20 Top Tips for Writing an Essay in a Hurry
In an ideal situation, you’d have all the time in the world to write a great essay, but sadly it doesn’t always work out that way.
There will always be times when you’re required to write an essay uncomfortably quickly, whether because of a tight deadline imposed by a teacher, or because you’ve been so busy that the essay has ended up being put off until the last minute. However, it is possible to produce a good piece of work even when very pushed for time, and in this article, we’re going to show you how.
1. Adopt the right mindset
Before you start writing, it’s crucial to get yourself into the right mindset. You may be experiencing feelings of panic, feeling as though you don’t have enough time and you can’t do it. You may feel defeated before you’ve even begun. To be successful, however, you will need to banish these negative feelings. It’s vital to be positive, to try to relish the challenge, and to adopt a ‘can-do’ attitude. If it helps, imagine it’s a battle that you’re going to win. Give yourself a pep talk, and keep the end goal in mind: you’re going to do a great job and impress your teacher. You’re going to prove to yourself that you can take on this challenge, enjoy it, and write an essay in record time. Take a deep breath, remain calm, and start to attack the work systematically and logically.
2. Switch off your phone and social networks
The last thing you need when you only have a couple of hours to write an essay is to get distracted by your phone or social networks, which have a habit of eating away at your time without you even realising. Procrastination isn’t an option at this late stage, so it’s time to ban yourself from your phone, Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, iPlayer, YouTube, and anything else you think might distract you. Sit somewhere quiet and put a Do Not Disturb sign on the door. If it helps, install a full-screen text editor onto your computer, such as Darkroom, to force yourself to look at your essay and only your essay. You can also get browser apps that keep you off social networks for a time period of your choosing.
3. Type your essay rather than handwriting it
Most young people these days type faster than they write by hand, so unless you’ve been told that you must handwrite your essay, type it. This will make it much easier to edit what you’ve written and change things around, and you’ll be able to get more words in through typing quickly. It’s probably also going to be easier for your teacher to read a typed document than your handwriting, and you won’t suffer an achy arm that could slow you down, so that’s an added bonus.
4. Read the question carefully
When you’re in a rush, it can be easy to skim over the question and think you’ve understood it – only for you to realise, after writing most of the essay, that you got the wrong end of the stick and it’s too late to change it. This is particularly hazardous when you’re under pressure, because your brain has a tendency to see what it wants to see; it may tell you that the title is asking a question that you want to answer, while the reality might be subtly but crucially different. So, start by reading the question very carefully and ensuring you’ve completely understood what it’s asking you to do. If it helps, underline key instructional words in the title, such as “compare” or “analyse”. This forces your mind to focus on the right kind of task, so you write the essay with this in mind.
5. Get your books ready
Prepare your workspace by opening the books you’ll need to use on relevant pages, or putting Post-It notes in them to mark where relevant information is. This means you won’t have to keep wasting precious time hunting through books to find the information each time you need to refer to it.
6. Sum up your argument in a sentence
To get yourself thinking clearly about what you’re going to be writing, see if you can sum up what your argument is going to be in a single sentence – a bit like an ‘elevator pitch’. If you can’t do this, the chances are that you don’t quite know what you want to say, with the result that you may end up waffling in your essay, thereby wasting valuable time. It’s important to set out with a clear idea of what your argument is, because then everything you write subsequently will be working towards the goal of getting this particular argument across. Of course, don’t spend too long on this and end up with not enough time to write the actual essay!
7. Write your notes directly into the document
When you’re in a hurry, your notes can double up as an essay plan, killing two birds with one stone. Start by typing your essay notes directly into the document you’ve created for your essay. This could be bullet points or one-sentence summaries of what you want to write in each paragraph. For each point, also include a line or two on what evidence you’re going to use in support. Once you’ve done this, organise the notes into a sensible structure by dragging and dropping paragraphs into an order you think works. This becomes your detailed essay plan.
8. Then rewrite your notes into an essay with an argument
You now have the outline of your essay in note form. You can now turn your notes into an essay by rewriting them into academic prose, complete with ‘filler’ sentences that glue it all together and help build your argument.
9. Save the introduction and conclusion for last
Perhaps surprisingly, the introduction and conclusion of an essay are often the hardest bits to write. So, save these for last. By the time you’ve written the body of the essay, the task of writing the introduction and a summarising conclusion should be much easier, as you’ll already have spent plenty of time on your argument and you’ll be very familiar with it.
10. Do the references as you go along
If you’re required to add references and a bibliography to your essay, do these as you go along to save time. Each time you quote someone, add in a footnote saying where the quote is from, and at the same time, copy and paste the details of the book into a bibliography at the end of your document.
11. Proofread as you go along
Save time on proofreading by checking over each sentence or paragraph for spelling, grammar and typos as you write it. When you’ve finished writing, it’s still worth having a quick final read through your essay for a sense check and to ensure that it flows well – but this should take less time now that you’ve already checked for errors.
12. Don’t be tempted to copy and paste
The internet is full of resources that probably exactly match what you’re going to be writing about, and when you’re in a hurry, there can be a strong temptation to copy and paste useful paragraphs into your essay. Don’t ever do this! Plagiarism is not only immoral, but it also means that you won’t learn the topic in as much depth – and the whole point of writing an essay is to consolidate what you’ve learned and prepare you adequately for future exams. Teachers can use Google too, and if they suspect that you’ve stolen someone else’s work by copying and pasting something off the internet, all they need to do is type one of ‘your’ sentences in Google and they’ll instantly find where you’ve got it from. It’s normally easy to spot copied work, because the style will be different from the rest of the essay. It’s just not worth the risk, as you’ll lose your teacher’s trust and this will probably be reflected in the quality of the reference they give you for university.
13. Try not to over-quote
A common tactic by students pushed for time is to use too many quotes – or very long passages – from other people (scholars, sources and so on) to bolster the word count and reduce the amount of writing they actually have to do themselves. Try to avoid doing this if you can; it’s a transparent tactic and shows that you haven’t fully mastered the subject yourself, so you have to resort to hiding behind the words of others. The vast majority of the writing in the essay should be your own. Short quotes here and there, accompanied by your commentary on them, are a good thing; lots of long quotes that take up much of the essay, with little explanation from you, are not.
14. Keep your style concise
You’re not going to have time for long-winded sentences, so keep your written style as concise as possible. There’s nothing wrong with being short and to the point in your sentences, providing it adequately conveys what you want the essay to convey. Being economical with words will ensure that you express yourself clearly as well as saving you time, so it’s a good idea all round.
15. Try a change of scene
If you’re struggling to concentrate on writing your essay in your normal work space, a change of scene might be just what you need to focus your mind. If you normally work at home, try heading to the library or a local coffee shop to see if you can work any better there. If you’re distracted by noise at home, try some noise-cancelling headphones or simply put some music on.
16. Take a break (but only if you feel you need one)
It sounds counterintuitive when you’re pushed for time, but taking short breaks from time to time will stop you running out of energy and keep you focused. If you have two hours to write the essay, for instance, take a break for five minutes after you’ve worked for an hour. That said, if you’re really ‘in the zone’ and working efficiently, and you don’t feel you need a break, just work straight through and take advantage of your spate of productivity for as long as it lasts.
17. Don’t bother with the usual tricks
Many students try to trick their teacher into thinking that their essay is longer than it really is by widening the margins, selecting a bigger font and using wider line spacing. Your teacher will see straight through this, and it might irritate them – so don’t bother!
18. It’s OK to use Google for quick research
While Google is no substitute for reading what you’ve been told to read, it can be useful for quick definitions or getting to grips with something you’re struggling with at the last minute. Don’t rely on it, by any means, but if you’re writing your essay and haven’t quite understood something in class, a quick Google search should enable you to acquire the level of understanding you need.
19. Keep hydrated and fed
Make sure you drink plenty of water while you’re writing, as this will help you stay alert. You may also want to equip yourself with some snacks to keep you going, as this can make the process of writing an essay more bearable as well as maintaining your energy levels.
20. Reward yourself
Give yourself something to look forward to once you’ve finished the essay, as this will help to motivate you to complete it. It could be a chocolate bar, the promise of watching an episode of your favourite television show, or an evening out with friends – anything that will provide sufficient incentive to get your essay finished. You’ve worked intensively and have a great essay to show for it, so you deserve a reward!