As you may have heard me say, planning your study time is an important part of being a successful online student. Unfortunately, many students do not schedule their time over several days. Instead, they try to cram everything into one day. Oh, they may invest the amount of time needed, but doing it all on one day does not leave any time to reflect and think things through.

Take for instance writing a paper. Many students sit down to write their papers on the same day it is due. They do not realize that there are several stages to writing a good paper. Some of these include doing your basic research, creating an outline, writing the first draft, edit and revise it, proofreading it, and then review it again. It is tempting to write a paper from start to finish in one sitting, especially if it is a short paper. I know; I have done this. But is this the best way to write a paper? No.

The best way to write a paper is over the course of several days. I suggest you schedule each of the stages to writing your paper for a different day. I can hear some of you objecting, “But Jim! I can do all of this in a couple of hours!” Sure, I understand. But I also read and grade dozens of papers each week, and I can pick out the papers that were written in one day versus those where the student took their time and spread it out over the week.

One way I can tell is by looking at when the paper was submitted. Typically, those students who wait until the day the assignment is due to write their paper submit it close to midnight. In other words, they work on it until they run out of time. It is better to work on a writing assignment over the course of several days.

Here is an example of what this looks like.

On Monday (assuming the paper is due on Sunday at the end of the week), read through the instructions and grading rubric to ensure you understand what is expected in the assignment. Then, read your assigned reading for the week and take notes.

It is always good to review the instructions for your assignments before you complete your required reading. When you do, you can identify important concepts and ideas to include in your paper. This also gives you the time to reflect on what you have read before you sit down to write. If you read the assignment and write your paper on the same day, you rob yourself of the time to reflect on what you read, and in most cases, it shows in the quality of your thought process and critical thinking.

On Tuesday, do some extra research to fill in any gaps or to further explain and clarify your thoughts and ideas.

On Wednesday, draft an outline of your paper. Write the introduction and thesis statement, the main idea for each of your supporting points, and then your conclusion.

On Thursday, write your first draft. When you are done, read it carefully to see if you missed anything and if you addressed all the points in the assignment. This is also when I give it to someone (such as Beth) to read and review. She is good about checking it to make sure I covered everything and that it all connects.

On Friday, write your second draft, proofread it again, and then write your final draft. This may take you more than a couple of hours depending on your writing skills.

Now, you are ready to submit it. And it is only Friday! Can you see how this would make a difference in the quality of your work versus waiting until Sunday evening to begin?

Approaching everything in this manner works with other types of assignments, too. If you have a discussion post to complete, do your reading ahead of time (this is important for both writing a paper and a discussion post). After you have spent some time reflecting on what you read, write the first draft of your post on the next day. Finalize and post your response to the discussion on the third day. Then respond to your classmates over the next couple of days.

Good work takes time. When you take the time to read, reflect, and write, you should see a marked improvement in your papers and discussion posts.