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7.3: Establish Your Schedule

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    Male student using laptopHow Much Time Will You Need?

    Now that you've begun to plan the content of your research paper—your topic, research questions, and preliminary thesis—it's equally important to plan out the process of researching and writing the paper. Although some types of writing assignments can be completed relatively quickly, developing a good research paper is a complex process that takes time and attention. Careful planning helps ensure that you will keep your project running smoothly and produce your best work. Think about how you will complete each step and what resources you will use. Resources may include anything from online databases and digital technologies to interview subjects.

    Scheduling Research and Writing

    Set up a project schedule that shows when you will complete each step. Usually your professor will assign preliminary assignments to help you build the paper and you can base your calendar on these due dates To develop your schedule, use a calendar and work backward from the date your final draft is due. Generally, it is wise to divide half of the available time on the research phase of the project and half on the writing phase. Allow time for research and time for note taking. Next, allow time to review and outline your paper before writing the rough draft, and then more time for peer review and your own revising and editing before writing the final draft.

    Plan your schedule realistically, and consider other commitments that may sometimes take precedence. Plan for unexpected interruptions, but keep in mind that a short time away from the project may help you come back to it with renewed enthusiasm. Another strategy many writers find helpful is to finish each day’s work at a point when the next task is an easy one. That makes it easier to start again.

    As you plan, break down major steps into smaller tasks if necessary. For example, Step 3, Conducting Research, involves locating potential sources, evaluating their usefulness and reliability, reading, and taking notes. Defining these smaller tasks makes the project more manageable by giving you concrete goals to achieve.

    Staying Organized

    Although setting up a schedule is relatively easy, sticking to one is challenging. Even if you are the rare person who never procrastinates, unforeseen events may interfere with your ability to complete tasks on time. A self-imposed deadline may slip your mind despite your best intentions. Organizational tools—calendars, checklists, note cards, or software—and setting up a buddy system with a classmate or regular meetings with a tutor can help you stay on track.

    Organize project documents in a binder or digital folder. Use note cards, an electronic document, an online database folder (this will require you to set up a free account on the database) to record bibliographical information for sources you want to use in your paper. Tracking this information during the research process will save you time when creating a list of references.

    Anticipating Challenges

    No matter how carefully you plan your schedule, you may encounter a setback. Managing your project effectively means anticipating potential problems, taking steps to minimize them where possible, and allowing time in your schedule to handle any setbacks.

    You can manage other potential problems by staying organized. Take the time to save a backup copy of your work on a portable flash drive. Or, instead of using the hard drive of one computer to save your work, create your word-processing files using cloud storage which you can access from any computer with an Internet connection. If you don’t have a reliable Internet connection off campus, then visit a computer lab on campus or a public library with desktop computers, or find a space where you can bring your laptop and concentrate during times that work with your schedule. As you conduct research, maintain detailed records and notes of sources—doing so will make citing sources in your draft infinitely easier. If you run into difficulties with your research or your writing, ask your instructor or a librarian for help, or meet with a peer or writing tutor.