Let’s face it, when it comes to writing essays, dissertations, thesis chapters or submitting coursework, even the most organised of us will come face to face with that last minute essay panic at some point in our lives. I have worked with lots of students over the past year, and indeed, as an under-graduate and then a post-graduate student, I have found myself surrounded by students of all ages, styles, abilities and personalities. There is always a commonality – the dread of an essay or academic assignment. The extend of the dread, and the reason for the fear may be different across the board, but nonetheless, it would be nigh on impossible to find a student who doesn’t find themselves getting slightly nervous when the words ‘essay’ and ‘deadline’ are uttered within the same breath.
However, essay writing is a fundamental part of all study. We start pulling together written assignments at school from the age of 4, and we continue to write assignments throughout our life. Sometimes they are career related, and certainly in our earlier life they are frequently academic and educational.
I am one of those individuals who likes to plan to avoid that last minute essay panic. I don’t find a buzz in working all night to finish off an assignment that’s due to be submitted at 9am the following day. I don’t find that my academic or creative genius is awoken only when there is 4 hours to go before submission deadline. I find that I am calmer, and I generally write better and more coherent essays when I have the luxury of time and the ability to re-read, and rewrite my essay.
There are however some students who do find that they are much more productive and almost much more intelligent in their essay writing when they are up against the pressure of a deadline. And that’s just fine. But sometimes, when you have a 200 page thesis to submit for example, there just aren’t enough hours in the day to deliver a good quality essay in 12 hours. And so you need a plan.
One of the best ways to avoid that last minute essay panic is quite simply to have a plan for completing the essay. Attack the essay as you would any project:
1. Know the deadline. This is the point at which all stages of your plan will work back from.
2. Set a realistic start date. If the essay is only 1,000 words long, you don’t need to start writing and researching it two months ahead of the deadline date. One to two weeks is probably sufficient. If however the essay is 10,000 words long, then starting it two months ahead of deadline might be sensible.
3. Work out all of the key steps you need to complete between the start date and the finish date. These could include completing the research, watching an important film that is related to the subject matter, carrying out qualitative research, attending a discussion group, meeting with your tutor etc. It should also include completing various parts of the essay itself; for example, writing a full content plan for each chapter, drafting the introduction, drafting the body of the essay, drafting the conclusion.
4. Set completion dates for each of these key steps…and stick to them. Don’t let yourself fall into the trap of missing a deadline and then letting the whole plan slip – keep on top of it.
5. Aim to work to a completion date that is at least 2 days before the actual submission deadline. Not only does it feel great to complete your work in plenty of time before submission day, it also gives you a couple of days to re-check through your work and to sort out a proof read or final editorial, if this is required.