Anxious about beginning your next big writing project? Try these three steps to get organized and make the project feel less intimidating.
Starting a lengthy writing assignment can feel like standing at the base of a mountain—before you take the first step, you’re gazing at what seems like an impossible task. Similar to a difficult hike, long-form writing can be rewarding. When approaching a long writing assignment, it’s important to take it one step at a time—thoroughly review your gathered research, create an outline, and set project goals.
Step #1: Conduct Thorough Research
In order to successfully complete a long writing assignment, it’s important to have a deep understanding of your topic. The more you know about your chosen topic, the easier it will be to write about it. Targeted research involves a great deal of reading, so depending on your deadline, you may spend several days or weeks on the research phase.
Take good notes while you read your source material, and make copies of library sources to reference later. Look at the reference lists of any scholarly work you’re using as background to see if there are other sources that may be useful to you. The further you can go during this phase, the more information you’ll have to draw from when needing to support the points in your essay.
Step #2: Create an Outline
Outlines are a great tool for writing any kind of essay and for keeping yourself on topic and organized. They’re especially important for longer writing assignments, though, because you’ll have a lot of information to include.
Outlining will help you to be more purposeful in deciding what information to include and how to order it. You may want to try outlining in stages, starting with a bare-bones version as you continue your research to figure out where you need more information. After this, you can fill in more details as you learn more about your topic and formulate your important points. Plan to include these main sections as a starting point:
- An introduction, including a thesis statement that tells the reader what your argument is. You can always change this later to make it wider or narrower in scope, but it’s good to at least have an idea of the direction for your paper.
- A list of the main points to include in your essay. These will be the backbone of the essay’s body and should each tie back to the thesis statement, providing evidence for your main objective.
- A conclusion that reiterates your main points without simply restating them. Try to show how your ideas fit together and answer the question “So what?” Your outline can include a basic version of this to be expanded on later.
Step #3: Set Project Goals
One of the keys to successfully finishing your long assignment is to avoid procrastinating. To prevent too much stalling, create a schedule. When you first get your assignment, set up small deadlines leading up to the final due date. For example, if your final assignment is due in 30 days, your basic schedule might look like this:
- Gather your sources and research for the first week.
- Complete an outline by day 12.
- Finish a first draft by day 25.
- Edit, rewrite, and polish, completing your final version by day 29.
You might want to break the schedule down even further, but having two or three incremental goals should help keep you on track. Then, choose a small reward that you’ll only get once you reach each goal. However, the best reward of all? Making a plan for your long writing assignment can help you avoid an all-nighter that you could have pulled if you hadn’t been so prepared.
Lora Wegman is a contributing writer for Varsity Tutors, a live learning platform that connects students with personalized instruction to accelerate academic achievement.