Tips for writing under pressure

Most writing is done under pressure.
An executive has to produce a three-page position paper by tomorrow at nine. A department head suddenly has to write a one-page action memo by noon. A graduate student has a twenty-page research paper due in a week. Yet, while most students and professionals write under pressure--with limited time, limited space, and a supervisor or instructor to please--few approach the task systematically.

Step 01. Plan time, space, and other resources:
• Schedule according to importance – put your time where it will count.

• Allow time to think.

• Allow time to check yourself.

Step 02. The Schedule:
• Prepare and plan:
– Develop a timetable.

– Consider the audience.

– Consider how much time, effort, and energy you want to invest.

– Spend 9-10% of the allotted time planning
• Generate content:
– Develop a provisional thesis – 5%

– Identify reasons for that thesis (brainstorm) – 15%

– Analyze reasons and any opposition, then revise thesis to reflect analysis – 10%

– Establish an ordered outline and revise thesis as introduction – 10%
• Review and revise:
– Fill in the outline and argument, then cut for coherence and consistency – 15%

– Read the draft for missing connections – 10%

– Fill in gaps – 15%

– Proofread – 10%

Step 03. The provisional thesis:
Because you know something about the subject, you probably have an opinion; that opinion is your provisional thesis. Identify as many reasons for your opinion as you can, getting all the ideas down. Analyze reasons for and against the thesis:
• Some reasons are better than others, and some reasons are closely related.

• No issue is one-sided. Showing awareness of other views increases your credibility.

Step 04. The outline:
Keep only the strong arguments, both for and against the thesis. Consider putting your strongest argument last, so that it leads directly to your conclusion:
• Give concrete examples, not just abstractions.

• Make explicit connections between ideas and conclusions.

Step 05. Revisions:
• Read through the draft for missing connections (logical jumps, abrupt changes of subject, abrupt changes of viewpoint).

• Add any missing logical steps and tell reader the connections (“because”, “despite”, “in contrast”).

• Always proofread. Time allowed for proofreading is not slack to let you make up for spending too long in another section. Proofreading is necessary because poor organization and typographical errors distract readers, and spell-checking cannot correct organization or the use of incorrect words.

Step 06. Resources for more information:
• Kaye, Sanford. 1989. Writing under Pressure: The Quick Writing Process. Oxford University Press, New York.

• Project management literature (for longer projects and those with many contributors).

Step 07. Summary:
• Think first, and then write. After writing, read, revise, and read again.

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