By Katie Azevedo, M.Ed.
Let me be clear: Although this blog post teaches you how to write an essay in a week, I am not suggesting that you ever rush your writing. Good writing takes time, planning, deep thinking, and revision. While one week is enough time to write most high school and college essays, some advanced research papers require more time. Knowing the difference is important.
How to write an essay in a week or less
Below, I list the general steps for writing an essay in one week, from start to finish. Depending on your grade level, essay topic, and teacher’s requirements, you might need to adjust things here and there – but following the sequence below will get you to the finish line.
If you’re in a pickle (I see you, procrastinators), then you can adjust the framework timeline to complete an essay in four days.
Day one: Plan and Outline
For this step, it’s important to gather all the materials you think you’ll need for the writing process. Get your articles, textbook, novel, or whatever you’ll need for researching and referencing as you write.
1. Write and clarify your thesis.
Every essay has a thesis. A thesis is what you’re arguing. Here are three possible thesis scenarios:
- Your teacher gives you a thesis
- Your teacher gives you a prompt that can be turned (reworded) into a thesis
- You have to create your own thesis
Scenario 3 (you have to write your own thesis) requires more work because you have to come up with your own argument. Here are my best tips for writing a thesis statement.
Remember, a good thesis will have two parts. What you’re arguing, and then how or why.
2. Outline the essay.
I suggest you outline the essay on day one, right after coming up with your thesis. In some cases, you will create the second half of your thesis statement (the how or why) as you work through your outline and think more about the topic.
How to outline an essay:
- In a Google Document, write your thesis at the top of the page. Leave this thesis statement here for the entire time you’re writing the essay. It’s your North Star. When you lose focus, come back to the thesis statement.
- Determine the structure of your essay. (You may need to follow your teacher’s requirements.) Do you need to write five paragraphs? Four pages? Is it a compare and contrast essay? See the graphic below for various suggestions for structuring different types of essays.)
- Outline each paragraph of your essay according to the structure you chose in step 2 above. The main bullet headings should be the topic sentence, and supporting details with evidence should be bullet points below that.
Day Two: Write
You’ll spend Day 2 writing your essay. Do not edit at this point! Editing is done on a separate day. You may start with your introduction paragraph, or you could start with one of your body paragraphs. I suggest you build momentum by starting at the point you feel most confident writing about. Again, that could be the middle of your essay. If you’re including quotations in your essay, you will need to thoroughly analyze them. Here’s my step-by-step on how to analyze quotes in an essay.
It’s important to take breaks when you write. A good work-to-rest ratio is 45 minutes to work, and 15 mins to take a break. If you build momentum and don’t want to break after 45 minutes, then keep going, but cap it off at 90 minutes.
After 90 minutes, take a longer break. It’s also okay to split your writing sessions over the course of the day: plan one writing session in the morning or afternoon, and another one in the evening.
Day Three: Write
Day 3 looks similar to Day 2. Continue writing. As before, avoid editing your work while you are writing it. The more well-built your outline is (Day 1), the quicker the writing process will be.
Writing tip: If you’re incorporating quotations into your essay, be sure to integrate and analyze them well.
- Properly integrated quotations don’t stand alone as sentences; rather, they are part of a larger sentence.
- Your analysis of quotations should be around three to seven sentences long. Dig deep and explain a) what the quote means, and b) why it matters to the point you’re making.
Days Four – Five: Write or Edit
How you spend Days 4 and 5 depends on how complex your essay is, and how tight your deadline is.
If you’re planning to write your essay in a week, then you can use Day 4 to continue writing, and Day 5 to edit (more on that below). If you’re planning to write your essay in less than a week, then you should spend most of Day 4 editing.
Day Five-Six: Finish Writing; Edit
Depending on your deadline and essay complexity, you will begin the editing process on Day 4, 5 or 6.
- Here is my full tutorial with step-by-step instructions for editing your essays.
- Here is my free Essay Editing Checklist (free pdf download) to help you know what to edit for.
Remember, editing your essay should be done on a different day than writing your essay. You need to break the two processes apart with time in between so that your brain has time to “flush the cache” and come back to your writing with fresh eyes.
Day Six: Edit and Submit
Your essay is due on Day 7. It should be completed the day before, on Day 6. At this point, you’re simply ensuring you’ve used the proper format (MLA, APA, etc.), your works cited page is adequate, and you’ve checked your rubric thoroughly.
If your teacher allows, you can submit your essay on Day 6, before it’s due.
Day Seven: Done
Submit the essay. Make sure your submission is complete (pdf uploaded, essay printed and handed, etc) before you consider yourself “done.”
Final notes about planning and writing essays
The tips in this article teach you how to write an essay in a week or less. But, it’s important to create your timeline by working backward from the day you’re assigned the essay. If your teacher assigns an essay on Monday, and it’s due on Friday, reverse engineer your days so that you complete the essay on Thursday night. Reverse engineering your time allows you to see exactly which days you need to complete which steps. In some cases, you might need to create your thesis, write your outline, and begin the writing process all on Day 1.