Amy Sexton, Kaplan University Writing Center Tutor
At some point in their college careers, most students procrastinate. Procrastinating can lead to substandard work on assignments and failing grades in any course, and while it is undoubtedly detrimental for most all college assignments, it can be especially problematic for writing assignments. First, procrastination robs writers of time they need to spend thinking about a topic and planning their writing. Secondly, procrastinating may mean that student writers are unable to take full advantage of writing center support services.
Many college courses culminate with a substantial writing assignment that requires students to use and build upon concepts they have studied throughout the course. Usually, these projects are previewed in the beginning of the course, so students can start them early. Fortunately, students do not need to be in front of a computer or at a desk to begin thinking about writing assignments. If they read about and preview their writing assignments early enough, they can then ponder over their topics as they go about their daily activities and responsibilities. They can mull over the topic, process it, and explore it. They can do this during idle time while waiting to see a doctor or to pick up their children after school or sports practices. They can contemplate their topic while standing in line at the grocery store, getting ready for the day, eating lunch, or driving to and from work. At these impromptu times, they can begin to craft solid plans for upcoming assignments. They can think through their thesis statements and how they plan to develop them within their body paragraphs. They can consider the type of research they may need to support each of their key points. Putting writing assignments off until the last minute deprives students of this valuable time to think and plan and can lead to sloppy, plagiarized research, ineffective thesis statements, and lack of organization.
Procrastinating can also be especially problematic when it comes to writing assignments because waging a battle against time makes it difficult for students to fully utilize writing support services such as live tutoring and paper review. The Kaplan University Writing Center receives lots of paper review requests asking tutors to review papers that are due within a few hours. Our turnaround time varies and can go up to 72 hours depending on the volume of paper submissions, so submitting very close to the time before the paper is due can mean that the student receives a review after the paper is due; students will not be able to make suggested changes or improvements before the submission deadline. Even if the paper review is received before the due date, procrastinators will often still be rushed to find the time to apply the tutor’s suggestions completely. Similarly, students who wait until the last minute to attend live tutoring for writing help may find that they do not have time to implement all of the tutor’s suggestions. For example, they may think they have written a final draft – while the tutor may see problems with organization and thesis development or logical support, issues that may take more time to fix than students have allotted.
As educators, we can help students realize that their best work is not done right before the deadline or easily accomplished in all-night homework sessions hurriedly researching and writing after a long day of work, classes, household chores, and child care. We can talk about final projects early and often in our courses. We can remind students of the benefits of spending time with their topic and using down times to plan out writing projects. We can also encourage them to set up realistic time frames for seeking writing support and applying it to their work. We can talk to them about practical ways to avoid procrastination and direct them to resources like the KUWC Effective Writing Podcast by Kurtis Clements, How Not to Procrastinate. How do you talk to students about procrastination and writing?