Writing under Time


The clock begins ticking down from thirty minutes, you frantically begin to brainstorm examples that support your argument as well as those that oppose your argument. Twenty minutes are left and the formation of the introduction is in full speed. With only ten minutes left, you are just trying to get words on the screen. There are five minutes left and you are rushing to summarize everything into a comprehensible conclusion. Finally, as you are in the middle of proofreading a sentence, the time expires and your essay gets submitted whether or not it even remotely met your own personal writing standards.

You may have guessed that this description was my experience from the analytical writing portion of the GRE. While this is a fairly extreme circumstance of writing under the clock, just about every writer feels the pressure of time constraints. As a tutor, it’s common to hear, “My paper is due tonight,” while the student hands you a haphazardly written draft. What can writers do to beat the clock but still maintain high writing standards?

First, you have to decide what you can realistically write in the time that you are given or what a student can realistically revise in the time that they have before her paper is due. For the GRE, I had thirty minutes to write about a topic that I knew little about. Hence, I decided to go with a generic five paragraph essay with some fairly short body paragraphs. While I didn’t have time to write a lot of sentences, I focused on the quality of my sentences and made sure that each sentence added value by supporting my argument.

While in the cases where you are writing under time constraints, every extra minute seems like a valuable commodity not to be wasted. However, my advice is to take some time to brainstorm first; don’t start writing until you have an idea about what you are going to write about. Think of the time that you spend outlining in the beginning as an investment. You will save time once when you begin writing your paper because of your brainstorming. Moreover, you will avoid major organization corrections because of the work that you put in upfront.

Only after you have the outline in place and have ideas for supporting examples, begin writing. Don’t focus on how it sounds, just get words on the page no matter how awkwardly those words spill out. You aren’t able to edit words that aren’t there. Hopefully, it will be easy to cruise through the introduction and conclusion because of your strong outline you already know the direction your paper is heading.

Lastly, save time to proofread. When it comes to editing papers (whether it’s your own or someone else’s), a major overhaul isn’t usually feasible when time is expiring. Hence, the issues of structuring and topic choice fall to the wayside with a quickly approaching due time. Editing becomes better spent on sentence clarity, transitions, cleaning up the introduction, grammar, and other issues that can be easily cleaned up.

– written by Michelle Horde

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