Sunday, August 5, 2007


Timed Writing: Techniques for Success

When you think of essay writing, you probably see yourself sitting at the computer with time on your side. In reality, however, there are many situations in which the writer is on the clock.

Everyone knows that an essay needs a clear thesis, supporting paragraphs with specific examples, and language that is exact and effective. What everyone doesn't know, though, is how to include all those elements when time is short.

Read on to learn about the steps you can take to improve your writing when you face timed essays.

1. Reading and Understanding the Question
The most common, and worst, mistake that you can make when writing with a time limit is to misread the question. You may feel that you need to rush and get started, but once you get your assignment, take a deep breath and slow down. To craft an accurate response, you must know where to begin, as well as where you're going.

An effective strategy is to underline, circle, or otherwise highlight the key words in the question. Here are explanations of the words and phrases you'll find in instructions for timed essays:

Agree or disagree: Take a position and stick with it throughout the entire essay. Don't change your mind or try to argue both sides.

Challenge: This term is a synonym for disagree.

Compare: Outline the similarities between the two sides.

Contrast: Outline the differences between the two sides.

Compare and contrast: The expectation is that you do both, not choose one.

Debate: You can argue both sides of the topic. Ultimately, though, develop a specific position with one side coming out stronger.

Define: Outline the topic's main points.

Illustrate: Make a point and use specific examples to support it.

Identify parallels: This phrase is a synonym for compare.

Discuss or explain: These terms are vague. You may be expected to complete any of the tasks listed above. Look for other key words in the question to guide your response.

Develop your point of view: This is what you'll be asked to do on the SAT® essay. You may use any of the strategies listed above to support a thesis that takes a position on the topic.

2. Planning
Again, you may feel the urge to rush ahead and put pencil to paper. Yet if you do so without devising some sort of design, you are almost certain to lose focus and end up with a jumble of words that leads nowhere.

Take another deep breath and invest two or three minutes in planning. Writers generally have their own personal strategies, but if you haven't found one that works for you, consider these techniques:

Outlining: This format is helpful for people who like clear structure.

Brainstorming: Put the topic or thesis in the center of the page and then write supporting examples that branch out from the main point.

Listing: Similar to outlining but with a bit less structure, this method lets you get your ideas down easily.

Weighing pros and cons or similarities and differences: When you're asked to debate or to compare and contrast two ideas, write a heading for each assertion, draw a line between the headings, and list the main points side by side.

3. Writing
Once you've read the question carefully and have spent a few minutes planning, you're ready to begin. You need to pace yourself because you'll have only a few minutes per paragraph. If you constantly find yourself rushing to finish, consider these tips.

Introduction: A creative start draws readers in and makes them want to keep going. However, unless a great opening dawns on you immediately, skip it, leave space to go back later (if you have time), and move directly to your thesis. You can't get back the time you spend stressing out over your opening.

Body: For each body paragraph, include a topic sentence that gives a specific example to prove your thesis statement and a body that elaborates upon or explains this example. Keep in mind that, unless the directions tell you otherwise, you don't have to come up with three examples. Supporting your thesis with one or two well-developed examples can work better than including three that are short or unfinished.

Conclusion: Try to come up with a conclusion that does more than restate your thesis and main points. However, unless your directions require one, a formal conclusion isn't always needed. Your time might be better spent editing and proofreading your essay.

4. Editing and Proofreading
Try to leave a few minutes to read through your entire essay. Look out for any glaring structural or content errors. Then, if time permits, check for spelling and grammatical mistakes. Lastly, if you have time, revisit your introduction to see if you can improve your opening.

Remember, you can write a solid, effective essay in a short time—if you use those precious minutes wisely.

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