Note: This article is for when you have some time to plan ahead. If your essay is due tomorrow and you haven't got a word down yet, then you should be reading the article on overcoming procrastination and getting started right now.
10. Have a functional workspace. Get your books and other materials and have a place where you can work on them without being disturbed. This could be in your home or in the school library. What's important is that you can concentrate there.
9. Structure your time. Allow several hours of preparation time before you ever start writing. Ideally, this should be over a few weeks before the essay is due. If you have an essay due tomorrow and you haven't started seriously researching yet then stay calm, put on the coffee, and get down to work.
8. Read the materials. Often people try to write an essay by just searching the texts for facts. It helps to get an overall idea of the subject by reading a little more. If this subject is covered in a textbook assigned for the course, make sure you have read that material. Even if you haven't read it for class yet, the text will give you the best idea of what the opinions of your instructor are.
7. Yellow stickies rule! As you read, take notes or just jot down page numbers for anything which you think might be relevant to your essay. I like to keep a bunch of yellow stickies to insert into pages I want to come back to later.
6. Take a walk. When you have an overall idea of the subject and some specific ideas about the facts involved, then you might want to go for a walk and mull it over. This can give you the opportunity to let some of your ideas mature before you have to write them down. Skip this step if you just read the whole novel in one sitting to complete step 8.
5. Be well rested. On the day that you do most of your writing, start early in the day if you can. You may be going to school weekdays and working weekends. If that is the case, you really need to be planning in advance in order to avoid having to pull an all-nighter.
4. Make sure your technology is all working. This means you have enough toner to print several drafts, you have paper etc. You don't want to have to get up in the middle of the essay to go out to find a toner cartridge. When I was an undergraduate I was once saved by the fact that 7-11 carries paper which I urgently needed at 4 a.m.
3. Have a nutritious snack. The brain needs energy, but avoid the really tempting stuff because your blood sugar will rise abruptly and then fall dramatically. In a short time you'll be yawning and not thinking as sharply. Foods containing complex carbohydrates such as fresh vegetables or even a sandwich on whole wheat bread will give you energy for a sustained effort. Go easy on the coffee; it can give you a boost but too much will burn you out. Red Bull will not substitute for preparation; trust me, I've tried it.
Now you've fiddled around long enough. You are going to have to actually get some words down.
Still don't know what to do? Go to my Getting Started page for concrete steps on how to get some ideas down.
2. Draw a chart of your essay showing where your thesis statement will come and the general arguments you will use. It could be like a flow chart or just group things you want to say into a few general areas. Look for points which might belong in two groups. These can be used as transitions. Use the bubble format on the Getting Started page.
1. Create your title page in your word processor. This will give you the feeling of writing and then you can begin to follow your chart or take your arguments one at a time. Don't worry if you aren't sure of the order, you can always edit later. Just start writing them down.