5 Tips For Starting That Terrifying Paper

We all have had, or currently have, a terrifying paper. You know, the one that's at least 15 pages, includes an annotated bibliography, and is coupled with impossibly complex directions. It's the type of assignment that you have weeks to complete, but you'll probably save until the last minute. Avoid the all-nighters and follow these tips to start that paper before it becomes a nightmare. 

1. Read the instructions and ask questions. 

One of the dumbest ways to lose points on an assignment is by not following the directions. Read the instructions all the way through. Now read them again, and write down any questions that come up. Now read them one more time for good measure. Before starting, and turning in, any part of the assignment, go over the directions again. Stop by your professor's office hours to talk through what they expect for the assignment. Sometimes, they won't put something in the instructions because they assume it's implied. Make sure you know exactly what to do and how to do it before you start. 

2. Make a schedule.

Of course your paper will seem overwhelming if you just scrawl "work on term paper" in your agenda every day for a month. You need a realistic plan. If you're lucky, your professor will require certain steps, like an outline and then a draft, to be due along the way. However, sometimes you're on your own. When this happens, you are the master of your own academic fate. Look over each step, and evaluate how long each part will take. Then, schedule accordingly, but leave cushions for unexpected delays. Like most students, you'll probably be invited to unexpected events, be hit by the occasional cold, or just want a day off. Plan with those things in mind. 

3. Don't clean your area- move areas.

The phrase "I need a clean area to work" has preceeded many a procrastination session. Cleaning the clutter off your desk turns into cleaning out your desk drawers, which turns into cleaning your whole dorm. Avoid the slippery slope and simply move to an area that is already nice and neat. Besides, working in your dorm room or apartment will be counterproductive to intense focus. Who can focus on their paper when there's a TV in the next room? Or maybe your friends in your building keep you preoccupied. Take a Giddy Up over to Fondren for nice study areas suited to whatever needs you may have. Like white noise? Hang out in Starbucks and maintain close proximity to caffeine. Need silence to stay in the zone? Head on up to the whisper-only top floor! 

4. Do the easy steps first.   

You don't have to start your paper by crafting a world-changing arguement. Fight the temptation to stay at rest by accomplishing the simple stuff first. For example, plan your argument in sentence fragments. If it's a research paper, your first step may be scanning JSTOR to see what the current research says about your topic. Gather a folder of articles you like and think you may use when discussing others' arguments. Then, when writing your own ideas, you aren't simultaneously researching. The point is, determine which steps on your To-Do List are easiest and get those out of the way first. Now, when you think about your big scary paper, you can at least say you've started. 

5. Now dive in! 

Now that you've gotten the simple stuff out of the way- jump in! Stick to your schedule, ask your professor questions as they come up, and do not be afraid of your paper! Like Newton says, an object in motion tends to stay in motion- so stay in motion and stay motivated.