While it’s never advisable to leave a writing assignment to the last minute, let’s face it: real life can get in the way of academic pursuits. And let’s not forget timed-essays on midterms or finals! It’s not uncommon to be faced with very little time to produce substantial written content in the form of an academic essay.

To follow are smart tips to get you past the time-crunch crisis and get the essay done—in the least amount of time possible. Remember, of course, that when writing for a grade, expectations apply: grammatical and punctuation errors don’t fly, and logic and organization reign. Always barter the last 5 minutes of your available time for editing so you can weed out distracting errors.

Tip 1: Be very aware

It’s the student’s job to know just what the professor wants or needs from the essay, so ask the right questions ahead of time, when possible. Come at the assignment knowing “what, how, when” (and worry about the “why” later) so that you can hit the ground (or the keyboard) running—and probably be successful in a shorter amount of time overall. Take the time to carefully read the essay question or prompt, jotting down useful notes as they come to you in the process. These become the starting points of the essay, which you then can build into small sections of prose.

Tip 2: State the obvious

Use the first 3 minutes of your allotted time to build the essay’s foundation (otherwise known as a thesis or position statement). The reader must be ultra-clear on your argument, so get it out early: type out exactly what the essay aims to do.  The bonus for you in the time-crunch scenario is that the clarity goes both ways: once you, dear writer, are certain of what this essay will accomplish, the prose will likely unfold in a more logical sequence. Be obvious and be direct. Use action-oriented verbs here: “survey,” “guide,” “explain,” dispute, and “contend” are all powerful choices.

Tip 3: Manage word count

Divide the overall word count minimum/maximum into small sections, which will ease the danger of feeling overwhelmed by the task. It’s almost always easier to think in terms of drafting a compact paragraph than an entire essay, so no doubt this will give you momentum toward completion—and thus help you meet that looming deadline. The sections you draft (say, 100 words each) can later be merged (with the help of transitional words or phrases) into something more cohesive.

Tip 4: Pay homage to yourself

While it’s never okay (or lawful) to steal from another writer, you may indeed borrow from yourself! In fact, most great writers, artists, and composers have at some point relied on their own previously created material—and admit to doing it! So go ahead—pay homage to your own past work by cutting and pasting some phrases from a previously penned essay. Imagine how this can help tighten the process and help you finish faster! Be careful to not take this “double-dip” tactic too far: the borrowed material must be appropriately adjusted to match the new assignment, and it must be adequately merged with enough new material to constitute an original effort.

Tip 5: Find your voice

Avoid getting mired in the weeds of how you THINK an essay should read. Every writer is unique, and a writer’s personality, philosophies, and ideas are welcome in this forum. So lean into that a bit—rely on your own brand, your own voice. This strategy will likely accomplish two things: 1) make the end results stand out, and 2) help you meet the tight deadline—mainly because you’re not trying to be something or someone that you’re not—you’re just writing as YOU.

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