So you’ve got a writing assignment and you can’t bring yourself to start, or don’t have a clear idea of how to present your ideas. Most likely, your professor has assigned a subject or topic for you to write on, with a deadline of course. First piece of advice, don’t leave doing the work until the last minute. It will show in sloppy writing, misspellings, incorrect grammar, and full of exaggerated claims or ideas seemingly plucked out of thin air.
Good writing is the result of thorough and diligent research, from reliable and trusted sources, and with facts double-checked from other dependable sources. These can be academic references, peer-reviewed studies, journals, and books. Wikipedia can be a starting source, but what you see there should be double-checked against the previously-mentioned sources.
It’s best to start with an outline laying out the road map, if you will, of how you want to present your work. There should be an introduction, then a list of the main points or ideas you want to talk about. This list of points will make up the sections of the main body of your work. At the end, there should be a summary, and if necessary, a call to action. With some forethought and planning, you’ll be able to present a well-researched and written article.
A word on the formulating of a title. The title is the first thing the reader will see. It should give a clear idea of the subject as well as give a hint of what the written work is about. In other words, definitive yet concise. Use the title to pique the interest of the reader. In the online world, the title has become vitally important as it can spell the difference between a reader scrolling through his or her newsfeed, or stopping to click on an article. Hence the rise of click bait titles to catch one’s attention.
Then, start writing. Writing stuff may not be your forte, but like many tasks, its becomes easier and more manageable if you break it up into chunks. Don’t be afraid if you’re writing isn’t perfect for the first few sentences or even paragraphs. What’s important is to get your ideas down on paper. As you continue writing on the topic at hand, you will find that the writing becomes easier. If you run out of things 10 minutes into your writing session, then your research has not been enough. At times, you will need go back to researching to double check a fact or clarify an important point.
When writing, use a mix of short and complex sentences. Incorrect spelling is inexcusable, given the availability of spell checkers. Pay attention to grammar and punctuation. You may have been taught some formulas for sentence construction but do pay attention to the general flow of your work.
You don’t have to aim to write the intro, main body, and summary/conclusion sequentially, though it would be foolhardy to write a summary without having fleshed out the main ideas you want to discuss. You may have had a flash of inspiration on a point or two, so write it down before it flees your fickle mind. Consult your outline as you finish sections, so that you’re kept on track. If you’ve run out of things to say and your starting to draw blanks in your train of thought, take a break.
When talking about writing, some people who write for a living do find pen and paper a better medium to put initial ideas and thoughts on a notebook. Some even finish long works using this method. According to some studies, writing on paper encourages the creation of ideas and because you do slow down when you use a pen instead of a keyboard, your thought processes are encouraged to work at a more creative pace. That is something you want, to form ideas and expand on them as you write. Moreover, having only pen and paper in front of you reduces the temptation to open another browser tab and check your social media feed; a key obstacle of great productivity.
Other tips for writing productivity
A conducive writing environment works wonders for your focus and creativity. Rare is the writer who can work in a noisy environment with a lot of distractions.
Although we earlier mentioned that some writers prefer pen and paper to reduce distraction and encourage creativity, most of us are more comfortable with a keyboard. There are programs geared for writers that offer a plain background, a full-screen layout, and a font (and size) of your choice. Defaulting to full screen mode, these programs will present you with a plain screen and just a cursor. Examples of these programs are FocusWriter and Q10.
Background music works for some, while others prefer a quieter background. As far as background music goes, we’re not talking about metal or dance music, more like jazz or classical playing softly. If you want something between music and a silent environment, ambient-type soundtracks like light rain or the sounds of a beach can be found online.
Everybody has their own work style when completing creative work. Some work in streaks, such as writing a couple of thousand words and then taking a rest. Others prefer more frequent breaks. Unless you’re writing the news or reporting results, writing down thoughts and ideas in an interesting and appealing way to help power through your writing task once you resume.
The Pomodoro technique is also a good way to be productive. It can be used for a variety of tasks, not just writing. Essentially, you work for 30 minutes straight, with a 5-minute break after. After three consecutive 30-minute work periods, you take a 15-minute break on the fourth 30-minute work period.
When you’re done with writing, don’t save and submit right away. Take a break for at least an hour and go over your draft to see how it reads. Proofreading allows you to correct mistakes and improve on your work. Better yet, swap assignments with a buddy and proofread and critique each other’s work. Having done that, you’ll be confident that you’ve fully vetted your work and have laid out your points to your professor with confidence.