The Quick and Dirty Guide to the Writing Assignment

Probably nothing brings on a case of procrastination like the writing assignment. The Jolly Librarian spent many a Thanksgiving weekend writing papers that were due the last week of the semester. It just seemed to be what we all did. While we told ourselves that we worked best under pressure, I think basically we didn’t know how to go about it, and the rush job at the end gave us a great excuse not to have made better grades.

One problem in my college courses was that everyone expected us to know how to write various types of essays, so one taught us. I doubt that’s true today, but still, you can end up a psychology course before you take composition. So it’s nice to have a quick and dirty guide.

So here it is:

  • First, bookmark the site to Purdue’s Online Writing Lab. For writers at all stages, it is one of the most thorough and useful places to get information about essays, research papers, even career writing.
  • The Jolly Librarian has also written a step-by-step guide to the research process on this blog. You may find it useful.
  • You already know that I am a fan of buying your textbooks, but if you are ignoring that advice, let’s compromise: Buy the writing handbook that is required for your Comp I class. This is a book that will serve you well through all your college courses. And beyond.
  • Students often have trouble getting started with a paper. The trick here is to stop believing that somehow you’re going to come up with a final polished draft first time out. Just start getting some ideas on paper.  Some people like freewriting. I prefer making an outline of my ideas. 
  • If you’re being asked to write something that you’ve never done before, then look for a sample online or from your instructor. Often just seeing the structure can help tremendously.
  • Give yourself time to write several drafts. Revision is the heart of good writing.
  • Don’t worry about spelling and mechanics until the last step in the process. Sure, you can correct each draft, and it’s a good exercise. But if you have a paragraph that doesn’t support your thesis, it doesn’t really matter that it has no spelling errors.
  • Go to the Learning Center.

Don’t get discouraged. Writing is hard work, but it’s also a skill that gets easier the more it’s practiced! So start practicing.

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