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Writing Assignments: Maintaining Your Train of Thought and Avoiding Obstacles on the Track

Josh, 4th Year, Kinesiology

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I have always preferred to focus on one project at a time. I tend to pick an assignment to focus on and immerse myself in it. Once I start working on something I want to keep working until it is finished and I can check it off my to-do list.

If your brain works anything like mine, a million ideas will pop into your head as you start to write or plan your essay and you just have to get them out. But sometimes that isn’t possible. Our schedules just don’t work that way. Between other classes, clubs, committees, and social life, you’re bound to have another commitment that gets in the way and forces you to focus on something else.

These interruptions can be a challenge when writing a long research paper or essay. However, like all of life’s challenges, there are strategies to help overcome interruptions in the writing process. Here are a few strategies that I use to help maintain my train of thought when I am writing long assignments over time.  

  1. Start early: This may seem like an obvious one, and I’m sure you have heard it before, but starting early is especially important for longer writing assignments that you may have to put on hold for a while mid-semester. Taking a quick look at the assignment instructions will help you estimate how long it will take and how early you need to start.If you anticipate interruptions, you will be able to plan ahead and you won’t end up scrambling the night before the deadline. If starting an assignment is often overwhelming for you, SASS has a great collection of resources on managing large assignments, procrastination and time management.
  2. Make an outline: Making an outline is an important first step towards writing any paper. It will help you organize and plan your essay, which will make the actual writing stage much easier. The outline will also provide natural sub-divisions of your paper that will help you set goals for completing different components over time. If you return to working on your paper after a brief time away from it, the outline will help you become re-acquainted with the work so you can get right back into it. Check out the SASS resource on developing an outline.
  3. Set goals: Long writing assignment can seem overwhelming, and people often struggle with where to begin and how to pace their progression towards completing the assignment. Settings goals for completing certain components of the assignment will help you budget your time, and will make the assignment seem much more manageable. Examples of such a goal might be “complete the outline by week 4” or “finish writing 5 pages by reading week.” The outline that you create may be a useful starting point for developing your goals.
  4. Write yourself notes: Many times I have been working on an assignment and suddenly I realise it’s time for class, a meeting, or an intense squash match. I’m in the midst of writing, with a whole paragraph or outline planned out, and I know that I’ll never remember my train of thought the next time I sit down to continue working. When this happens, I take the last 5 minutes before I leave to jot down everything I had been thinking or planning to write. Simple jot notes like “write about novel’s setting” or “use evidence from Smith et al. study”. Anything that will help you remember what you were thinking. By writing notes for yourself, you will be able to pick up right where you left off when you last worked on the paper.
  5. Keep track of sources: When you are writing in segments or over a longer period of time, it can be difficult to keep track of where you found your information. However, appropriate referencing is extremely important to avoid academic dishonesty and plagiarism. To keep track of my sources while writing, I will often paste the link of a source or the name of an author next to relevant information as a temporary placeholder to be replaced later by the formal citation. Reference management software like EndNote is also helpful, especially when using a numeric citation style, because it will automatically adjust the numbering if you add another source earlier in the paper.

Everyone has their own methods, and what works for me may not work for you. However, if you often find yourself trying to write a whole paper in one sitting, these tips might help save you some late nights, and you’ll be on the track to stress-free writing. Next stop: success!

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Peer Blog: New Year, New Me?

By Monica O’Rourke, 4th year Con-Ed History/English student

With the end of frost week and the realization that there’s more to being back at school than catching up with friends, the inevitable cycle of procrastination and cramming begins. Despite the well-intended New Year’s resolutions made on January 1st, it’s easy to fall back into bad habits such as putting off readings until the night before class. Luckily, that’s where Learning Strategies comes in.

Motivation is defined as, “the reason or reasons one has for acting or behaving in a particular way,” and one of the biggest myths is that motivation will appear and allow you to do all of your work with a smile on your face.

Often, this just results in procrastination and panic. As humans, what makes us do something is the idea of the reward we will receive in the end; however, what most of us don’t realize is that that there are two types of rewards and one yields better results than the other. Extrinsic rewards are tangible things, such as your parents giving you money for a good grade. In other words, an extrinsic reward is an incentive, a false motivator. You’re doing the work for a material reward, not because you actually want to. This often means a job not done as well as it could have been if you were motivated by an intrinsic reward. While this type of reward is not tangible, it is a feeling you have inside you when you complete a task; be that task making you feel proud or satisfied or delighted, it is a feeling of elation you have within yourself. Now you may be wondering what motivation has to do with procrastination, and the answer is, a lot. People consider the mounting panic of procrastinating as motivation, however the reward for that is extrinsic (i.e. your teacher NOT giving you late marks).

The first step in making your resolution not to procrastinate is to acknowledge that it’s a habit and the most effective way to change a habit is to have a complete change of attitude and forming new habits.

Winston Churchill once said, “You will never reach your destination if you stop and throw stones at every dog that barks.”

Meaning, if you let yourself get distracted, you’ll never get to the end or your goal. This is common enough – often as students we have a million and two thoughts running through our heads and get easily distracted as we remember yet another thing we have to do this week. I find that the best thing for me to do is to have an empty sticky note beside me and when I’m doing my work, if I remember something I have to do, I write it down so I’m not stressing about remembering it and detracting from my readings.

Some other tips and tricks courtesy of the Queen’s SASS website have some of my personal favourite anti-procrastinating tips including:

  • Setting realistic goals (Once, I told myself I could do an entire psych module in a night- NOT possible, however, a single chapter might have been more doable)
  • Create a weekly schedule (You get a visual of everything that is due for the week and what readings must be done when. I have an organizer that at the beginning of the semester I put down all my due dates and add readings throughout the semester)
  • Watch out for the “downward spiral” that includes falling way behind in class (ESPECIALLY if the class is challenging for you, go in and talk to your professor or TA)

These are just some of the strategies, you can find more at: https://sass.queensu.ca/motivation-and-procrastination/

And now approach the rest of the semester with the wise words of Michael Scott (Wayne Gretkzy) in mind: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” So approach the semester with a can-do attitude and your anti-procrastination steps as your guide to really, actually achieve your New Year’s Resolutions (for once).

For more anti-procrastination tips, check out the Peer Learning Assistant run event ProcrastiNOTon February 3rd from 12:00-5:00 pm at Stauffer Library in the Speaker’s Corner.

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Peer Blog: Take a breather #Relatable

By: Hareer Al-Qaragolie 3rd year, History & English

My whole life, I knew I was going to travel away from Jordan to finish my undergraduate degree. It was a given, and I got used to the idea. If anything, I was excited. The only thing I was advised to do was to focus on my studies and adapt to them. Seemed pretty easy, so I didn’t give it much thought until move-in day. No one told me about the realness of homesickness, the added responsibility of being alone, the culture shock that occasionally hit me, or the bad grade that I would get on my first essay.  Coping with it all affected my academics, and I felt completely and utterly alone, thinking everyone was getting ahead except for me. It was moments like these where I would get lost and start losing sight of my priorities. I didn’t find a balance between my education and my mental health. All I knew was that one overthrew the other.


As a third year, I can’t begin to tell you how much easier it gets. What helps me the most is talking to my peers, housemates, profs, or anyone who may relate to my situation. It’s so comforting to hear that you are not alone when it comes to situations like this. Whether it is that you and your friend got the same not-so-good mark on a quiz, to ranting about how you stayed up all night at Stauffer to finish an essay, it gives a sense of ease and comfort to know you’re not the only one. However, it also puts things in perspective for you.


I started making daily plans, check lists, and time tables, as well as making sure I have a time limit for when I need to stop working so I won’t overwhelm myself. Trust me when I say once you feel like you have too much on your plate, you start to focus less. In time, you will start to realize you have your own academic strategies that fit your timetable, and you’ll naturally see your progress.


A few things to keep in mind when you feel like you are having a hard time in focusing:


  1. Use your resources: I can’t stress enough how helpful campus resources are. Also, they are free! So please use them. What helps me the most in keeping my grades up is definitely the Writing Center at SASS!
  2. Call your family: I know it can be a stretch sometimes for some people, especially with the busy lifestyle of a Queen’s student, but they love hearing from you! Try giving them updates, spilling some feelings on some hard courses, or ask on how they are doing. Also, calling your parents can be a nice little break from studying all that material before an exam. Listening to loving and encouraging words from people who love you is always good to hear.
  3. Talk to your friends and set up study dates: this can be tricky since friends can sometimes be a distraction, but there is nothing wrong with having a nice 15-minute break from studying where you can take your mind off of things a bit. Also, who doesn’t like to complain to someone about how hard the material is…
  4. Plan ahead: whether you use the ABC method, cue cards or to-do lists, start planning from the most important to least important task. I can’t tell you how relieved and accomplished I feel when I check a box off in my planner; it gets me motivated all the time.



I wish you all the best in your studies and your well-being. You are here to learn, so don’t push yourself over the limit when it feels too much. Remember there are so many resources on campus to help you in any way or need. Never hesitate to stop by the SASS office, or send us an e-mail if you have any questions about anything.


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A Spongebob Squarepants Guide to Writing Essay Exams

By Becky Bando, 4th year Con-Ed/English student

“I’m Ready! I’m Ready! I’m Ready!” This is probably one of Spongebob’s most popular lines and it is how I wish I felt every time I enter an essay exam. Writing an essay during an exam is actually very different from how you would write one at home, and so this guide will show the different approaches students take when writing these exams. But like making a Krabby Patty, you will see that some approaches work better than others. So if you have an essay exam coming up and enjoyed watching Spongebob when you were little, then this guide is for you!


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By Becky Bando, 4th year Con-Ed/English student

November the month of nonstop essays, reports, presentations, exams, and studying. But most importantly, it is also the month of nonstop colds as students focus more on their academics than on taking care of themselves. It is absolutely the worst feeling to be sick during one of the most chaotic months of school when it is crucial to be at your healthiest. Yes I am currently sitting in my pajamas in a bed of tissues with a bright red nose as I am typing this blog, so I am feeling a little salty. But believe it or not, while I was sick for what felt like every month last year during school, this is the first time that I have gotten sick this semester (and I have a roommate who is constantly sick). I have made it a goal this year to do more things that will prevent me from getting sick, and so I have decided to write this blog to help both of us.


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A Humanities Student’s Best Friend

By: Jack Williams 3rd year, English student.

In my opinion, the most useful single book a student of the Humanities can own is not a dictionary, a thesaurus, or any “Great Work”. It is a reading journal.

My girlfriend made me one as a gift last Christmas. She intended it to serve as a forum in which to preserve my thoughts and feelings on various books I’ve read, a convenient space to store treasured quotes and shortcuts to particularly memorable passages, and a way to track each step in my literary journey; essentially, it was a bibliophile’s dream.

It also turned out to be an extraordinarily useful academic tool.


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Is that something I should be doing? Finding your own learning structure

Naomi Chernos, 4th Year English/Physics


Friends and peers are great resources for picking up ideas on how to study. Talking to other people about study strategies and course content, and hearing about how other people structure their time is a great idea, and I’m not about to tell you not to do it. In fact, I think learning as many different ways as possible to find academic (and general) success is incredibly helpful. I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but in the face of stress and confusion of midterm season easy to forget the main caveat to this approach: someone else’s approach to studying isn’t necessarily the best approach for you.


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Hitting the Reset Button

By: Veronica Sewilski, Class of 2021, Nursing


One of my favourite times of the year is September because it’s the perfect opportunity to give myself a fresh new start for the school year. It’s true for most of us: maybe you want to start eating healthier? Become more organized? Go to every single one of your classes? It’s the best time to think about what you want to accomplish to become a better version of yourself.


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What nobody tells you about being a perfectionist in university

By: Veronica, Nursing, Class of 2021


I guess you could say that I’ve been a perfectionist for as long as I can remember. I was raised with the mentality that if something was not perfect, you start again (and again, and again…). This mindset has stuck with me my whole life. Before coming to Queen’s, this trait was quite beneficial for me: I got really good grades, I was very involved in the community and with extra-curriculars, and I was well-liked by teachers and employers. I’m sure a lot of you grew up this way too.


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Peer Blog: Playing Catch (Up)!

By: Samantha Simpson, Second Year Psychology Student

You were so totally going to start studying for exams 2 weeks ago. Yep, you were going to ace every single one of them, turn your 2.0 GPA into a 4.3 GPA in the process, and make your mom proud. But then the second season of your favourite show (finally!) came out on Netflix, so naturally you had to catch up on your binge-watching first. By the time you finished, night had fallen, and sleep was calling to you. And then you just… didn’t. For the next 14 days. And now exams are, um, next week? Can we rewind this thing?

If this sounds anything like you, be assured that all hope is not lost! It’s time to get some serious studying done and I’m here (along with some handy tips) to help you out.


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