Seminary Syllabus Strategy #3: A Writing Plan for Every Major Paper

• September 6, 2009 • Comments (3)

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Seminary will give you plenty of practice writing papers. By the time I graduated with my M.Div, I could easily write ten pages about nothing. (Some would allege that my sermons are exactly that…but I digress.)

Writing papers on the scale that seminary requires can be daunting if you haven’t done it before. Ten page and fifteen page papers are pretty common; even twenty-five page papers aren’t unheard of. Most undergraduate work doesn’t require the level of writing that seminary requires.

I highly recommend creating a writing plan for each major paper you’ll write this semester. Here’s how.

First, Break It Down.

To create a writing plan, begin by breaking down the project into manageable tasks. Make a list of everything you’ll need to do:

  • Assess topic choices
  • Choose a topic
  • Get topic approved by your professor
  • Find sources
  • Research your sources and take notes on them
  • Formulate a thesis
  • Create an outline
  • Write first draft
  • Revise, and write final draft
  • Format and print the paper
  • Proofread
  • Reprint if necessary and submit

The level of detail you choose is partly a function of how you think about the project, and how big the assignment is.

Second, Estimate the Time

Second, estimate how much actual clock time will be needed for each task in the breakdown, and write it down. For instance,

  • Assess topic choices (15 minutes)
  • Choose a topic (5 minutes)
  • Get topic approved by your professor (5 minutes)
  • Find sources (3 hours)
  • Research your sources and take notes on them. (6 hours)
  • Formulate a thesis (20 minutes)
  • Create an outline (20 minutes)
  • Write first draft (4 hours)
  • Revise, and write final draft. (3 hours)
  • Proofread. (30 minutes)

Your time estimates will vary depending on the size of each project and the pace at which you work. Watch yourself as you make your first estimates about how long each task will take. Very often, our estimates prove to be way off, in either direction. As you make note of how long these tasks actually take, you’ll be able to make more precise plans for future writing projects.

Third, Reserve the Time Now

Finally-this is important-reserve a block of time in your calendar for each task of the paper. You’ll want to begin anywhere from one to four weeks before the due date. I’d suggest that you plan to finish at least a couple of days before the due date. This will give some leeway if you fall behind schedule.

If possible, start the paper early. In some classes, you have to cover a certain amount of material before you’re prepared to write some papers, but not always.

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Category: Academics, Time Management

About the Author

Mark Warnock is the founder and General Editor of Seminary Survival Guide.com. He serves as Associate Pastor of First Baptist Church of Columbia, Illinois, and is a Ph.D student in Christian Philosophy at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is working with Ed Eubanks on a book on how to survive seminary.

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Comments (3)

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  1. Ed Eubanks says:

    Amen again. Great post.

    A wise leader once told me that, “work expands to fill the time allowed it.” What I found about papers– my own and everyone else’s– is that his statement is never more true.

    Because of my work schedule during seminary, I HAD to finish a lot of my assignments according to a schedule I planned at the beginning of the semester. This meant that a number of my assignments were completed well before they were due, and it was so tempting to continue to piddle with them, researching more, writing more, editing and re-editing. There were many assignments that I still took most of the night-before-the-due-date to complete.

    But every time I followed the advice you give above, my semesters were smoother, less stressful, and I got more full nights of sleep.

  2. I just wanted to thank y’all for all of your great posts. They have been very helpful, and have given me some great ideas.

  3. I just finished one of those 25 pagers. Unfortunately, I was reminded the hard way to plan the work and work the plan.

    Thanks for your thought provoking posts.

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