This how-to article is going to walk you through the steps which are guaranteed to lower your stress level and produce a better quality piece of work.
1. Think it through. This sounds like obvious advice, but many people don't do it. They simply start tapping away. Consequently, they wander up and down the topic and never get to the point because they haven't figured it out what it is supposed to be.
2. Assess what type of piece it is. Opinion, news story, literature review? Keep going back to the assignment until you know exactly what the criteria is.
3. Figure out the requirements. If the assignment says one thousand words, that is exactly what you should aim for, not 1223 or 932. Keep an eye on the word counter located on the bottom left-hand side of the screen.
4. Work from an outline. Once the assignment is thought through and assessed, draw up an outline. The standard format is abstract, introduction, supporting paragraphs - also called the body of the essay - and conclusion. Of these, the first, second and last are the most important.
5. Decide on a working title. This may well be changed after the piece is finished, but if you leave the space blank you might forget about it as the deadline looms. Every essay requires a title.
6. Left-justify your work. That's right. The title can be centered, but everything else needs to start at the left. Save centered work for your personal correspondence.
7. Avoid indenting. This format - in the history of writing - is right next to the typewriters. Double space between paragraphs.
8. Pick a font. This may sound like a picky point and it is. Some assignments actually specify what font the lecturer and/or the editor wants used. If in doubt and/or it is media related, go for Times New Roman. Yes, it is boring, but it is also the industry standard.
9. Keep sentences short and sharp. Use the word count and if there are more than 30 words, get out the writing machete and cut them back. Or rework it into two sentences.
10. Keep the paragraphs short. Use the one-idea-one-paragraph formula.
The rule-of-thumb for length is three to five lines. But it maybe only one - particularly in journalism where every word counts - or 10 if it is an academic paper. If in doubt, review number three and assess what type of paper it is.
11. Concentrate on developing good topic sentences. If the topic sentence doesn't catch the reader's attention, it won't be read. The lede - as it is known in publication circles - is essential. Another idea is to write the paragraph and then delete the first sentence and use the second. The logic behind this? The first sentence might be a try-too-hard, while the second is a better fit.
12. Edit, edit, edit. Too many people think that once they have written the draft the assignment is over. No, no, no. Reread the work. Go for a walk, play a round of golf, have lunch and then come back to see it with fresh eyes. Another tactic is to read it out-loud to hear the way it sounds to the reader.
13. Call in a second opinion. Buddy-up with another writer and exchange editing each other's work.
14. Keep learning and polishing. Writing is an evolving area and the point is to keep getting better, not to settle for mediocre.
Develop a positive attitude toward writing and it becomes your friend. Negativity breeds bad marks and/or readers fleeing to other posts in droves.