UofL Writing Center

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The Last Stretch – Making it through Final Papers

Jamison Huebsch, Consultant
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It can be stressful near the end of the semester. You have final papers due, perhaps in most of your classes, and you’re often not sure if they will be finished in time and to your professor’s standards. At least I’m often worried about that. Perhaps you haven’t even started your final papers yet. If so, don’t panic because it happens to the best organized of us, but try not to let nerves stop you for working on your paper. After all, the night before its due will come not matter what, and it’s best if you’re not trying to pull an all-nighter cranking something out. To help out I’m going to offer some tips on getting your final paper across the semester finish line, so that you can enjoy your break with everyone else:
  1. Manage Your Stress! :Take note that I didn’t write “Don’t stress”. That is almost impossible, as people have been stressing out about finals since classes instituted them. Finals are a stressful time, so learn to manage it instead. Since you know you are going to be stressed (and maybe are already suffering from some), managing your stress so you can remain productive is very important. Some of the most helpful tips on dealing with finals stress can be found in an article by our own Carly Johnson here: (http://uoflwritingcenter.wordpress.com/2014/03/17/keep-calm-and-start-your-final-projects/).
  2. Getting started:If you haven’t started on your final papers yet, it’s time to brainstorm. Your professors will give your guidelines for what will be acceptable paper topics, but it can be hard to pick what you should write about sometimes.  Since almost every paper will be based on issues discussed in class, you might think about what have been the major themes in the class so far. Perhaps you had a favorite book or topic, and you can expand on that. Other times you wish something had been covered in class but it wasn’t, so you can explore it on your own. Regardless of what you pick, deciding as early as you can and getting to work on collecting your research and materials is crucial.  Bounce ideas off friends who haven’t gotten sick of you talking about school. Making an appointment with the Writing Center can also be helpful, even if you’ve gotten started late, as we can help you at any step of the way from brainstorming all the way to revision.
  3. Plan Your Work:Hopefully you already have an idea for your final paper. Review the guidelines your professors have given you for your final paper. You might work on an outline, or start your bibliography or reference list. Sometimes it can be helpful, if you have the time, to annotate your research sources as a form of pre-writing. I personally find it helpful to make a checklist of any major requirements the paper should have, in my own work this is often things like which sources I have to add to my literature review or which theories apply to the topic I’ve chosen. Your class may vary, but making up a list of important details to cover can help you to avoid missing anything important. It also gives a real sense of accomplishment as you tick off things from your list as you write them, and this can be very important on large projects when you might spend days writing. Completing small goals and recognizing it can help you stay motivated.
  4. Revision:Once you’ve a draft done of your final paper, you’re nearing the finish line already. However revision and polishing are important steps before the final draft stage, and can often make a big impact on your final grade. The first thing would be to review any feedback you have gotten from the professor on past work. Usually you’ve turned in some sort of preliminary assignments, giving you a chance to see what the teacher thought you did well or what you still needed work on. When you revise take the time to do multiple passes, each one focusing on a specific goal like improving your transitions or checking if you used passive voice. Try reading your paper aloud, to yourself or a friend, so that you can hear how it sounds (and this is a good technique for catching errors). Double check your thesis, and make sure that it agrees with your paper all the way through to your conclusion. This is another good time to consider coming to the Writing Center if you can.
  5. Relax!:To twist a meme: Summer is coming! Once you’re done with your paper, take some space from it. If it’s due tomorrow, then go celebrate being finished. If it’s not due for a while, then take a day (or two!) off before giving it one last once over for revision. It can be very helpful to get some distance from your own work when doing revision. Once that is done however, go turn it in! Summer awaits!

    Make sure you get plenty of rest, and enjoy what time off you have, if you are like me you will be back in class doing it all over again soon enough. As you near the end of your particular academic goal, You might even begin to miss the whole crazy cycle.

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