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​Less procrastination, more collaboration

Final papers season has arrived, and for many of us, the grueling writing process it brings with it can be dread-inducing as we slog through piles of articles, open soul-crushing numbers of browser tabs and agonizingly inch toward required page counts. Consequently, we fall into a vicious cycle of procrastination, where the prospect of starting to write becomes increasingly daunting as time passes, until we are left with no choice but to pull frantic all-nighters before the deadline. Research on student writing habits find that this fear and anxiety many students feel about writing is far from uncommon. One study found that 80 percent of students interviewed procrastinated on more than 80 percent of their course-related research assignments, and that more than 85 percent of all students across the disciplines experience writing difficulties at some point during their university career.

Writing does not always have to be accompanied by such an anxiety-inducing haze, however. Initiatives at universities across the world are pushing to help students overcome procrastination and experience writing as a joyful rather than stressful process. Long Night Against Procrastination is one such event held by university writing centers around the world, including Duke’s, where students can obtain late-night writing and research help, while participating in stress-relieving activities. These events aim to help familiarize students with the resources that libraries and writing centers can provide, improve research and writing habits and allow students to experience writing as a collaborative, enjoyable process.

Long Night Against Procrastination has been successful on a number of campuses because it tackles some of the root causes of procrastination on writing. Many students associate writing with lonely suffering, linking the act of writing with negativity. Far from being a solitary activity, though, writing is most effective when undertaken collaboratively. Talking through ideas with peers, professors or writing consultants can spark inspiration and help students articulate their thoughts more effectively. Rather than using the Writing Studio as a “fix-it” shop where our research paper ills can be cured with the flick of a red pen, students should use it as a chance to talk through their ideas, structure and style. Currently, 25 percent of first-year students utilize the Writing Studio, but the resources of the studio are available for far more students to derive inspiration from consultants. Actively seeking out support throughout the writing process can not only ward off the urge to procrastinate, but also help jumpstart and hone our ideas through constructive conversations.

The pressure brought by a graded assignment and the belief that writing is not relevant to our academic paths also contributes to the feeling that writing assignments are merely unpleasant tasks we must suffer through. Viewing writing as a long-haul growth process rather than short-term obstacles is an important shift in perspective. Writing helps us develop a powerful toolbox of communication skills across a variety of genres, whether in science, math or literature. The small victories of being able to convincingly express an important idea, create beauty in words and develop a unique voice are some of the intrinsic joys of the writing process.

While the process of growth requires time, for students dreading the thought of hunkering down in Perkins to start that final paper, tap into your writing support system and find joy in the journey.

Correction: The article previously misstated the percentage of first-year students who utilize the Writing Studio. The Chronicle regrets the error. 

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