Getting StartedWriteHereWriteNowWriteOn

Get the ball rolling

by Bubba Sugarman

You’ve just received a new assignment from your favorite class. It’s a page of complex paragraphs filled with instructions followed by a grading rubric. I’ll be honest; when I receive a large assignment like this it can seem a little frightening. It might seem big and scary, but here are three simple strategies I use to make assignments more manageable and help get the ball rolling.

  1. The topic-tackling strategy

A roadblock to getting started can be choosing a topic to write about, especially when your assignment is largely open-ended. I find that choosing a topic is one of the hardest parts of the writing process, so I start by brainstorming. In my brainstorming session, I think of anything that could remotely answer the prompt, and I write it down. I don’t weed out ideas just yet; I only write them down. Once I’ve compiled a list of ideas I start to think them out by creating a set of criteria that my topic must meet. For example, for a science paper, I’ll look at how much research has been done on my proposed topic and check to see if it is still relevant to today’s academic discussion. Using my criteria, I then narrow my brainstorming list to a few choice topics. With a list of choice topics made, I begin my exploratory research to get to know them better.

  1. The research reviewing strategy

The library is my best friend when it comes to getting to know my topic. The more exploratory research I do, the more I tend to get a sense of the right topic to pursue. Once I’ve narrowed down my ideas to a topic that will meet my criteria and pertains to the assignment, I start my research. Research poses its own set of challenges, but don’t be alarmed—the writing tutors and librarians are all research wizzes. They are there to help you, and they have some pretty neat tricks to make your research process a little less painful!

  1. The checklist strategy

One strategy that I find incredibly helpful for lengthy prompts is the checklist approach. This strategy works best for assignments that have a lot of individual requirements within them. For example, your assignment might ask for the following: a double-spaced five-page paper in MLA format, with a title page, seven sources, one block quote, and a self-assessment. This long list of tasks is hiding in your page-long prompt. You can make more sense of it using the checklist approach. Highlight each task within the assignment and put a checkbox next to it. As you work through the assignment, you can reference your checklist and mark off the individual boxes. I like to add my own to-dos to my assignment, i.e. “read through it out loud” or “double check your boxes.” Once all your boxes have been checked, your assignment should be complete!

Don’t forget, if at any point you find yourself needing help, the librarians and writing tutors are here for you. Bring us your questions and papers; we love to help.

Bubba Sugarman is a sophomore business major who has trouble saying no to new things. He enjoys playing rugby, beekeeping, blacksmithing, bull riding, surfing, flying helicopters, playing cello, working as a writing tutor, woodworking, welding, flying planes, baking, shearing sheep, and procrastinating. As a tutor, Bubba wants to make the tutor café as inviting as possible for all students. Even if you don’t have questions, come hang out with us, we get lonely sometimes.

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