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GEN 100

Writing Workshop

Preparation for Writing

When preparing to write something, getting ready includes a few very important steps.

Understand the Assignment

A surprising number of students skip this step, even though it is one of the most important in the assignment.

Some teachers, in order to make students understand this, give students a long test. At the very beginning, the instructions read:

Read all of the problem instructions before taking the test.
Follow the instructions that you find.

The test then has perhaps 30 or 40 problems. Some of them are very challenging, but many instruct the students to do something foolish, like to should out, "I have the answer!!!" or to jump up and down or pound on their desks.

However, the last problem on the test reads:

It is very important that you only read the instructions, but you
must not do any of the problems. You must ignore all of the other
questions on this test. Just sit quietly in your seat, and enjoy
watching the other students until the teacher ends the test.

The students who follow the instructions find the last problem and get a perfect score simply by doing nothing. Most students, however, fail to follow the instructions to read everything before starting, and fail the test after working hard and acting foolishly.

I considered giving you this test, but I decided not to waste class time on it. I simply hope that you will listen to my warnings in class, read this chapter, and then remember to read all the instructions—and of course, then follow them carefully!


Something that students usually fail to do is to schedule their work properly.

Creating a work schedule for all of your classes and homework is a valuable tool for succeeding in college and elsewhere. Create a daily schedule to show what you will do, from eating and travelling to resting and playing. Most importantly, however, you must schedule your schoolwork.

Schedule realistically: understand that you get tired after a while, and that you need rest breaks—but that if you don't control the rest breaks, they become too long and stop you from working.

Question: your teacher gives you an assignment on Monday; the due date is one week later, the following Monday. You begin working:

  1. Immediately
  2. The next day
  3. Friday
  4. Early Saturday
  5. 11:00 pm Sunday evening
  6. 30 minutes before class starts on Monday

Be honest!

Hopefully, you did not answer "e" or "f." However, even "c" or "d" is too late—even though most students usually start then.

You MUST begin early, not just because it's the "right" thing to do, but because you need (1) time to do the work, (2) time to check the work, and (3) time to revise your work.

Most students just do step (1), and think, "Oh, the teacher will check the work for me." Nope: the teacher will point out your error and give you a bad grade. Remember, all your drafts are part of the grade, not just the final product!

In the example above, if the teacher gives you the work on Monday for the following Monday, here is a good example of a schedule:

  1. Monday evening: take 15-20 min. to review the assignment and plan.
  2. Tuesday: try writing at least on full part of the assignment, if not the whole thing; for example, if an essay, write at least one body paragraph. It helps to get started quickly, but you might avoid this if you think 100% of the work is required that day.
  3. Wednesday through Friday: try finishing the rest of the assignment, possibly scheduling one part for each day.
  4. Saturday: After finishing: read, review, revise;
  5. Sunday: Edit, proofread;
  6. Monday, before class: clean up the writing.

Note: find out what times you get sleepy most easily (e.g., after eating, in the early morning, etc.) and avoid scheduling study for these times!

If you use this kind of scheduling, you can work much more smoothly, and produce better-quality writing!

Finding the Right Environment

Tools: Make sure you have all the tools you need: the instructions, textbooks, reference materials, computer software, internet connection, and so forth. If your process requires paper, pens, pencils, erasers and such, make sure you have them.

The right place: find a quiet place without distractions. Some place with the right lighting to help you work best. It should not be too warm or else you may fall asleep.

Plan for breaks: Avoid having video games available, and avoid using social media during breaks; either of these will cause your breaks to run too long! Plan short walks, exercise, going to get drinks or (small!) snacks—but only activities that you will want to do for a short period of time. Remember, a break does not mean "having fun"; it means to refresh your mind and body between study periods.

Prevent Interruptions: mute or turn off your cell phone. Close social networking programs. Make sure you have a drink like cola or coffee if you need it. Go to the restroom before you begin.

Be serious: remember, this is not some annoying "fake" work; studying and doing your assignments are serious! Treat them that way!