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UMGC Effective Writing Center The Writing Process: Set a Schedule that Works for You!

Just like any task, writing a paper takes time and patience. Typically, the more time you allow, the stronger your paper will become.

There’s no one size fits all schedule for how quickly to write a paper, but here’s a roughly 7-day long  (one week) strategy to consider:

Early in the Semester

When you start a class, review the syllabus and due dates. Use your personal calendar to track the due dates of major writing assignments. Set a “getting started” date for each assignment that gives you plenty of time to plan, draft, revise, and proofread. 

At least a week in advance of the due date is a good rule of thumb, but you can give yourself more time as needed.  The more you write, the more familiar you'll be with how much time you, personally, need to write well. Just keep in mind that longer papers will likely require more time to draft and revise than shorter papers.

Day 1: Brainstorm

Very carefully read and review your assignment requirements for that paper. Make a brainstorming list or cluster of topic ideas and supporting ideas that you’d likely use in fulfilling that paper’s requirements. A brainstorming list can be as long or as detailed as you want! You can even brainstorm out loud with a friend or family member, just be sure to write down (or type out) the best ideas as they come up.

Once you have a big, healthy list of ideas, narrow it down. Pick the approaches or ideas that sound most interesting and fun to you.

You might want to do some preliminary research before, after, or during the brainstorming process depending on how familiar you are with this topic. If you’re not that familiar, conducting some initial research can help get the ideas flowing.

Day 2: Research & Outline

Make a starter outline. The starter outline should be based on your “best” ideas from your brainstorming session along with some preliminary research (if needed). In your outline, you want to have a good skeletal plan for what you’ll be explaining and supporting in each section of your paper: introduction, body paragraph(s), and conclusion.

Just like the brainstorming phase, you’ll probably be conducting research before, during, or after you make your outline. Once you have an outline, you'll have a better idea of what kind of research to focus on.

Day 3: Outline & Draft

Expand your outline. The more detailed and specific your outline becomes, the easier your job will be when you write the full text of your paper. Detailed outlines can even include specific quotes, ideas, or supporting points from research. It’ll make your job easier later on if you even put the exact citations you plan to use right into your outline. That way you can just copy and paste those accurate citations right into the rough draft of your paper later.

Depending on how you’re feeling about that outline, you might get started on drafting your paper on day three as well. For example, it might be a good time to draft your thesis statement and introduction.

Day 4: Rough Draft

Write the rough draft. Rough drafts do not have to be perfect, and it’s normal for there to be typographical, grammatical, and mechanical errors at this point. Focus more on the ideas and how you are going to explain and support them. Use your outline as a guide. The better your outline has become by this point, the easier it will be to draft your paper.

It’s important to let a rough draft “sit” for twenty-four hours so you can approach it again with fresh eyes and mind the next day.

Although you can certainly submit a draft to the EWC at any point from outlining onward, this might be a good time to submit your draft to the EWC to help make sure you have enough time to receive feedback and incorporate it into your final revisions.

Day 5: Revise for Content

Read your rough draft and be very critical of your ideas. Where are your ideas weak and where are they strong? How might you better improve the organization of that paper? What paragraphs might need more support from research or examples?

How is your thesis holding up? Does it match the content of the body of the paper? Maybe your thesis could use a tweak or two to best establish the topics that have become most important over the course of drafting the paper?

Does each body paragraph have a strong topic sentence that links to the thesis, plenty of supporting ideas and explanations, and a strong concluding remark?

Does the conclusion do a good job of reviewing all those key ideas and reflecting on the significance of the topic at large?

Are there counter-arguments or refutations to address if you are writing a more persuasive paper? How would an “opponent” of your ideas respond to this paper?

Find all those best ways to improve the content of your ideas and the way they are organized on the page.

Day 6: Proofread for Grammar & Mechanics

Proofread, proofread, and proofread some more! Ideally, you have already revised carefully for content. You may continue to find ways to enhance or improve your ideas, but you want to focus more on grammar, mechanics, spelling, and weeding out typos at this stage.

Proofreading out loud with a friend is a terrific way to catch those errors that your eyes tend to overlook. Take a rest between proofreading sessions. Proofread your paper once in the morning, once on your lunch break, and twice in the evening. Give your mind time to recharge between proofreading, and you’ll catch more errors.

Day 7: Polish

Polish up your paper. By now you’ve likely got a very strong draft, but maybe you’ve gotten some good feedback from a test reader or the EWC that you’d like to incorporate. You’re likely to find a few more typographical, grammatical, and mechanical errors in this polishing up phase as well.

Give yourself this last chance to really make your paper as “perfect” as you can. Nobody else can decide when a paper is “done” but you, so make sure you are happy before you submit for grading.

Finally, remember that while a step-by-step schedule like this is a fantastic way to stay on task and avoid waiting until the “last minute,” the process of writing is not always going to be a straight line. Often it’s more of a zig-zag line.

If it feels like you are taking one step forward and two steps back, don't worry. That’s normal!

Sometimes we have to make discoveries and pursue an idea a little bit to realize we need to adjust our topic or approach.

  • You might have to go back to brainstorming after you discover that the topic/approach you have outlined doesn’t have enough good research to support it.
  • You might have to change your topic after writing a partial draft of your paper and realizing that something about your argument isn’t holding up or ringing true based on what you’re learning from research.
  • You might write a whole paragraph that ends up being cut form the final paper because it’s not relevant enough to your thesis.

None of these problems are the end of the world. You are free and encouraged to revisit different stages of the writing process at any point to conduct more research, strengthen your organizational plan, or fine tune your thesis to match the heart of what you are saying in the body of your paper. However, these sorts of challenges are the reason why it’s good to give yourself plenty of time to write.

Some students even like to write “backwards” by writing the body paragraphs first and the introduction and thesis last. It’s up to you, but the more time you give yourself to plan and draft your paper, the more familiar you will become with your own preferences for how to get from point A (an idea) to point Z (a finished, polished final draft).

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