Shanna has written countless last-minute papers over the course of her academic and professional careers.
Time to Write
So, you procrastinated writing a long research paper. You’ve realized your term paper is due tomorrow, and you don’t have a clue where to start! Never fear, fellow scholar! I know that your time is short, your hands are trembling with caffeine and stress, and you will likely be up for the better part of the night tapping something out, so I’ll be brief.
I used to be a procrastinator just like you, writing papers the night before or even the morning of, and I never received anything less than an A on any of those hastily constructed creations. While getting a good grade does depend to some extent on your ability as a writer, you can still do well on your last-minute essay by following the steps in this guide and managing your limited time wisely. Sit back, skim the finer points of this article, and then write that paper—nay, destroy that paper! And may the gods of good grades shower favor upon your exhausted little head.
How to Write a 6-to-12-Page Essay in A Matter of Hours
- Schedule your time.
- Compose your thesis and intro paragraph.
- Do your research.
- Write your body paragraphs.
- Create a conclusion.
- Take a troubleshooting break.
- Add your finishing touches.
1. Schedule Your Time
In your present state of deadline-driven anxiety, you’re going to have the vicious urge to dive straight into writing. Don’t do it. Resist. Abort. Pace yourself.
First, chart out a decent amount of time in which you think you can write this paper. If you’re a slow, hesitant writer, an hour per page is the maximum I would ever suggest. In all likelihood, you can probably write a fairly decent 10-to-12-page paper in about five hours.
Set a paced schedule for yourself and then work carefully but briskly. Let’s say you’ve allotted yourself two hours to write a six-to-eight-page essay. It’s a crunch, but you can manage. Spend a half-hour researching your topic, then put in a solid hour explaining what you’ve learned in paper format, and finally, use the last half-hour to edit and compile a bibliography.
2. Write Your Thesis and Introductory Paragraph
Your thesis is the framework of your entire paper, and a good thesis automatically lends a more positive, academic outlook to the rest of your essay. Your thesis should make a claim and very briefly outline the points you will make in the paper to support that claim.
Let’s say you were given the following prompt: Analyze a movie and then compare it to the decade it was produced in.
First, decide what you want to accomplish with your paper. You need to explain how the movie you chose represents the decade it was produced in. You need to convince your reader that a movie can be an accurate portrayal of its decade, even if the setting was in a different time period.
When writing a thesis, you should avoid flowery prose and instead be concise and simple. Place your thesis at the end of your introductory paragraph after four or five quality sentences that outline some basic ideas and facts about your topic to give it context. Don’t give it all away though—you want to draw your reader (your professor, in this case) in.
Here's an example thesis that responds to the prompt above: The movie "How to Marry a Millionaire" is an accurate representation of the 1950s through its rendering of family values, its portrayal of women, and its emphasis on consumerism.
You can either begin writing about the first of those three subtopics in the next paragraph or, according to your needs or instructor’s requirements, you can follow with a paragraph describing the topic in more detail to allow the reader to follow along with more ease.
Afterward, devote a solid analysis and description to each of the three subtopics. This is discussed in more detail in step 4. Each subtopic should have around three sources that compliment what you’re saying but do not replace your ideas. For a thesis to be as solid as possible, always have at least three subtopics that revolve around your main topic to create a good basis for your argument or ideas. Anything less makes your thesis appear weak and unable to stand on its own.
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3. Do Your Research
Here is where your essay will live or die. The more research you can provide without drowning your TA or professor in useless facts, the better. You need to prove that you’ve thought deeply about your topic and sifted through various resources over a period of several weeks, even if you haven’t.
If your paper requires book sources, utilize your campus library. If not, Google is your savior. Plug in your topic followed by your subtopic keywords. Stay on the first three pages and peruse carefully. Don’t click through every search option. Look at the title, summary, and web address carefully. You want good, solid sources. If you use a quote or fact from the web, follow it with an in-text citation (if your college prefers footnotes, use those instead). Generally, an in-text citation includes the author’s last name followed by the relevant page number with a single space in between (e.g. Smith 56).
Sometimes Google doesn't return sources that are academic in nature. In this case, turn to databases. I recommend you use databases more than Google searches anyway because they tend to contain more reputable material. Log on to your school’s library webpage and search for database options; I guarantee your school’s library will have several to choose from, and from there, you will have access to many scholarly articles that you can incorporate into your paper.
4. Body Paragraphs
Once you’ve established your thesis and introductory paragraph, move on to the body paragraphs. I find this format to be the most helpful for outlining a simple but quality paragraph.
Sentence 1 (Summary): Summarize the point you are making about your subtopic: Family values were important to most Americans during the post-WWII 1950s.
Sentence 2 (Analysis): Quickly analyze why you think sentence 1 is true.
Sentence 3 (Fact): Back up sentence 2 and lend support to sentence 1 by stating a relevant fact. Make sure you cite your source correctly.
Sentence 4 (Analysis): Relate the fact you cited in sentence 3 to your analysis from sentence 2 to show how it supports your point from sentence 1.
Sentence 5 (Quote): Quotes from credible sources can be powerful but should be used sparingly—otherwise your own words will be drowned out, and the paper will be little more than cut-and-paste plagiarism. Find a quote that says something similar to your analysis and use it as support for your ideas. Do not let it replace your ideas or be a springboard for them.
Sentence 6 (Analysis): Analyze the quote by showing how it relates to the point you’re making about your subtopic.
This basic framework for a body paragraph makes it easy to plug in sentences and get a lot of writing done quickly. You must be careful to provide plenty of your own thoughts and ideas. Remember: facts support your ideas and quotes compliment them.
5. Create a Conclusion
The conclusion of your paper needs to restate all of your previous ideas without sounding overly repetitive. Summarize the basic points of your thesis without restating facts or ideas. Mention your subtopics again and reaffirm how they support your overarching claim. Finally, leave your reader with a sentence that makes them think about the topic for a moment after they’ve finished the paper. This can be a question or a thought-provoking sentence.
6. Take a Troubleshooting Break
If you’re having trouble with your paper or feeling stuck, go for a quick five-minute run. Run briskly and breathe deeply. On your return, drink some water and eat a light snack. Get back to work. You can write this paper, and you will.
7. Finishing Up
Okay, so you’ve churned out as many pages or words as you need to. You’re done with the bulk of the work and you're over the hump. Now you can start editing and revising.
Make this quick. Read through your paper silently first, fixing any mistakes you notice along the way. Next, compile your bibliography. Collect all your sources, format them properly and quickly using easybib.com, then get a quick drink.
Come back to your paper and read it out loud as if you’re presenting it to an audience. This will help you catch any mistakes you might have missed when reading it silently. Shore up any weak arguments with a quick sentence containing a source or with more analysis or argument.
Add a title if necessary. If you don’t have time to come up with a creative title, be boring, but be true. For example: “How to Marry a Millionaire: Cultural Connections in the 1950s.”
You Did It!
Simple, quick, done. Writing a paper efficiently at the last minute involves following a simple formula. The formula has variables that you just need to plug data into, and that makes the writing process far simpler than many stressed college students may think.
Take a deep breath, break things down, find your data, and insert it in the proper locations. You likely will not get the grade you could have gotten had you started working well in advance of your deadline, but you won’t flunk the assignment either. I hope this article has helped alleviate some of the dread that accompanies writing a paper last minute. Now, get some sleep and try to plan better next time.
Belinda VanOwen on January 05, 2020:
Can you give examples of what type of databases I am searching for? I’m new to this I have no idea what that means
KCLynne on December 11, 2019:
I just made an account to let you know that this is the best thing I have ever read.. I have my 8-page research paper due at midnight and my Carnival cruise ship just pulled into Grand Cayman!! My citations are squared away, as is my thesis. I normally struggle by making shit too complicated for myself. Thanks to your article, my crack will be full of sand as I work on my skin carcinoma and cataracts before I know it! :D Thank you for the chuckles, I super needed that.
david on November 12, 2019:
i'm forever thankful for this article. lights the fire under my booty i need. if you're reading this without writing your essay GO WRITE IT!
Sari on June 04, 2019:
In your last paragraph in 4. Body Paragraph you have " Facts support your ideas and quotes compliment them." I think you meant to say "complement."
JKomics on March 14, 2019:
ohmygod you helped me so much I had a 5 page essay to do and I did it in like only 6 hours. I was given 12 days to do this thing.
Everyone who is in school from pre-k to college should read this my god.
You should run for president.
Amy Grunewald from San Jose, CA 95131, US on September 25, 2018:
A lot of times I have seen that students don't do enought research and don't read much on the topic. So they just don't know about what to write or about what the are currently writing. As for me it's much more easiest to use guides ant helpful tips from those resources:
Falyn on March 11, 2018:
This article gives me hope. Thank you.
Lucas Hindmarsh from Seattle on June 07, 2017:
The most common problem I find with my students was using words they did not understand because they thought they ought to write in a more “academic” style.
I think you must choose a story with a manageable plot. You're not writing a novel, so the story or essay needs to be fairly contained and concise. Try to limit it as much as possible but without depriving the essence.
Here are detailed guides about writing an essay:
Also, I would like to add that conclusion is an important part of any story. It does not simply restate the thesis but presents it in light of evidence collected or reflections made.
Professor Essay from New York on April 25, 2015:
This article should be read by everybody. Thanks for sharing. :) www.professor-essays.com
LM Guenther from Boston, Massachusetts on May 09, 2014:
I am also, unfortunately, a procrastinator. I've gotten better this year, thankfully. I would also add that most online databases such as JSTOR have online texts (read: books) available. So even if you do need book sources, sometimes those books are available online and the library can, but not always, be unnecessary. I have never had a professor who wanted book/paper sources tell me I needed to read those sources in paper, only that they had to be originally/simultaneously published in print.
Ms Monique H on May 31, 2013:
Great post. I've pulled a few all-nighters myself (sometimes into the day time too), so I know what this is like! I've been a writing tutor for quite some time, and I know for a fact that this approach won't work for those who have trouble with the basics. But, life happens, so this is great advice.
Virginia Kearney from United States on November 01, 2012:
I think you offer some very solid advice on writing a good paper in a reasonable amount of time. I especially like your advice on how to write each sentence in a paragraph. I teach college English and find that one of the biggest problems students have in using quotes or facts is that they don't clearly explain or analzye how those facts support their own ideas. Voted up and pinned! P.S. We have a cat that looks just like the one in your photo!
Andrew Spacey from Sheffield, UK on June 25, 2012:
There are some interesting insights into the construction of a paper - nicely elucidated. You must have had plenty of practise to become such an expert! Takes me back to school when on the odd occasion in the corridor or toilet I'd pen some late homework, very late homework and hand it in as if nothing unusual or panicky had happened.
Thanks for this.
Mr. Happy from Toronto, Canada on April 29, 2012:
This was a fun read. You certainly seem comfortable with words and thus, I think You might be seeing things easier than others.
I like your approach though: planning is critical in my mind too, especially when it comes to essays.
I enjoyed the read. Cheers!
Shanna (author) from Utah on February 24, 2012:
As always, thank you WE for your encouragement and kind words. :) I've never minded writing papers, since I'm lucky enough for words to come easily to me, but I cannot even imagine what it would be like if I was not a writer and I hated writing papers. Ugh!
Website Examiner on February 23, 2012:
This is a delight to read. I am personally happy that I haven't any more papers to write - been there, done that, having been through university and even law school. Your writing is so accomplished that it has a real professional touch to it.