Words. Words that form a thesis statement. More words, separated into paragraphs. Further words. In conclusion, words.
When I start a new paper, the first thing I type looks something like the above, or, more often, a string of frustrated nothing. Something like: askljaldjsadieruhejbrjnfgmkngfkgkfkgslmsdgkmdskmf.
Starting to write is tough. Identifying the right moment to turn your zillions of tabs of research, piles of books, and pages of notes into your paper is always a challenge – and despite your preparedness to go, you’ll always be flipping through some book mid-essay trying desperately to find that one line you wish you had saved the page of.
It’s always good, in either case, to start off with two really simple, obvious things that people rarely think to do:
- Read the assignment: Really read it. Take half an hour and read it in detail, taking notes, highlighting things, and writing down any questions you have. Don’t wait until the night before to realize you have some serious questions to bring to your TA, and don’t lose marks on your margins being the wrong size!
- Make a plan: Some people work better under a bit of a time crunch, and some people need to start assignments weeks in advance. There’s no problem with either approach if it works for you, but you should still always start with a writing out a strategy for how you are going to finish the assignment and what it’s going to look like (an outline).
I’ve been in school for too many years so I could list off some of my writing advice for you, but here’s the best line I’ve got: if you’re not sure about something, ask. Ask your professor or your TA, take your paper to your college’s writing centre or the Academic Success Centre, or get feedback from a peer in the class, a friend, a parent, or a mentor. Listen to other people’s writing strategies and to their feedback on your work for that specific class. There’s nothing more valuable than a second, third, and even a fourth set of eyes on your writing to make it better.
Lately, I’m finding that I take a different approach with each writing assignment I get. The assignment I’m working on now, for example, has a ton of questions. I was reading them over and over and taking notes, and finally I realized that the only way in was through. I pasted all of the questions into a Word document and started typing out answers, which I’ll need to form into my paper.
The point is that everyone has their own writing process, and every writing assignment is different, so if something works for you, you should go with it! Get that first draft churned out and take advantage of U of T’s resources to improve it. And remember when you’re staring at that blank Word document and all those tabs: there’s pages of Times New Roman gold at the end of the tunnel – all you have to do is start!
Get writing tips and personalized help on an assignment you’re working on at this week’s Academic Success Centre workshop on writing on Thursday at 5:30 PM. Register and get more information at this link. Plus, check out the ASC’s full Fall Workshop Series on the Student Life website.
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