how to write essays in college

Tackling Lengthy Writing Assignments

Maybe you love writing but aren’t immune to the stress created by the page requirement for a challenging course’s final essay. Maybe writing has always felt like a struggle but you know you need to produce strong work to get your GPA up this semester. Either way, lengthy writing assignments can feel overwhelming, making getting started hard to do.

Below are some of our strategies for essay writing success.

Break Things Down

To make getting started on writing that midterm or final essay less daunting, you need to break down the work into smaller, more manageable tasks

Think of it this way: cleaning your room from top to bottom sounds a lot less terrible if each day for a week, you only have one task – one day you wash your bedding, the next day you fold your laundry, the next day you vacuum, etc. The energy required to get it done all done at once (and the anxiety surrounding the looming task) is far greater than that spent chipping away at the work slowly. 

Ask yourself, what are the component parts of this assignment, how long will each component or step take, and in what order do I need to complete them? For many writing assignments, you will need to identify credible sources, craft a thesis statement, create an outline, write a draft (or two!) and edit. Make a list of as many steps as you can think of to get you to the final product.

Work Backwards and Create Your Own Deadlines

Now that you have your assignment broken down into smaller tasks, you will need to work backwards from the final due date to create a calendar that includes deadlines you set for yourself along the way to your final submission. 

When is the final draft due? In order to have time to revise and edit before final submission, by what date will you need to have completed a draft? Do you want time to revise more than one draft? In your calendar or planner, write down these self-imposed deadlines as if they are course-required. 

Seek Guidance from Your Professor, Teaching Assistant, or Writing Lab 

Remember that your professors and teaching assistants are there to help! Schedule an office hours visit as you calendar out your work. You might not have questions at the beginning of the writing process, but some are sure to arise as you work. Getting eyes on your work-in-progress can also help you make sure you are on the right track! 

Most universities and colleges also have writing labs or writing centers where students can go to get support on a range of writing assignments. For example, The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Writing Center offers 1:1 appointments, workshops, writing groups, and more. Similarly, Northeastern University’s Writing Center defines itself as “a free service open to students, staff, faculty, and alumni of Northeastern and exists to help writers at any level, and from any academic discipline, in their written and visual communication.” See what options for writing help exist on your campus. 

State Street Academic Coaches are another valuable resource when it comes to breaking down assignments and helping students manage their time to conquer large projects. If you think you or your student could benefit from the support of a coach, contact us at to set-up a free consultation.

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