At this time of year, it always seems that your previous gloating about an exam-free syllabus begins to come around and bite you in the ass. Tough. But whether you’re having nightmares about the research paper that you should’ve spent all semester on or regretting the night you decided to play flip cup instead of writing that four-page response on a drug-addict documentary, fear not – this is the guide for you.
Step 1. Situate yourself. A true last-minute paper calls for a balls-to-the-walls approach. Gather your essentials (laptop, course notes, toothbrush) and head for the most boring place on campus. This isn’t the second floor of the UGLi. While finding an empty study carrel at the Hatcher Graduate library is nearly impossible, the reference room on the second floor is crowded but quiet. When in doubt, follow the engineers.
Step 2. Avoid distractions. Pick your zoom juice of choice and stick with it. A good beverage should ideally give you two to three hours of focused writing time. It’ll be painful, but log off AIM and Facebook and put your cell on silent. Bring food to avoid wandering off-task in the name of nourishment. Now you are ready to start writing.
Step 3. The art of B.S. If you have absolutely no idea where to start, reread the instructions and write out the most basic answer to the question. A quick and dirty outline such as “Movie was trippy, drugs suck, people in movie are sadly doomed” will help you. Now that you know what you want to say, expand it. What was the movie about? Define “trippy.”
If you get really pressed for an argument, start talking about “the other.” You don’t have to know what that is, just do it. It never fails.
If it’s a research paper, take advantage of Internet databases like Proquest that are accessible through the library’s website. This is a fast way to find sources if you’ve never checked out a book in your college career. Note: Wikipedia is not a credible source. Master the fine art of skimming – read the first couple sentences of every other paragraph until you find the information you need.
Step 4. Introductions and conclusions. Great papers don’t have one-sentence thesis statements that can be easily underlined by the grader. But in this situation, try to come up with a statement that succinctly describes what you’re trying to say and make sure you actually say it. This may be easier to do after writing the body. Similarly, your conclusion isn’t going to be mind-shattering, but remember to summarize what you talked about and why. Avoid combining your last point with your concluding paragraph, as it will make the paper seem incomplete and rushed.
Step 5. Don’t forget the small things. If you need six sources, don’t be a wimp and settle for four. Little things, like including a certain reference from class or following APA/MLA format, may count for more than you’d expect. Also, don’t skimp on a read-through for organization and grammatical errors that spell-check doesn’t catch. While this may take 15 precious early-morning minutes, it’s better than attempting to catch a wink of sleep and waking up four hours later to find you’ve missed the deadline. Suggestions for the length-impaired: tiny changes in spacing (2.1 instead of 2) and ctrl+F7 (the thesaurus shortcut). Always proceed with caution when attempting to cheat the system – a paper that doesn’t sound like you wrote it is a bad sign, and only fools will attempt to use Courier font.
Step 6. Be realistic. While this may not be your best work, expecting an A from a three-hour endeavor instead of a 30-hour one may be a bit much. Instead, remember to save frequently, stay focused and don’t crash until after the paper is safely in your professor or GSI’s hands.