As a college student, I majored in journalism. That means I have a lot of experience in all types of writing. In order to major in a communications-related field, students must take a rigorous schedule of English courses, which means a whole lot of essay writing.
I quickly adapted a method of essay writing, which I believe simplifies and streamlines the process.
What’s the trick? Instead of sitting down and writing an essay, from start to finish, as many students do, it’s much easy (and way less time consuming) to do all of your research beforehand, placing each item into a basic outline.
From there, the outline contains all of the information you need to create your essay and, the essay essentially writes itself.
The only work left will be filler writing to explain your thought processes.
Here’s how you can format your essay outline (Note: the example below has three paragraphs, but additional paragraphs can be added as necessary.):
I. Introduction paragraph:
a. What you’d like to discuss within your introduction paragraph
b. Quotes or references, if any
II. Thesis statement: What’s the main point of your essay? Decide what you want to convey in your essay and put it into words. Your entire essay will revolve around this point, so make sure you’re clear and concise in your phrasing. (This is usually placed near the end of your introduction paragraph.)
III. First paragraph topic that supports your thesis
a. List supporting quotes/references: Find quotes from reputable sources that support what you’ve stated within your thesis and that relate to your first paragraph topic.
IV. Second paragraph topic that supports your thesis
a. List supporting quotes/references: Find quotes from reputable sources that support what you’ve stated within your thesis and that relate to your second paragraph topic.
V. Third paragraph topic that supports your thesis
a. List supporting quotes/references: Find quotes from reputable sources that support what you’ve stated within your thesis and that relate to your third paragraph topic.
VI. Conclusion paragraph: Note what you’d like to say within your conclusion paragraph. Your conclusion paragraph should detail how you are going to unite the topics from your aforementioned topics and weave them together into one solid point. Students commonly mistake a conclusion paragraph as a summary paragraph when, in fact, it’s really an opportunity to drive home your argument. Your conclusion should round out your essay and unite your paragraphs together, solidifying your thesis.
a. Additional quotes or references, if any
VII. List all citations: As you find each quote or reference to include within your essay, make sure to cite each reference, so you won’t have to scramble at the end to go back to your sources to see where you found each quotation. List each citation on your outline so it’s already finished before you even complete your essay. That way, it’s one less thing to worry about.
By following this outline format, the work of your essay is already clearly mapped out ahead of time. You already know what you want to say and how you’re going to say it and you have all of the support to back up each theory.
This method takes the stress out of essay writing because it eliminates guesswork; struggling for the right idea or argument and helps you ensure your thesis is strong. If you’re not able to easily fill out the outline, your thesis isn’t strong or clear enough and your essay topic will likely not be a winner as a result.
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You stare down at your computer clock and panic as you see another minute slip by—it’s 11:31, and you now have 29 minutes to email your essay to your instructor. You’re not even close to being done.
Photo via aan00b.xfire on Flickr
You didn’t mean to procrastinate, but other things just kept getting in the way. And now you feel like you have to make a choice—either write a couple of awesome paragraphs or try to write the whole essay quickly, if a little sloppily, just so you can have a complete paper by the end.
Is the anxiety setting in yet?
Well, don’t go into full crisis mode just yet. Contrary to the saying, there are ways that you can have your cake and eat it too. I’m here to show you how to write an essay fast and well.
While I’m not promising that my methods will deliver an essay in less than 30 minutes, I will tell you that they can streamline your writing process so you don’t have to waste precious minutes on unnecessary tasks.
Why You Should Know How to Write an Essay Fast and Well
Writing skills that enable you to write quickly while still maintaining quality don’t just come in handy for the situation I described earlier. There are tons of situations which require you to know how to write an essay fast.
Maybe you didn’t procrastinate. Maybe you’re just a perfectionist—so much so that it inhibits you from feeling truly done with your essay.
Maybe it’s an in-class assignment or essay portion of a test, in which case there’s usually little to no real preparation time before you know what you’ll be writing.
You could have had computer problems, a family emergency, a mound of other schoolwork, a tornado, an alien abduction, a battle to the death with ninja pirates…
Okay, maybe not those last few, but you get my point. There are countless reasons good, quick writing skills can come in handy.
Overall, the strategies I’m going to show you can help you so that you’ll have more time to do other things while still remaining confident that your quality will be at its best. It saves you stress and gets you back to those ninja pirates in no time.
What’s not to like about that?
Strategies for Writing a Great Essay Fast
There are several strategies for how to write an essay fast and well, but you need to do what works best for you. I’ll give you a few pointers. Feel free to use all of them or just a few. These are guidelines, not rules to live by.
The Biggest Trick to Quickness is Preparation
A known fact among chefs is that preparation is the key to quick service. They pre-cut, pre-wrap, and pre-measure everything that they use in advance so that when they do need a certain ingredient, it’s already there, waiting to be used.
Photo via White House on Wikimedia Commons
In order to learn how to write an essay fast, take a lesson from the chefs.
Before You Read
If you’re writing an essay on something you read—say Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet—do a little pre-reading research. Perform a quick Google search on the play’s major characters and themes.
Then it’s time to break out the highlighters. Use pink for the theme of love and orange for the theme of fate. Use blue to mark important actions of Juliet and yellow for Romeo. Any color combination will work as long as you’re consistent.
If you don’t like writing in your books, you can always make annotations on color-coded notecards. But isn’t there something beautiful about nicely highlighted text?
No? Just me then… anyway.
You might ask, “why am I doing all this work?” Well, those themes and characters probably have a good chance of showing up on an essay prompt. If you’re allowed to reference your book or notes during the essay, all of the important parts will be shouting at you from the page.
If the essay is for a test or in-class assignment where you have to draw from memory, this tip can still save you time. Taking notes while reading will get you more engaged with the text, which can help you remember what happened better.
Ultimately, taking notes will allow you to find better support for your essay in less time.
Okay, so you’ve read your text, made the notes, completed all that preparation—you’re ready to go, right?
Not so fast!
Don’t forget about outlining. Creating an outline, whether complete and full of detail, or a basic skeleton of what you want to write, can help immensely in knowing how to write an essay fast and well.
Spending just five minutes before you dive into your writing can make a huge difference. You can ensure that you have enough evidence to support your points, and when you get into the writing, you won’t struggle to keep your thoughts organized. You can just let the words flow.
There are several types of essays—expository, argumentative, and analytical, just to name a few. They’ll each require slightly different outlines than the others. But there are some main components that are the same across all essay forms.
Your introduction will usually consist of at least a hook and a thesis statement.
A hook is a sentence or two that is supposed to draw the reader in and create interest in reading the rest of your essay. You can write a hook in a few ways:
- Use statistics that are relevant to your topic
- Use a quote either from the author or a critic, or a quote that addresses the prompt.
- Ask a rhetorical question. (I typically shy away from this because it can be a tough one to get right. You want the question to make the reader think, not to simply take up space on the page.)
- Tell a short but relevant joke or anecdote.
There are tons of other ideas for writing hooks, but let’s move on to the thesis statement. This is very important because it sets up the rest of the paper.
A good thesis statement should concisely tell what the essay is going to be about. You can think of it like a preview of what’s to come.
The body is the meat and potatoes of your essay, and should be well-outlined. You should put some thought into the claims you’re going to make and the supporting evidence for each of those claims.
Your claims are going to be based on your interpretation of the text, and the evidence is going to be quotes or ideas from the text that help support those claims. These two parts will be important no matter what kind of essay you’re planning to write.
On my outlines, I typically only jot down a few notes for the conclusion. This includes any thoughts I think would wrap up the essay well or any questions I would want the reader to think about.
When you’re writing your conclusion, you’ll want to give a brief summary of the main points of your essay. But be careful not to have it sound too similar to your thesis statement.
This Analytical Essay Outline Will Kickstart Your Writing.
Yeah, But What Can You Do During the Actual Writing Part?
Okay, now you have an outline that will help you put the right information in the right place in your essay. But what about when you’re into the actual writing bit?
I have a couple tips for this part, too—don’t worry.
Make the Index Your Best Friend
This tip will only be useful when you can keep your text handy and, of course, when there’s an index for that book.
The idea here is that you find the words and phrases that relate to your topic. Having a list of page numbers at your fingertips for any given topic gives you that kind of ctrl + f power, but in book form.
Write the Body First
One of the biggest during-writing tips that can help with how to write an essay fast and well is to write the body first.
There are a couple reasons for this. First, the body is all the important stuff in the essay—the analysis, arguments, claims, and evidence. If you do run out of time, you want to make sure it’s all there.
Writing the body first is also helpful because introductions and conclusions can be hard. You have to grab the reader’s attention. It’s easier to just look at your outline and get right into the middle of it than to spend more time than necessary writing a catchy opening statement.
Plus, coming up with an opening statement will be easier once you have already written the body of your essay.
Other Resources to Help You Write an Essay Fast and Well
I know my tips are pretty awesome, but if they don’t work for you, or if you want additional guidance, there are plenty of other resources available to help you write an essay fast.
Check out How to Write a Timed Essay in 45 Minutes or Less.
Also try looking at other blogs like lifehack that talk about this same issue. You can even look up sample prompts or make up your own. Then time yourself on how long it takes you to write about one of them.
If you’re writing on a computer, keep Purdue OWL open on a tab in your browser. It gives information on proper citations and writing advice all in one spot.
Always remember that writing fast and writing well don’t have to be separate. You can do both, and with these simple tips, I hope you will do both.
But enough procrastinating… get to writing!
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