By Kudzai Chifamba
“Where do I even begin?” This seems to be the universal question we ask ourselves when faced with the challenge of starting that paper. You know which paper I’m talking about: the one you vaguely remember seeing on the syllabus, but is now due. We’ve all been there, but don’t worry; I have some tips and tricks to help you tackle that daunting assignment.
Make sure you understand the prompt. If you want to reduce that feeling of impending doom, you need to have a clear idea of the writing task. Always start with the assignment prompt. I personally break down an instructor’s expectations by highlighting the prompt’s verbs and key terms. As you review the prompt, also keep an eye out for any areas that are confusing. Your instructor is your greatest resource in clarifying an assignment’s expectations!
Plan and outline. Now that you’ve broken down the prompt, it’s time to get the gears cranking and brainstorm. What are you going to write about? Once I have my ideas laid out in front of me, I find it helpful to draw an outline with boxes for each major section of my paper. Think of this as the skeletal structure for your work; from there, you can add the meat—the supporting details—to the bones. Once this part is done, you can breathe again. Drafting is a walk in the park once you have thoroughly planned and outlined.
Just start writing already. You understand the prompt, and you’ve assembled the backbones of your paper. Now, it’s time to start your rough draft. I find that breaking up your writing makes the drafting process more manageable. You could dedicate one day to writing the introduction and another to writing a body paragraph or two. This allows you to give each part of the assignment enough time and attention.
Make it fun! So, you’re finally digging into that assignment, but you’re losing speed. How can you make writing a little more fun? Play some tunes! Music tends to make even the most boring of tasks more enjoyable. Personally, I like to jam to out to Zimbabwean tunes while I write: listening to foreign music while writing in English helps me find my flow. Choose music that helps you focus.
I hope these tips help you look at writing assignments with less fear. In my experience, the more you break down an assignment, the less daunting it becomes. When in doubt, the University Writing and Speaking Center is here to support you through this process!