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How To Begin

When You Don't Know Where to Start

By Taylor Koeth

If you are reading this right now, you are probably in the same boat as me: assigned a writing project and no idea where to start. The good news is that neither of us is alone, but your assignment is waiting, so let’s get cracking. Here are five steps to jumpstart your writing fun:

  1. Make sure that you understand your assignment and expectations.
    If you do not understand what you are to write about or how you will be graded, how in the world do you expect your paper to be effective? A thorough understanding of your assignment will allow you to work purposefully. If you do not understand your assignment or have questions, ask your professor for clarification.
  2. Create a timeline.
    Now, I know that you are a diligent student who would never (ever) procrastinate, or at least not on purpose, but I also know that life happens. That is why this step, my friends, is a lifesaver! Once you thoroughly understand your assignment, write down any important dates, including due dates of proposals, progress reports, drafts, and the final paper. In addition to these dates, plan out a timeline detailing when you expect to have certain portions of your essay complete. This timeline will keep you on track and prevent any last-minute panic.
  3. Choose a topic.

    I don’t know about you, but as an indecisive person, I despise this step. I feel like it takes me longer to choose a topic and sort through my thoughts than it does for me to actually write the paper. If you can relate, here are three tips for choosing a topic:

    1. Discuss your ideas with someone - This someone can be your friend, mom, professor, or a writing center consultant (I hear Ouachita has a great writing center with awesome consultants who would LOVE to listen to your ideas).
    2. Think about it - Get away from distractions (yes, all distractions, your phone, friends, and even your homework) to let your mind fully think. My best thinking occurs during walks, showers, and surprisingly naps, so do not be afraid to sleep on it.
    3. Research - Use your notes, books, and the Internet to explore and gather your ideas.

  4. Create an outline.

    This step may remind you of something you did in your fourth-grade English class, but trust me, it is effective. Once you have a thorough understanding of your assignment, a timeline, and a topic, I encourage you to sit down and create an outline for your paper. You can Google “paper outline” or use the basic one that I linked HERE. Just a reminder that you can add or remove body paragraphs from the outline as necessary. Outlining your essay will allow you to stay organized as you write.

    *If you need help on the first step of the outline, writing a thesis statement, HERE is a great resource.

  5. Book an appointment with the Speer Writing Center.

    I may be slightly biased, but I think Ouachita’s writing center is pretty great. I would encourage you to make an appointment to chat with a writing center consultant before you complete your assignment. The Speer Writing Center offers 30-minute sessions that allow you to sit down with another student to review your paper and address any concerns or questions you may have.  Even if you don’t have any concerns or questions, I would highly recommend making an appointment because it is always good to have an extra set of eyes to look over your work. You can book an appointment with the writing center by emailing us HERE.

    See, getting started is the hardest part. Happy writing!


Taylor Koeth is a junior English education major. You can visit her in-person in the Speer Writing Center on Thursdays at 7 PM and online on Zoom Tuesdays at 7:45 PM.


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