look up the references you will find the original book (already credited) which you can then use for your own references. This way it looks like you have read more books than you have, too. Sneaky!
Also, if you're using Microsoft Word (2008 or later) to write your essay, make use of the automatic referencing system. Simply enter the details of sources as you go along, and it will automatically create a perfect bibliography or works cited page at the end. This tool is AMAZING and could save you a lot of extra work typing out your references and bibliography.
Bashing those words out
Credit: Rainer Stropek – Flickr
Time: 4pm – 8.30pm
Get typing! Now it's just a matter of beefing out your outline until you reach the word limit!
Get all your content down and don't worry too much about writing style. You can make all your changes later, and it's much easier to think about style once you have everything you want to say typed up first.
More ideas could occur to you as you go along, so jot these ideas down on a notepad – they could come in handy if you need to make up the word count later!
Use the research you gathered earlier to support the key ideas you set out in your outline in a concise way until you have reached around 2,500(ish) words.
If you're struggling to reach the word limit, don't panic. Pick out a single point in your argument that you feel hasn't been fully built upon and head back to your research. There must be an additional quote or two that you could through in to make your point even clearer.
Imagine your essay is a bit like a kebab stick: The meat is your essential points and you build on them and build around each piece of meat with vegetables (quotes or remarks) to make the full kebab… time for a dinner break?
Editing to perfection
Time: 8.30pm – 10.30pm
Ensure that all the points you wanted to explore are on paper (or screen) and explained fully. Are all your facts correct? Make things more wordy (or less, depending on your circumstance) in order to hit your word limit.
You should also check that your essay flows nicely. Are your paragraphs linked? Does it all make sense? Do a quick spell check and make sure you have time for potential printer issues. We've all been there!
A lot of students overlook the importance of spelling and grammar. It differs from uni to uni, subject to subject and tutor to tutor, but generally your writing style, spelling and grammar can account for up to 10-20% of your grade. Make sure you edit properly!
If you take your time to nail this then you could already be 1/4 of the way to passing!
Time to get started…
While completing essays 24 hours before the deadline is far from recommended and unlikely to get you the best grades you've ever gotten (try our top tips for getting a first if that's your goal), this guide should at least prevent tears in the library (been there) and the need for any extensions. Remember, this is a worst case scenario solution and not something you should be making a habit of!
Now, why are you still reading? We all know you've got work to do! Good luck!
Exams coming up? Check out our guide on how to revise in one day too. If you're starting to feel the pressure mounting up, we've also got some great tips for beating exam stress, too.
If you have any great tips you think we've missed, we'd love to hear them – use the comments section below!
Writing an academic essay means fashioning a coherent set of ideas into an argument. Because essays are essentially linear—they offer one idea at a time—they must present their ideas in the order that makes most sense to a reader. Successfully structuring an essay means attending to a reader's logic.
The focus of such an essay predicts its structure. It dictates the information readers need to know and the order in which they need to receive it. Thus your essay's structure is necessarily unique to the main claim you're making. Although there are guidelines for constructing certain classic essay types (e.g., comparative analysis), there are no set formula.
Answering Questions: The Parts of an Essay
A typical essay contains many different kinds of information, often located in specialized parts or sections. Even short essays perform several different operations: introducing the argument, analyzing data, raising counterarguments, concluding. Introductions and conclusions have fixed places, but other parts don't. Counterargument, for example, may appear within a paragraph, as a free-standing section, as part of the beginning, or before the ending. Background material (historical context or biographical information, a summary of relevant theory or criticism, the definition of a key term) often appears at the beginning of the essay, between the introduction and the first analytical section, but might also appear near the beginning of the specific section to which it's relevant.
It's helpful to think of the different essay sections as answering a series of questions your reader might ask when encountering your thesis. (Readers should have questions. If they don't, your thesis is most likely simply an observation of fact, not an arguable claim.)
"What?" The first question to anticipate from a reader is "what": What evidence shows that the phenomenon described by your thesis is true? To answer the question you must examine your evidence, thus demonstrating the truth of your claim. This "what" or "demonstration" section comes early in the essay, often directly after the introduction. Since you're essentially reporting what you've observed, this is the part you might have most to say about when you first start writing. But be forewarned: it shouldn't take up much more than a third (often much less) of your finished essay. If it does, the essay will lack balance and may read as mere summary or description.
"How?" A reader will also want to know whether the claims of the thesis are true in all cases. The corresponding question is "how": How does the thesis stand up to the challenge of a counterargument? How does the introduction of new material—a new way of looking at the evidence, another set of sources—affect the claims you're making? Typically, an essay will include at least one "how" section. (Call it "complication" since you're responding to a reader's complicating questions.) This section usually comes after the "what," but keep in mind that an essay may complicate its argument several times depending on its length, and that counterargument alone may appear just about anywhere in an essay.
"Why?" Your reader will also want to know what's at stake in your claim: Why does your interpretation of a phenomenon matter to anyone beside you? This question addresses the larger implications of your thesis. It allows your readers to understand your essay within a larger context. In answering "why", your essay explains its own significance. Although you might gesture at this question in your introduction, the fullest answer to it properly belongs at your essay's end. If you leave it out, your readers will experience your essay as unfinished—or, worse, as pointless or insular.
Mapping an Essay
Structuring your essay according to a reader's logic means examining your thesis and anticipating what a reader needs to know, and in what sequence, in order to grasp and be convinced by your argument as it unfolds. The easiest way to do this is to map the essay's ideas via a written narrative. Such an account will give you a preliminary record of your ideas, and will allow you to remind yourself at every turn of the reader's needs in understanding your idea.
Essay maps ask you to predict where your reader will expect background information, counterargument, close analysis of a primary source, or a turn to secondary source material. Essay maps are not concerned with paragraphs so much as with sections of an essay. They anticipate the major argumentative moves you expect your essay to make. Try making your map like this:
- State your thesis in a sentence or two, then write another sentence saying why it's important to make that claim. Indicate, in other words, what a reader might learn by exploring the claim with you. Here you're anticipating your answer to the "why" question that you'll eventually flesh out in your conclusion.
- Begin your next sentence like this: "To be convinced by my claim, the first thing a reader needs to know is . . ." Then say why that's the first thing a reader needs to know, and name one or two items of evidence you think will make the case. This will start you off on answering the "what" question. (Alternately, you may find that the first thing your reader needs to know is some background information.)
- Begin each of the following sentences like this: "The next thing my reader needs to know is . . ." Once again, say why, and name some evidence. Continue until you've mapped out your essay.
Your map should naturally take you through some preliminary answers to the basic questions of what, how, and why. It is not a contract, though—the order in which the ideas appear is not a rigid one. Essay maps are flexible; they evolve with your ideas.
Signs of Trouble
A common structural flaw in college essays is the "walk-through" (also labeled "summary" or "description"). Walk-through essays follow the structure of their sources rather than establishing their own. Such essays generally have a descriptive thesis rather than an argumentative one. Be wary of paragraph openers that lead off with "time" words ("first," "next," "after," "then") or "listing" words ("also," "another," "in addition"). Although they don't always signal trouble, these paragraph openers often indicate that an essay's thesis and structure need work: they suggest that the essay simply reproduces the chronology of the source text (in the case of time words: first this happens, then that, and afterwards another thing . . . ) or simply lists example after example ("In addition, the use of color indicates another way that the painting differentiates between good and evil").
Copyright 2000, Elizabeth Abrams, for the Writing Center at Harvard University