How to write a 3,000 word essay in a day
So you've got fewer hours than Jack Bauer to complete a 3,000 word essay? Not ideal, but don't stress. You can make it happen by following our steps!
We know. You had every intention of being deadline-ready, but sometimes life can get in the way.
The good news is that 3,000 words in a day is totally doable. Get your head down, and you could not only meet submission but produce an essay you are proud of.
Take a breath. Remain calm. Mop up the cold sweats. And let's get this done!
Credit: Dimitris Kalogeropoylos – Flickr
'Fail to plan and you plan to fail' – or so our tutors like to remind us. Reading this, we suspect you haven't entirely embraced this motto, but there are a few things you can do the morning before deadline day that will make your day of frantic essay-writing run smoothly.
Fuel your body and mind with a healthy breakfast, like porridge. The slow-release energy will prevent a mid-morning slump over your desk, something you really can't afford right now!
Not into porridge? Check out our list of the best foods for brain fuel to see what else will get you off to the best start.
Pick your workstation & equipment
Choose a quiet area where you know you won't be disturbed. You'll know whether you work better in the library or at home, but don't choose somewhere you've never been before. You need to be confident that you'll be comfortable and able to focus for as long as possible.
Be organised and come equipped with two pens, bottled water, any notes you have, and some snacks to use as mini-rewards. These will keep you going without having to take your eyes off the screen (apparently dark chocolate is the best option for concentration).
Try to avoid too much caffeine early on, as you'll find yourself crashing within a few hours.
Shut out the world
Procrastination is a student's worst enemy (besides a hangover). Turn off your phone (or place it face down on silent) and resist urges to check social media.
Don't trust yourself? Temporarily deactivate your accounts or get a friend to change your passwords for 24 hours.
Set yourself goals
Time management is pretty important when you have 24 hours before a deadline.
Setting yourself chunks of time to reach certain milestones breaks down the big daunting task, and provides motivation as you knock off achievable goals as you go.
Let's say it's 9am and your essay is due in first thing tomorrow morning. Here's a feasible 14 hour timeline that you can follow:
- 9:00 - 9:30 - Essay question chosen and overall argument
- 9:30 - 12:00 - Write a full plan and outline of your essay (breaking it into mini-essays)
- 12:00 - 12:45 - Flesh out your introduction
- 12:45 - 13:30 - Lunch break
- 13:30 - 14:30 - Research quotes and references to back up your arguments
- 14:30 - 18:00 - Write the body of the essay
- 18:00 - 18:45 - Dinner break
- 18:45 - 22:30 - Edit, improve and meet word count
- 22:30 - 23:00 - Print and prepare ready for the morning
Remember to schedule in a few short 10 minute breaks – you need to keep productivity up and resting your brain is key. Stretching and brief exercises will also help.
Choosing a question and approach
Time: 9am - 9.30am
If you've been given a choice of essay questions, you should choose the one you feel most strongly about, or have the most knowledge about.
24 hours before the deadline is not the time to learn a new topic from scratch – no matter how much easier the question seems! Beware of questions that seem easy at first glance, as often you'll find that the shorter questions or the ones using the most straight-forward language can be the hardest ones to tackle.
Next, decide your approach. How are you going to tackle the question?
Remember that it's your essay and as long as you keep relating your arguments to the question you can take it in any direction you choose.
Do a quick Google around the topic to get a clear idea of what's already been said on your chosen argument.
Now, type out 3-5 key points that you'll aim to tackle in your overall argument, and underneath these use bullet points to list all the information and opinions, supporting arguments or quotes you have for each point. Start with the most obvious argument, as this will provide something to link your other points back to – the key to a good essay.
Once you've done this, you'll now find you have a detailed outline of the body of your essay, and it'll be a matter of filling in between the lines of each bullet point. This method is perfect for writing against the clock, as it ensures you stay focused on your question and argument without going off in any tangents.
Nailing that introduction
Credit: Steve Czajka – Flickr
Time: 12pm - 12.45pm
Sometimes the introduction can be the most difficult part to write, but that's because it's also the most important part!
Don't worry too much about making it sound amazing at this point – just get stuck into introducing your argument in response to your chosen question and telling the reader how you will support it. You can go back and make yourself sound smarter later on when you're at the editing stage.
Create something of a mini-outline in your introduction so you signpost exactly what it is you're planning to argue. Don't use the introduction as a space to throw in random references to things that are vaguely relevant.
When in doubt, leave it out!
Doing your research
Credit: Photo Monkey
Time: 1.30pm - 2.30pm
Now it's time to gather outside information and quotes to support your arguments.
It's important to limit the time you spend on this, as it is easy to get distracted when Google presents you with copious amounts of irrelevant information. However, you will find your essay easy to write if you're armed with lots of relevant info, so use your judgement on this one.
Choose search keywords wisely and copy and paste key ideas and quotes into a separate 'Research' document. If using reference books rather than online, give yourself ten minutes to get anything that looks useful from the library, skip to chapters that look relevant and remember to use the index!
Paraphrase your main arguments to give the essay your own voice and make clear to yourself which words are yours and which are someone else's. Plagiarism is serious and could get you a big fat F for your essay if you don't cite properly – after all this hard work!
Alternatively, use Google Scholar to find direct quotes without spending time going through endless paragraphs.
While you gather quotes, keep note of your sources – and, don't plagiarise! Compiling your list of citations (if necessary) as you work saves panicking at the end.
Extra referencing tips
Take quotes by other authors included in the text you're reading. If you look up the references you will find the source which you can use for your own references. 😉
Also, if you're using Microsoft Word (2008 or later) to write your essay, make use of the automatic referencing system. Simply enter the details of sources as you go along, and it will automatically create a perfect bibliography or works cited page at the end. This tool is amazing and could save you a lot of extra work typing out your references and bibliography.
Getting those words down
Credit: Rainer Stropek – Flickr
Time: 2.30pm - 6pm
Get typing! Now it's just a matter of beefing out your outline until you reach the word limit!
Get all your content down and don't worry too much about writing style. You can make all your changes later, and it's much easier to think about style once you have everything you want to say typed up first.
More ideas could occur to you as you go along, so jot these ideas down on a notepad – they could come in handy if you need to make up the word count later!
Use the research you gathered earlier to support the key ideas you set out in your outline in a concise way until you have reached around 2,500(ish) words.
If you're struggling to reach the word limit, don't panic. Pick out a single point in your argument that you feel hasn't been fully built upon and head back to your research. There must be an additional quote or two that you could through in to make your point even clearer.
Imagine your essay is a bit like a kebab stick: The meat is your essential points and you build on them and build around each piece of meat with vegetables (quotes or remarks) to make the full kebab... time for a dinner break?
Editing to perfection
Time: 6.45pm - 10.30pm
Ensure that all the points you wanted to explore are on paper (or screen) and explained fully. Are all your facts correct? Make things wordier (or less, depending on your circumstance) in order to hit your word limit.
You should also check that your essay flows nicely. Are your paragraphs linked? Does it all make sense? Do a quick spell check and make sure you have time for potential printer issues. We've all been there!
A lot of students overlook the importance of spelling and grammar. It differs from uni to uni, subject to subject and tutor to tutor, but generally your writing style, spelling and grammar can account for up to 10-20% of your grade. Make sure you edit properly!
Time to get started...
While starting essays a day before the deadline is far from recommended and unlikely to get you the best grades, this guide should at least prevent tears in the library (been there) and the need for any extensions.
Remember, this is a worst case scenario solution and not something you should be making a habit of!
Now, why are you still reading? We all know you've got work to do. Go get 'em!
Exams coming up? You may want to bookmark how to revise in one day too!