Optimizing Writing Time: The Power of Planning

Spending more time planning than writing might be counterintuitive, but it can help reduce anxiety around writing.


By: Izzy Nichols (’20)
Second-Year Tutor

What is the first thing you do when faced with a blank page and a serious writing assignment? Often times, we jump right in and try to fill the page as fast as we can. There is nothing more anxiety producing than a blank page, staring back at you, with a deadline that seems to be approaching rapidly. So you just start typing. Anything. 

According to Courtland Bovee and John Thill in their book Business Communications Essentials (2015), writing should be tackled in a three step process: planning, writing, and completing. In the planning phase, you should focus on analyzing the situation, gathering relevant information, and getting organized overall (this is when you would develop a detailed outline). In the writing phase, the message is composed, and you carefully adapt the information to appeal to the audience. In the final stage, what the authors call the “complete” stage, this is where you revise, proofread, and produce the message.

What is surprising about this model is the recommended amount of time suggested to spend on each phase. The authors suggest that as a rule, writers should use roughly half of their time for planning, one-quarter of their time writing, and the remaining quarter for editing and completing the work. Using only a quarter of your time for writing seems counter-intuitive. We all just want to fill up the blank page as soon as possible. But as the authors argue, by devoting more time to planning, the writing process itself is faster, more efficient, and less stressful. 

As stated before, part of effective planning is creating a detailed outline. Therefore I would like to spend a little bit of time talking about how to create a “map” for your essay. According to The George Mason University Writing Center, outlines help to organize our ideas, visualize the structure of a paper, and develop the main points. Having an outline also makes it easier to see how each paragraph will connect back to the thesis and the main points of your argument. The first step is to write a clear thesis or purpose statement as a guide. Then, organize your outline in a way that best fits the requirements for the paper. Carefully read the assignment description, and make sure the structure of your outline addresses every requirement.  

The next step is to create a list with all the main points you want to make, and add any evidence and research that will help support those points. Just to try to organize your main ideas into a bulleted or numbered list. Under each point, indent and include the points you will discuss in each paragraph. You do not need to write full sentences in an outline, but make sure to include enough information to help you remember what you were going to say when you come back to the outline when writing your paper. The last stage is to carefully revise, edit, and make any changes to your outline that will help the paper flow better. It is important to not rush this stage. Remember, at least fifty percent of your time on task should be spent on planning. So don’t be intimidated by a blank page. Take a deep breath, commit to do the appropriate amount of planning, and know that it will help make the writing process more efficient and less stressful.

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