College writing challenges

College writing challenges: organization and planning

Mar 06, 2013
College writing presents its own unique challenges that may not be found in other venues. In addition to embracing a new, more demanding academic world, college students are also required to produce a form of writing that calls for a substantial amount of critical thinking, evidential support, and proficient argument development.
And along with this, other challenges they may also face include; properly understanding the assignment that is being issued, meeting professor expectations, managing their time, and implementing a solid plan for success.
And out of all of those, the most difficult ones to master are organization and planning. Students can always clarify things with their instructor or go to office hours to better understand the assignment. But good planning and organizational skills are not something you can just pick up at the store; they take time and practice. And if you have little experience with either one of them, then your first few writing assignments may be a bit rough (staying up all night-to-finish-a-paper type of rough).
So to give yourself a good writing start, or rectify a bad one, take a few minutes to review the useful planning tips below.
How to properly plan for a college paper

Step 1: Develop a timeline or schedule for yourself

As soon as you get the assignment you need to start planning. You may not need to set up a formal schedule but at the very least you should map out how long it will take you to finish the paper and what time slots you have available to start working. This is a good way to get yourself started off on the right foot. There may be a lot of things unknown to you about the topic, or issues that will pop up unexpectedly, or just an instance of writer's block; so by planning a schedule right away you're safeguarding yourself from scrambling at the last minute, or even worst, turning in a late paper.

Step 2: Identify your writing purpose and objective

As just mentioned, you really don't know which direction your paper will take you. But one sure way to anticipate what is to come is by having a clear purpose and objective in front of you. A few simple sentences to indicate exactly why you are writing and what you aim to achieve are all that is needed to secure a good estimate of your writing finish time.
Your purpose and objective will range considerably based on the type of paper as well as the course you are taking; and in most situations this information can be derived from (a) the assignment itself and (b) your own brainstorming and thesis statement formulation (i.e. figuring out your main objective or goal, what you seek to accomplish, argue or prove). Overall your objective will help you to better understand the scope of your research; that is, will it take me two weeks to complete all the research, or a month? Which leads us to the next point; coming up with a research strategy.

Step 3: Create a research strategy

A research strategy is a crucial part of planning for any paper. No matter if its a three page essay or a 15 page research paper, it pays to have a strategy. The most worthwhile benefit is saving precious time that can easily be wasted when researching with no direction.
So what exactly is a research strategy? A research strategy, in essence, is simply a plan or technique to obtain the information you need to write your paper. This includes identifying suitable resources, such as databases, documents, journals and books, or by selecting keywords to improve your search efforts, and anything else you can come up with that will make your searching faster and more efficient.
For smaller projects that maybe only require you to utilize your textbook and possibly a few reputable websites, you may not need to plan too much or write everything down. But for larger papers and research projects its essential to strategize. This is because you really need to know which resources are readily available to you and which are not (for instance, your research may require you to borrow a book from a library in another town or city, which can't be done at the last minute).

Step 4: Designate financial resources (if applicable)

This step obviously will not apply to everyone. But for those conducting empirical studies for instance, in which some hands-on research needs to take place, funding should always be considered. For example, you may have to spend money on materials and equipment, or perhaps a lot of gas if you are giving out or collecting surveys and so on. Depending on your research project the cost can quickly add up and in most cases students are expected to pay for everything on their own.

Step 5: Organize your notes through an outline

Lastly, when it comes to planning, an outline is an absolute must! There really is no better way to plan the structure and format of your paper than an outline. When laying everything out on paper you can gain a much clearer picture of what needs to be added and what can be taken away. Also you can check your paper for logic by making sure all of major points, concepts or ideas follow a clear line of reasoning or a specific organizational structure.
Also its good to include your thesis statement at the top of your outline; whether its a handwritten one or a typed one. This helps to provide you with a point of reference with regards to what needs to be addressed in the paper. Constantly go back to your thesis statement after adding a new section to make sure that all of your points elude back to it. You'd be surprised at how easy you can go off course when writing.

Final tips-Keeping your writing assignments organized throughout the year

If you consider yourself to be organizationally impaired, or just really have trouble staying organized, you can almost assume that you will also have problems staying on top of your writing projects.

Below are a few simple tips to help you stay on top of things:

  • browse your course syllabi to find out what type of writing assignments will be issued during the semester
  • once the details of an assignment are received, review the writing requirements to make sure that you understand all that is being asked of you
  • when conducting research take proficient notes that are legible and easy to understand; keep all the information for each assignment separate (perhaps giving each a folder)
  • systematically record all your sources in the proper format-every time (plagiarism is nothing to play with)
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