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How to Write a Paper in 24 Hours

Updated on January 4, 2015

Yikes! What a bad predicament. Remember, you're just going through the general steps to writing a paper, only faster.

  1. Gather all your sources.
  2. Highlight a number of phrases, quotes, and information pertinent to your topic.
  3. Make a vague outline to better sort where to put each phrase or quote.
  4. Quote some. Paraphrase the rest.
  5. Keep repeating until you reach word count.
  6. Don't forget the works cited/resources page

The Paper

Imagine the scenario: You are a high school or college student, and you have a paper due in 24 hours. Maybe you procrastinated until the last minute, or maybe this is a busy and stressful week where everything is due and you just never got to your paper. It's a research paper, a minimum of 1500 words, and must have a number of citations within the paper, as well as a works cited page. What do you do?

Do you plagiarize from one source and put several sources you just found on Google? No. That's absolutely the quickest way to get a zero on your paper and possibly some punishment. Teachers, whether you believe it or not, do check citations. There are now also websites like turnitin.com that check how similar your paper is to another source on the Internet.

Nevertheless, the urge is there, right? You might get away with it this one time, right? Well, if you are willing to risk it, there's no way of stopping you; just know that if you plagiarize on something very important, you run the risk of getting the law involved as well.

Here are a few tips to help you avoid plagiarizing that paper due the next day:

Use your resources wisely.

This is a no-brainer, but nonetheless important. If your school grants you access to articles that are peer-reviewed, or that have been published in magazines, go to those first. They are by far the most credible sources you will have. If the articles are collected in a database, like Gale Power Search, use its citation resources for MLA and APA. You might have to alter the data slightly to fit with the current formatting regulations, but it's easier than needing to do all of the citation.

Use Wikipedia.

Wikipedia is not always the most credible site on the Internet. However, at the bottom of any page that is fleshed out, there is usually a list of at least three resources people used in editing the page. The websites listed generally are very credible, so open those up and use them for added resources. Use a mixture of these sources and the articles mentioned above until you either have enough sources for your paper or you feel you have enough substance from each source to write your paper.

Skim through each article and highlight some poignant points.

Honestly, you aren't going to have enough time to methodically read each article and make notes. For each article or website you have selected as resources, read the first few sentences of each paragraph to see where the article is going. For each phrase you really like, highlight it. Those will be your citations later. Make a note of what each article/website is about, and especially note the differences in each source, because that will be important. Start writing the paper. Begin wherever you feel comfortable beginning. Some people are genuinely good at writing introductions. Others feel more comfortable writing the body. Just remember that the introduction and conclusion should take care of 50-100 words each. Start with the basics of each paragraph. Insert the quotes where you want them, and be sure to cite them within your paper.

Have you ever procrastinated on a paper?

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Start paraphrasing.

Note that paraphrasing isn't copying and pasting what is in one of your sources, nor is it changing a couple words in a paragraph. Here are a few tips on how to paraphrase a paragraph you want to use:

Change the structure of the sentence. If it's a simple sentence, consider combining it with another sentence, or adding a dependent clause. If the sentence has a dependent clause, consider switching the clause to another part of the sentence, and so forth.

Unless paragraph is told in a series of steps and must be in the order it is found in, try changing the placement of the facts. Put something in the middle of the paragraph at the beginning, put the beginning at the end, and put the end somewhere in the middle.

Change as many key words as you can without destroying the meaning of the paragraph. This includes substituting action verbs and using synonyms for nouns.

Don't forget to cite the source after the last sentence using the facts from the particular source you used.

Start fleshing out the paper.

At this point, you might have anywhere from 600-900 words total. It's nowhere near enough, but don't panic. Go back, and look at your paper. Are there places where you can clarify what you mean, or explain further what you are trying to say? Are there a few filler facts you can add in? If you are writing a literary critique, are there spots where you can add your own personal input? Do so to each place in the paper you can. Make sure that you are adding relevant fluff to your paper, however, or your teacher will call you out on it.

Once you have exhausted your current knowledge, and you are still a few hundred short, repeat the first few steps and integrate them into your paper, even if you have to start a few new paragraphs. Remember to always modify what you don't put in quotation marks, and always cite the source you received the information from.

Once you have finished all of these steps and have reached your goal, give yourself a pat on the back. You managed to finish a very stressful paper in time to turn in without having to resort to copying someone else's work. You should be proud of yourself.

Note that if you actually managed your time well, you could go back and edit more thoroughly, check for the absolute best sources, have time to really think over what your own opinions on the topic at hand, etc. While this method is pretty good for a quickly written paper, it is by no means only for hastily done work. For instance, if you started a week before the paper is due, you could do about one step per day and really get it down.

Either way, happy writing, and good luck.

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