Since the rise of standardized tests in the 1990s, many students have been taught how to write in conditions that radically differ from those of higher education. Reading texts curated by a testing company, often disconnected from subject matter, and planning and writing a short essay in an hour or so is nothing like higher education writing. This challenges students to re-learn good writing habits.
A huge change, for many students, from high school into college (and from college into graduate school) is the amount of time spent on writing projects. Read on for tips on how to plan long-term writing projects into your term for maximum writing effectiveness.
1. Read the syllabus
The first thing to do when your term begins is to thoroughly read and understand the course syllabus. Instructors often spend weeks (or even months) crafting this document, which is the foundation for your course. Look at assignment requirements, texts to read, and any deadlines. Get clarification, visit your instructor’s office hours, and take diligent notes on how you plan to complete each graded portion of the course.
2. Make a schedule
Once you know what assignments you must complete and when you’ll need to turn them in, create a schedule for yourself. Many students input important dates in a physical or electronic planner; some link it to their e-mails or their cell phones. Whatever keeps you most on track is your best bet.
Setting a routine helps the most here. If you know you will spend an hour each day working on writing projects, eventually your brain will get used to—and even thrive—writing during that hour. Think of it like a workout routine! The first few weeks, a new exercise or regimen might cause some soreness or even frustrate you; once you incorporate it into your daily or weekly routine, though, it will feel natural and even necessary.
3. Assign deadlines
Whether or not your instructor assigns deadlines for parts of an assignment, you should create deadlines for yourself. Let’s look at an example.
For a hospitality course, you are assigned a 10-page paper covering sustainability trends in food. Rather than waiting until the day before the assignment is due to research, read, write, revise, and proofread the paper, brainstorm a few topics the first week of class. You might keep a running list of possible sources and read two a week, taking notes on other sources to find and how you might use them in your paper. A few weeks from the due date, put together a draft and evaluate what work is left to do. (Do you need a conclusion? More sources? Feedback?) As you approach the due date, leave time to complete the paper and to proofread it. You won’t feel as stressed if you’ve completed most of the work before the due date; less stress means clearer thinking and a stronger written project.
4. Hold yourself accountable
Accountability is most effective when it has two parts: Celebration and reflection. If you meet or beat one of your own deadlines, celebrate! You might have a dance party with your loved ones, eat your favorite foods, splurge on a new piece of clothing, or whatever else fuels you. Students often need positive reinforcement to make this process feel worthwhile, especially if this is new to you.
If you fall behind, take time to reflect. Why did you fall behind? Did you overestimate how much work you could get done before feeling run-down? Did you need information you didn’t plan for, which took a while to get? Did you run out of motivation? How can you meet the deadline next time? Use this information to make a better plan. Then, move on! Don’t dwell on it. Nobody perfectly sticks to their own schedule 100% of the time; learn from it and do better next time.
5. Ask for help
Do you have questions about what your assignment means, or what it should include? Reach out to your instructor ASAP. Many students make the mistake of waiting too long to ask or talk themselves out of getting clarification from an instructor. JWU instructors are here to help, and just an e-mail away!
Wondering where to begin? Confused about what kinds of deadlines to establish? Unsure of where to go next? Reach out to the JWU Online Writing Coaches. We support you at all parts of the writing process and can help you put together a long-term writing plan.