College students know that cramming a pile of work into a single evening isn't a strategy for success, but 20 percent of them say they've pulled at least one all-nighter in the last month, according to the "California Aggie," an independent newspaper run by students at the University of California, Davis. Cranking out a 10-page term paper in one night isn't a great idea, but it's a sadly common one.
When you're in a rush to meet a deadline, you might be tempted to skip the outline and dive right into writing. Don't. Dashing out 10 pages in a single night without outlining is a recipe for a rambling, incoherent mess. Outlining will help you develop an argument and organize your thoughts, according to Purdue University's Online Writing Lab. It will also help you add depth to your analysis, which is essential if you want to get to 10 pages without useless filler material. Typically, you'll need two paragraphs to fill a page and about 20 paragraphs to finish your paper. A good strategy to make the page limit is to argue three main points of about six paragraphs each. Then add two paragraphs for an introduction and two more for a conclusion.
Use Caffeine, but Sparingly
Since you probably can't write well in your sleep, you need a strategy for staying up all night. Caffeine can help you stay alert and focused, but don't start guzzling coffee right away. According to "Science Daily," caffeine is most effective in small, regular doses. As little as 20 milligrams of caffeine per hour can keep you sharp, while doses greater than 200 milligrams per hour can leave you jittery. For context, an 8-ounce cup of brewed coffee contains between 95 and 200 milligrams.
Cite as You Write
If you aren't careful, dashing out a 10-page paper in one night can lead to academia's cardinal sin: plagiarism. If you save your bibliography page until you finish the paper, you're likely to omit an important citation or misattribute some important information. These mistakes, even when committed accidentally, are plagiarism. The best way to avoid plagiarism is to cite your sources as you write the paper. As you finish each paragraph, make sure you've included the appropriate in-text citation. Then scroll to your Works Cited page and add the appropriate entry.
Save Time to Edit
Despite the time pressure, save a few minutes to edit your paper. If you're hammering out 10 pages in a single evening with little sleep, you will have at least a few typos and grammatical errors. If you find yourself stuck at nine pages with less than an hour to go, cut your losses and start proofreading. You should prioritize catching glaring errors like misspelled words, but Georgia State University advises students to pay close attention to common grammatical errors like comma splices and misplaced modifiers. The more time you spend polishing the final product, the less likely your professor will notice that you wrote a whole term paper in one night.
- History Professor: The Anatomy of a Ten-Page Paper
- Purdue Online Writing Lab: How and Why to Create a Useful Outline
- Science Daily: Small, Frequent Doses of Caffeine Best Strategy for Staying Awake, According to New Study
- Mayo Clinic: Caffeine Content for Coffee, Tea, Soda and More
- Plagiarism Today: Turnitin Analyzes the Spectrum of Plagiarism
- California Aggie: Sleep Deprivation Soars Among College Students
Nick Robinson is a writer, instructor and graduate student. Before deciding to pursue an advanced degree, he worked as a teacher and administrator at three different colleges and universities, and as an education coach for Inside Track. Most of Robinson's writing centers on education and travel.