Timed and Untimed Essay Writing Strategies: Writing Review Study Guide (page 4)
Practice exercises for this concept can be found at Timed and Untimed Essay Writing Strategies: Writing Review Practice Exercises.
Some essays may be assigned far enough in advance that you will have plenty of time to write a fabulous essay. Other essays may be due in only a matter of hours, and you'll wonder how you could possibly write it in such a short period of time. Well, this chapter will take you step by step through the pace of writing each kind of essay. Whether you have three months or just three hours, all you need is a plan of action.
If asked whether we'd rather have to write a timed essay or an untimed essay, most of us would probably say we'd choose an untimed essay, so that we could, essentially, have as much time as we needed to write it. With so much time, however, you may often find it difficult to avoid procrastinating. Calling an essay untimed is a bit misleading. Even untimed essays have to be completed at some point; you have some set amount of time to complete your essay. You have a large enough chunk of time that you're not worried about being able to finish it, but how do you budget your time so that you don't end up rushed at the end?
Step 1: Make a Plan
What you need is a long-term plan. The more time you have to spend working on your essay, the better your essay will be. You have more time to think through your ideas, more time to write, and more time to fix any mistakes you may have made along the way. Having more time won't help you, though, if, for instance, you don't budget enough time to revise. This is where the long-term plan comes in.
First, you'll need to establish how much time you have to complete your essay. It could be a week or a month. Whoever assigns you the essay will tell you when it is due. For example, let's pretend you have a month. Once you know that you have a month before your essay is due, you can make yourself a schedule so that your time will be budgeted to include all the necessary steps in creating a great essay.
Create a short-term schedule for yourself. What is your plan for the next 24 hours?
Creating a Schedule
Let's continue with our pretend time frame of one month. Given one month, you could break down your time this way.
If you choose to make this schedule with one month to write your essay, great! Stick to it! But this is just an example. Let's say you know that you usually take longer to complete the revising and editing stage—give yourself a little bit more time for that. The important thing is to make a schedule and to stick with it. We all have tendencies toward procrastination, but having a schedule really helps you visualize what you need to be doing, and when. If you know that procrastination is a real problem for you and are worried that you may leave all your prewriting to the last day of Week 1, then make yourself an even more detailed schedule. Allot yourself specific amounts of time for free-writing, webbing, and outlining. That way, you'll have smaller, more manageable goals along the way to keep you on track.
Step 2: Brainstorm
If you are not assigned a specific topic for your essay, use this time to brainstorm some topic ideas. Make lists of potential topics and test a few by doing some prewriting to see if the topic would yield enough material for a whole essay. Some topics may seem like great ideas, but when you actually start trying to think of a thesis as well as support for that thesis, you may find that you don't have enough to say about it.
Talk to people about what you're thinking of writing in your essay. You never know what a conversation may inspire.
Step 3: Start to Organize
Once you have a juicy topic, it's time to begin organizing your thoughts. Take all your thoughts and ideas and sort them into a web or chart. Sometimes, it can be difficult to understand the importance of organizing even before you make an outline, but imagine making an outline without having determined your main points and how you will support those points. Each step along the way makes the next step in the process easier. So, don't skip this step, even if you're tempted.
At this point in the process, do some research if your essay requires it. This is the time to gather all of the information that will end up in your outline.
Step 4: Make an Outline
Now, make an outline with all the thoughts, ideas, and information that you've gathered. Just as the webbing and charting makes creating the outline easier, making an outline makes writing your paper easier. Having an outline will ensure that your essay is as clear and organized as it can be. Your reader won't wonder what you're talking about halfway through your essay. The outline keeps you on track with your ideas in the same way that making a schedule keeps you on track during the process of writing your paper.
Step 5: Write
You should spend the bulk of your allotted time actually writing your essay. But, because you have purposely scheduled in time to revise and edit when you're finished writing, don't worry about it being perfect. Sometimes it can slow down the flow of writing if you stop to try to rewrite what you just wrote. Concentrate on getting all of your ideas down in sentence and paragraph form, making sure to include all the parts of an essay. You'll be able to go back later and fix your mistakes. Just make sure you stick to your schedule.
Step 6: Revise and Edit
This is one of the most important steps in the essay writing process, because no matter what you've written up to this point, now's your chance to improve it. At this point, you should have a complete essay in front of you. Use this time to read over what you've written as many times as you need to in order to correct any mistakes you may have made along the way. Ask yourself the following questions before you consider yourself absolutely done.
- Does your essay have a compelling introduction that draws the reader in?
- Does your introduction have a clear thesis statement?
- Does each paragraph in your essay have a topic sentence that relates back to the thesis statement in some way?
- Does your essay have a conclusion that restates your thesis without being repetitive?
- Does your writing flow logically and smoothly from one idea to the next?
- Have you eliminated all grammatical errors and errors involving spelling and word usage?
- Have you addressed the assigned topic and/or answered the question?
Step 7: Turn It In
You're done! Congratulations! You should be proud of all the hard work you've put in and of turning in a paper that was written to the best of your ability. Just remember to put your name on it.
In the previous section, we talked about writing a so-called untimed essay, for which you may be given a deceptively long period of time in which to complete your assignment. Now, let's talk about timed essays. Timed essays can be quite nerve-wracking. You sit down, you're given a topic, and you have to be done with your essay in, say, three hours. That doesn't seem like enough time! Well, no. It's not enough time to do all the prewriting and webbing and outlining and revising that we've been discussing, but it is enough time to write a quality essay. There are just two things to remember.
- Keep it organized.
- Keep it simple.
Okay, now you're sitting down with your assignment in front of you, and you can feel the seconds ticking away. You're already running out of time! Don't panic. Take a deep breath and focus on one step at a time.
Step 1: Come Prepared
The first step in writing a timed essay is to be prepared. Make sure that you eat a good breakfast the morning of the essay and that you get a good amount of sleep the night before. You wouldn't want to be tired and hungry while you're trying to write your essay. Also, make sure to bring with you everything that you may need—a pencil or a pen and some scratch paper if it's allowed. A watch may also come in handy during the essay. That way, you won't have to worry whether or not there is a clock in the room.
Gather all your supplies together the night before your essay so that you won't be rushed in the morning.
Step 2: Don't Panic
This is an important step. Make sure to relax. Take slow deep breaths. Try not to concentrate on the limited amount of time you have in which to write your essay. If you stay organized and keep it simple, you'll have plenty of time.
Fuel For Thought
You'll be so focused on writing your essay that once you start, you'll be finished in a flash.
Step 3: Understand the Topic
Before you can write your essay, you'll need to understand what you are being asked to write. You could work really hard on your essay in the amount of time that you have, but if you don't answer the question or address the topic, then it will all have been a waste. So, take a few minutes to read the assignment carefully, circling any key words or phrases that may help you decide what to include in your essay.
Step 4: Budget Your Time
Just like when you're writing an untimed essay, you need to budget your time when writing a timed essay, so be sure to set aside some time at the beginning to organize your thoughts and some time at the end to revise. However, don't take so long budgeting your time that it eats into your work time. You could even do this step before you sit down to write your essay. If you know in advance how much time you will have, you could make yourself a time budget before you arrive.
Take a minute to think about how much time you have in which to write your essay, and then quickly divide that time into three sections.
If, for example, you have three hours, you may want to divide your time this way.
half hour = organizing
two hours = writing
half hour = revising
Again, just make sure that you leave time for yourself to revise at the end. It'll feel a lot better to have that time to review your essay, instead of having to write your conclusion in a rush just as someone is saying, "Time's up." If you want to, jot down your time budget somewhere as a reminder.
Before your essay, practice timing yourself. Get out a practice prompt, give yourself a certain amount of time, and then start. When you're done, think about how you budgeted your time and how you could be more efficient in the future.
Step 5: Short Prewrite and Organize
Don't spend a lot of time on this step, but spend enough to come up with a thesis statement and organize your thoughts. You may want to make a quick web of some sort or just write down your thesis statement and list your supporting ideas. Even though you don't have a lot of time to spare, taking some time to organize your ideas will strengthen your final product and may actually save you time in the long run.
Step 6: Write
Once you have a plan of action, start writing. Remember all the things we've talked about: an introduction with a good thesis statement, clear supporting ideas, strong paragraphs, each with a topic sentence, and a conclusion that reminds the reader of your thesis. Keep these things in mind as you write.
Because you don't have a lot of time, you're not going to be able to write as much as you would for an untimed essay. So, you'll need to be clear and concise. All the same essay writing rules still apply, with regard to needing a thesis statement and strong paragraphs, but you won't have time to go into a great deal of detail. The easiest thing to do is to keep your essay to a basic five-paragraph structure, as follows.
- Paragraph 1 = Introduction
- Paragraph 2 = Body with Support 1
- Paragraph 3 = Body with Support 2
- Paragraph 4 = Body with Support 3
- Paragraph 5 = Conclusion
If you try to write more, you'll end up with a lot of writing that's not as clear and strong as it would be if you limited the amount you wrote and focused on the quality of your ideas and support. Just remember, it's quality that's important, not quantity.
Don't wander off track with your essay. There may be an interesting tangent you'd like to explore, but you have only a short amount of time, so keep your points focused.
Find a writing prompt and give yourself 30 minutes to write an introduction to your answer. Then, try a different prompt and see if you can write an introduction in 20 minutes.
Step 7: Revise
It's important to leave time at the end to read over your essay and fix any errors that you may have made. You won't have a lot of time, so just perform some abridged revising and editing techniques. As you read through your essay, ask yourself some questions.
- Does my writing flow logically and smoothly from one idea to the next?
- Do any words or phrases stand out as being overused or unneeded?
- Have I included all the important parts of an essay?
And finally, a very important question.
- Have I addressed the assigned topic and/or answered the question?
Then, read through your essay carefully one last time and fix any errors that you may have made in spelling, punctuation, word usage, or grammar.
Step 8: Relax
Time's up. You're done! Sit back, relax, and be proud that you've done your best in the limited amount of time you had. Oh yeah, and make sure you put your name on it.
Untimed essays are not exactly untimed. You don't have forever to complete them; they're actually due at some point. But you'll probably have a good amount of time, and we all know what sometimes happens when we have a long time to complete something: We procrastinate. To combat procrastination, make a schedule and stick to it. As soon as you're assigned your essay, make a schedule. Plan out how much time you'll spend prewriting, how much time you'll spend writing, and how much time you'll spend revising and editing. Before you do anything else, make a plan.
Make sure that your plan includes all the necessary steps in the essay writing process. Don't skip prewriting. Don't skip revising. Both are essential if you want to end up with the best possible essay, one that's clear, organized, and error-free. Once you have your plan, start brainstorming, prewriting, and outlining. From that, you will form the basis of your paper. When you're finished writing, revise and edit! This is crucial. If you haven't planned on time for revision, you'll be forced to turn in an essay that could have many mistakes. Wouldn't you feel proud turning in an essay that you knew was the best it could be? Of course you would. So make a plan, stick to it, and don't forget to revise!
Although untimed essays may tempt us into procrastinating, a timed essay can be a lot of pressure. But, if you come prepared and know how you will budget your time, you'll be off to a good start.
Writing a timed essay is similar to writing any other kind of essay. Your actual essay will need all the same parts: an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. Keep it simple, though, because your time is limited. Write a one-paragraph introduction (with a clear thesis statement, of course), a three-paragraph body (one paragraph for each supporting idea), and a one-paragraph conclusion. Don't try to make your essay any more complicated than that.
Before you even get to your timed essay, make sure that you get a good night's sleep, eat a good breakfast, and gather all the supplies you may need. When you're given your assignment, take a few deep breaths. Don't panic. Just go step by step and you'll finish in time. Take a minute or two to understand what you're being asked, and then take another minute or two to budget your time. Make sure to take some time at the beginning to organize your thoughts and take some time at the end to revise. You don't want to be starting your conclusion when your time is up. Just remember to keep it simple and organized. Once you're finished writing, go back over what you've written and correct any errors you may have made. Then, when your time is up, you're done!
If you go into your timed essay well prepared, you'll find it much easier to stay calm and focused. And your essay will reflect that in the end.
Practice exercises for this concept can be found at Timed and Untimed Essay Writing Strategies: Writing Review Practice Exercises.
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