Making the Most of Spring
April 1, 2016
By Derek McSwain
Nearing the end of the spring semester usually causes mixed feelings among college students. On the one hand, the weather is getting nicer, and summer break is approaching. On the other hand, final assignments are impending. Obviously, this makes spring a bittersweet time for college students. For many, the most dreaded of final assignments is the (typically lengthy) end-of-the-year paper. As expected, many students find their enjoyment of springtime dampened by anxiety over these assignments.
How can a student lessen the anxiety of final writing assignments? The easiest way is to plan ahead. This is advice most people have heard since elementary school, and that’s probably why many people, myself included, sometimes ignore it. However, I think that some specific strategies can be very helpful to anyone who wants to make the end of the spring semester a bit less stressful and exhausting.
The key to planning ahead is to actually make a plan. While stream of consciousness writing can be helpful in some situations, it is typically better to write an outline to guide the creative process of writing when tackling these longer research papers. Chart out your introduction, the body of your paper, and the conclusion in a form that’s as simple or complex as you want. Doing this will save time and make the writing process far easier.
For research papers, it is also imperative to plan early. Compared to the bulk of your paper, a bibliography or resources list may seem like a trivial thing to write. It’s best to gather the information as you research, copy and pasting it into a document. After all, it’s a lot easier to delete what you don’t use than to try to track down something at the last minute. I can say from experience that rushing to find the proper way to cite an obscure document the night before a paper is due is not a fun time. The University Writing Center, by the way, can offer a great deal of assistance with this and any other stage of the writing process. Planning ahead will allow you to swing by the Writing Center for assistance with citing those weird sources.
Another strategy I find useful is to set goals throughout the time you spend working on your paper. This, again, is advice many of us have previously been given. The important thing to remember, though, is that goal setting works on both a micro and macro level. You can set the goal of completing a certain amount of pages every week until you finish your paper. If the due date is looming, you can set a smaller goal, like not taking a break to watch TV until you finish two more paragraphs. Some of the best writing strategies are the ones with the most flexibility.
The end of the semester can be a stressful time, for sure. It may take some mental, as well as literal, preparation to tackle a particularly tough paper. If there is one piece of advice to take from this post, it is to not be caught off guard by due dates. Crunching to finish a paper will raise your stress levels and decrease the quality of your writing.
For the sake of your grade, and your sanity, it is always better to prepare. Of course, even the most prepared writer may feel a bit of stress. My final piece of advice is to be confident in yourself. Every writer is plagued with self-doubt. The best way to overcome this is to know that you are doing your best work. This will definitely translate into better work.