Hey, what’s up guys? So I just got my hands on some new books and I am itching to read these things but before I do, we do need to talk about the opposite side of the reading coin, which is writing, specifically the writing of essays. Now the status of the essay as a cruel and unusual punishment was hotly debated at the formation the Geneva Convention back in 1949. But if you bring this fact up to your teacher they’re just going to tell you not to believe everything here on the internet and you’re still going to have to do your essay, which is unfortunate because among all the types of assignments out there essays rank among the most time-consuming, and you can take this from somebody who basically writes essays for a living.
I mean I know I’m a YouTuber but every script that I create is essentially an essay before I communicate it in front of the this camera. And even though I’ve been writing these for a really long time, they’re still super time consuming. So what do I do today is give you some practical tips for speeding up the essay writing process. Now I do have to throw a qualifier on there because if I don’t then it really boils down to two main tips. Number one, type the same word over and over and over again till you get the page requirement, or number two, master plagiarism.
Both of which are probably not things you want to be doing, so let’s throw that qualifier on there. Let’s speed up the essay writing process without sacrificing quality. We’ll still end up with something that is worth reading and that communicates a well structured idea.
Now typically the formation of well-structured ideas starts in the research stage, so let’s start there. When you’re writing a research paper the process of finding sources to back up your arguments can actually be one of the most time consuming parts of the project. That’s because no matter how many sources you have, it’s really easy to convince yourself that your paper would be truly great if you just got one more source and then what you have that you want another one and then another. Carl Newport calls this research recursion syndrome.
You get stuck in this endless loop of just finding source after source, it becomes really easy to go down rabbit holes that you think you’re going to yield really insightful information but end up being completely irrelevant to your paper. Luckily Newport doesn’t just stop at giving the dragon a name. He also gives you the tools you need to slay it. His book “How to Become a Straight A Student” outlines a series of steps with some general rules for avoiding this problem while still getting the information you need. To follow this process, first you venture into the stacks library or the internet and you find your sources.
Once you’ve found them, you make personal copies of them and annotate those copies. Finally you decide if you’re done and if you’re not, you loop back to step number one. Let’s go ahead and call this the efficient research algorithm, since it’s a logical set of steps that are easy to understand and carry out in order.
But without flushing out this algorithm it’s hard to know exactly what you’re supposed to be doing on each step. So here are a few details that will make it a bit more useful. First, when you’re looking for your sources start with general sources. Things like broad histories, views of the topic, popular science books, these kind of books are easy to find and they kind of gloss over everything within your topic. That does make them not quite as good as specific sources for finding arguments that you can use in your paper but they do have bibliographies and they do point to other works. Specific sources, like we said, they are more powerful, they’re going to contribute more but number one, they’re difficult to find if you don’t know where to look, and two, because they are so detailed it’s really easy to go down rabbit holes that don’t end up being fruitful.
So if you start with a general source and use that to drill down to find specific sources, you’re going to be really efficient in your research process. Now before I move on I do want to say that research in itself is a huge topic so if you do want to learn how to do it more efficiently and get some more tips we did just publish an article all about library research over on College Info Geek and I’ll have that linked in the description down below. Moving on that second step of the algorithm I find the easiest way to make copies of sources that I want to reference later on is to just take pictures of them with my phone.
And I do this all the time when I’m researching for video scripts. I’m the kind of person who likes to own my books but I also like to write at coffee shops and I can only fit so many books in my backpack, so when I know I have a quote that I want to reference or something that I want go back to, I’ll take a picture of it with my phone. That way I have a good reference of all the different sources that I’m going to use.
Lastly, when it comes to the question of, are you done or should you repeat the algorithm, you can follow Newport’s rule of thumb. First, list out all the arguments that you want to make in your paper and then figure out which ones are crucial and which ones are merely helpful. For the arguments that are crucial aim to have at least two good sources to back them up and for the ones that are merely helpful, one will probably do the trick.
Now when you’re looking over your list of crucial and helpful arguments keep this mantra in mind. Quality over quantity. This applies to the number of sources you choose to use but also applies to the number of arguments that you choose to flash out in your paper because unless there’s some arbitrary requirement in the assignment a smaller number of well structured, well-thought-out arguments always beat a larger number of mediocre ones. And that might sound obvious in the surface but it’s important to note that the inclusion of a mediocre argument can actually detract from the entire paper, even if the other arguments are good. This idea of quality over quantity doesn’t just apply to the number of arguments and sources you’re using because you should also scrutinize the actual words and letters that you’re using. What I mean by this is that when people know they’re writing an essay that’s going to be evaluated, a lot of them experience temptation to utilize a cornucopia of abstruse, esoteric terminology, contrapositive to the vernacular.
In other words people use big, fancy words because they think it’s going to make them sound smarter. But this usually has the opposite effect. In fact, a Princeton University Psychology Professor did a study about 10 years ago that showed that perceptions of intelligence actually go down when people use needlessly complicated vocabulary. Though, when you think about it, this is really common sense and you don’t have to go read a bunch of charts and graphs to understand the point of an essay is to communicate your ideas clearly. As Karl Popper put it, “If you can’t say it simply and clearly, “keep quiet and keep working on it until you can.” and honestly going into an essay without feeling like you have to dig into the deep end your vocabulary, will make the writing process a lot faster because you’re going to be writing in the way that you naturally think and speak.
Now while the temptation to use complicated vocabulary can definitely slow down the writing process it is but a tiny speed bump compared to the brick wall in the middle of the road that is perfectionism.
Every time you find yourself staring at a blank page or blinking cursor and just can’t think of what to write, perfectionism is likely to be the mean culprit. But luckily there are some things you can do to get over it. First and foremost I recommend that you write your body paragraphs first and save the intro and conclusion for last. Your intro is where you going to introduce the topic or the argument that you’re writing about, but going into the intro before fleshing out the body paragraphs is like trying to give a tour of a building that you’ve never even been in. You need to have a clear understanding of each point that you’re talking about before you introduce them.
And the same thing applies to your conclusion. Plus, choosing to go in this order also makes it easier to get into the flow state of writing. Because you know you’re making a mess.
You know you’re going to have to go back and edit things later, but when you start from a blank page and you think you have to write the intro first, it’s really easy to succumb to the temptation that you can do it all in one go. And on that note it can also be really helpful to separate the drafting stage and the editing stage as much as possible can. And there are lots of ways to do this. You can block up different chunks of time on different days for each stage of the process, you can have different locations and you can even work within indifferent apps for the drafting and the editing. And this is something that I love doing for video scripts. I often do my research and my drafting over on Evernote and then once that’s done I’ll move it over to Google Docs for editing and final prep.
And I actually do something similar with video recording as well. When I want to get some stuff out of my head, I’ll often pull my phone out and record something really casually that I know I’m not going to use in the final cut. And doing this takes a lot of pressure off. When I’m filming here, there is a ton of pressure because I know I’m probably going to use it. This last step is pretty nuts and bolts but use a citation generator. There are a ton of these out there, almost all of them are completely free and they really speed up the process of creating a bibliography or a work cited.
I remember having to do this by hand back when I was a student and every time I would do it I would have to constantly refer back to the style guide, so I didn’t make really common mistakes like misplacing a comma or accidentally summoning an elver god. But with sites like Bibme and Citation Machine you can put in the details of your sources and leave all the formatting to the algorithms. Now throughout this video we’ve covered some specific tactics that will definitely help you speed up the writing process without having to resort to the potato trick. But it’s important to note that tactics are exactly what these are. And while the world’s most prolific writers definitely use them to some degree, they aren’t a replacement for building more foundational skills like thinking clearly and critically assessing your sources and building logical, well structured arguments. And while these types of skills take a lot more time and effort to build, they’re going to speed up the writing process even more and because you be thinking better you’ll also be writing better.
Now if you want to start improving your foundations in these areas and learn something new at the same time you should try brilliant. Brilliant has an entire course that can actually formal logic in depth, but their platform will also help you boost your skills in these areas more fundamentally due to their hands-on, challenge based approach to teaching math, science and computer science. All the courses in Brilliant immediately push you to actively start solving problems which makes you think critically and stretches your capabilities in a way that doesn’t happen when you just passively sit through lectures. So whether you’re learning probability or digging in the classical mechanics or getting a grip on computer algorithms which is the course that I’m taking right now you’ll also be improving your general reasoning skills as you progress. And Brilliant also has an active community where people can ask questions and get feedback on the problemS they’re trying to solve, which really compliments their courses because when you’re stuck, it can be really helpful to get an outside perspective.
So if you guys want to start learning something new and stretch your capabilities, give Brilliant a try with the link in the description down below. And if you’re among the first 200 people to sign up, you’ll also get 20% off of an annual subscription. I want to get Brilliant a huge thanks for sponsoring this video as their support definitely helps to keep this channel running but I’m also just a huge fan of their service and their commitment to advancing STEM education.
So I definitely think you guys should give it try. As always thanks to you guys so much for watching as well and if you found this video helpful, a like definitely helps helps this channel out and you can also share this video with a friend if you think they would find it helpful. If you’re not subscribed yet, you can subscribe right there to get new videos when I released them. Hit that bell icon if you want to get notifications of those videos. Otherwise you can grab a free copy of my book on how to earn better grades right there.
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