How to Write Longer Papers (Without Working Harder)
I’m an English major because I love writing. It’s something I do for school, for cash, and in my free time. Bored in class, I’ll often tinker with a piece or a play I started, only to abandon it a week later. That’s fine: I write for my own sake.
The problem, of course, is sometimes I have to do mercenary work. So do you, if you’re a college student: you have papers and essays at best or an arduous thesis at worst. Even I freeze up when I’m assigned work: if you don’t like writing as much as I do, I imagine it’s even worse. Fortunately, through my many years of cutting corners I am proud to share a few tips I developed that will have you knocking out minimum page requirements with minimal effort.
1: Set-Up is your Friend
I could have started this piece just with this, of course: there was absolutely no need for the backstory I shared. But if you continously find yourself a page short in essays, consider this: that set-up I included was 150 words of “free” writing, which is to say, writing without a point. In an essay, you have limited amounts of “source” to work with. You only have so many opinions to have and sources to say to carry your paper ten pages. Thus set up is your best friend: it can help pad what you have to say effortlessly and actually convey extra importance behind your points.
An anecdote about writing papers: once during Sophmore year I was at the tail end of an all-nighter. I had a fifteen page paper due that afternoon and, seven pages in at around four A.M. I was losing my focus and my sanity. We had no coffee in the dorm and no energy drinks left. The only caffeine available was in my room-mate’s 4loko can. I stared it down for a few long minutes, realizing that whichever choice I made, this essay was going to be in some serious trouble.
A cool story? Not especially. Related? Not especially: I took the broadest idea of my topic (papers) and took a detour for a few paragraphs. And that’s the point. If you’re running out of things to say in a paper about a specific topic, open the topic up. Take a detour: if you’re talking about France, talk about all of Europe before coming back to France. It’s a quick trick under-utilized and it opens up your topic, giving you more things to write about. It certainly beats extending your margins.
If you’re saying something as a statement, analyze the pros and cons of it, or, at the least, take a moment to debate how it (whatever it is: a character, a situation, a metaphor) can be interpreted in one way or the other. The upside of that is that instantly extends your writing; it gives you the chance to add a sentence, perhaps two, on to an otherwise very simple statement and it makes you look analytical. On the other hand, if you use that too much, you might arouse your professor’s suspicions and not all statements or facts can be properly analyzed that way. You might actually even make mistakes in your arguments by seeking to extend your paper!
You’ll noticed I just did that up here. A few extra sentences isn’t much, but it adds up when you can keep applying it.
When it comes to writing, it’s best to do your best. It’s best to have all your facts, sources, and time to put forward your best effort. But in college and in life, sometimes the best situations don’t present themselves. In these scenarios, these these three little tricks: analysis, misdirection, and set-up can be the difference between panic and a paper, an outline and a rough-draft. On the one hand, this may not be ideal, but it gets the job done, and isn’t that what we ultimately want?
Of course, if those three quick tips, feel free to do what I just did for this paragraph: repeat them all in the guise of a conclusion. A crummy move, perhaps. But it won’t get you a crummy grade.
Those are the four main tips I have for you. For all your English assignments, I wish you the best of luck. As always, math people, you are on your own, and I fear and envy you both.