It’s about that time of the semester again. The snow has melted, you want to go outside, but you can’t because all the professors seem to have conspired to assign research papers due the same week. So how do you do it? How do you write a paper in a night? Well, if I could give you advice right now, my advice would be: don’t. I don’t want to get too preachy because I think it’s obvious advice, but it really is true. If at all possible, don’t save a research paper for the night before. There are a number of reasons why. Two stick out to me immediately. The first reason is that it will rob a night of sleep from you. It seems obvious to point that out, but the loss of a night’s worth of sleep is ridiculously bad for your physical and mental health. The second reason is that the paper will not be good. This last reason isn’t so much a reason as a rule. No one-night paper is good. In fact, about ninety percent of one-night papers are straight-up street garbage. Actually, worse than garbage. If a raccoon saw this garbage, they’d be like “Woah, I like garbage, but that’s a little overkill.”
But you’re still reading. I respect that. To be fair, I don’t blame you. I’ve been there. Either I completely forgot about the paper and remember it at 8 PM the night before, or I’ve been putting it off as much as possible. You know, like an idiot. No matter the case, judgment day will come.
I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume a number of things. I’m going to assume you have a topic picked out and some sources you’ll cite. If you don’t have these, take the late penalty. Believe me, if you’re starting from nothing at 8 PM, it’s worth the ten points off. If you’re going to take the late penalty, find some sources, formulate a thesis and get eight hours of sleep.
If you’ve got some sources and a topic, the first step is to create a thesis. Theses are tough, and I don’t really know how to make one, so I won’t be giving any advice on the construction of one. The advice I will give is to make a good one. This is stupid advice, I know, but a thesis makes or breaks an essay. Don’t be afraid to spend an hour on the thesis alone. If you outline before you write, spend time scribbling a rough outline too.
Now, on writing. My friend Grant has a mantra on paper writing that he uses liberally this time of the semester. It sounds like a commandment: “No undergraduate paper should be more than six pages.” It’s a hot take if there ever was one, and while one could debate the veracity of the statement in all situations, it should be a rule for a one-night paper. Remember what I said about one-night papers being bad? It’s a rule. This paper will be bad regardless, why make someone read more bad writing than necessary? When it comes to length, a bad six-page paper is far better than a terrible eight-page paper.
The easiest way to add content to the writing is to extract key quotes from your sources, add them in the paper and add your personal thoughts about the quote. That’s really all a paper is, connecting a bunch of different sources to a single main point. If you use more than one quote, compare the two. How do they add to your thesis? Do they detract? If they do detract, don’t worry and question your thesis, write about the dissenting source and how it changes how you personally think about the thesis.
After you’ve got about six pages, make sure the formatting is right and it’s generously and correctly cited. Then there’s nothing else to do but submit the paper, pray that the rambling nonsense you just turned in merits a passing grade and try to make it to your bed before you pass out. Good luck!