Writing Under Tight Due Dates

Instructor: Amy Troolin

Amy has MA degrees in History, English, and Theology. She has taught college English and religious education classes and currently works as a freelance writer.

This lesson will provide some helpful steps and tips for writing a high quality piece under the pressure of a tight due date. We'll look at the prewriting, writing, and editing processes.

A Looming Deadline

Oh no! You really dropped the ball this time. You forgot all about the essay your teacher assigned two weeks ago, and now it's due in two days.

First, don't panic. A looming due date doesn't mean failure. Relax. You can do this. You just need to get organized and stay focused on your task. This lesson will provide several steps and tips that you should follow if you want to produce high quality work within a short period of time.

Plan, Schedule, and Prewrite

The first thing you must do is develop a plan that lists all the steps you must take to accomplish the project. These include brainstorming, gathering your sources, reading and taking notes on those sources, making an outline, writing the first draft, editing the draft, and proofreading the final piece.

Then, schedule your time. Think about how long each step will take, and jot down an approximate time frame on your plan. You'll need to be a little flexible, but try to stay close to the schedule as you go through the process.

Now it's time to start the actual prewriting process.

  1. Brainstorm. If you don't have a topic for your essay, now is the time to choose one. What interests you? What do you already know quite a bit about? The last question is critical. You should be familiar with your topic if you are writing under a tight due date.
  2. Determine your main point. What do you want your audience to know about the topic? What claim do you want to make? Then think about what kinds of reasons and evidence you should use to support your main point. Why do you believe your assertion is correct, and how can you support it?
  3. If you need sources, especially for supporting evidence, gather them now. The Internet is your quickest option in this case, but be sure that what you use is credible. Anyone can post anything on the Internet, so look for websites originating from schools or reputable organizations. Visit the library if you need to.
  4. Read your sources and take notes. You should be gathering the information you need to support your points and fill out your essay. You should skim the sources instead of trying to read every word. Have a mental list of a few key words to look for as you go through each source, and jot down anything that would be useful as evidence.
  5. Make an outline that includes your main point, your reasons, and the evidence you want to use to support each reason.

If you complete each step in this prewriting process, even though they take a little extra time, you will be organized and ready to write.

Stay Focused and Write

Following your outline, you should now begin writing your essay. Try to let the words flow at this point. This is just a rough draft; you can edit later. Concentrate on the big picture:

  • Clearly state your main point in your opening paragraph.
  • Clearly state your reasons in the body of the essay, using a paragraph or two for each.
  • Support each reason with evidence gathered from your sources.

Try to stay focused as you write. Remove distractions like the phone, and don't check your email or Facebook. Keep your body in your chair and your mind on your work.

You should, however, take breaks every half hour or so. Exercise, grab a nutritious snack, or listen to some songs for energy, but don't stay away from your work for too long. You don't want to break your momentum.

Edit and Proofread

When you finish your draft, you can give yourself a congratulatory pat on the back, but you aren't done yet. Your next step is to edit your work and ask yourself some tough questions.

  • Is your main point clear? Do readers know for sure what you are claiming?
  • Do your reasons plainly state why you believe the way you do?
  • Do you have enough evidence to support each reason, and is it relevant?
  • Is your essay well organized? Does it flow logically and smoothly from point to point?

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