In an article published in The Writing Center Journal in 2002, Barbara A. Fritzsche and Beth Rapp Young presented findings suggesting that Writing Center visits were likely to help writers to procrastinate less in their writing process and that writers’ overall levels of satisfaction in their writing would be higher. Time management is a critical academic skill that will make the difference between a deep learning process and a shallow one.
When a writer approaches a big writing task as a process of related activities that develop over time – days, weeks, or months – then, as the old saying goes, the joy is in the journey. A high-quality written product is the result of hard work and effective time management. The importance of time management in writing is underscored by Fritzsche and Young’s article, and in what follows I highlight several of the most important take-aways from this research:
1. Procrastination seems fairly common amongst college writers. Fritzsche and Young quoted prior research, including a study by Laura J. Solomon and Esther D. Rothblum in which 40% of the 291 college student participants in a study “reported that they always or nearly always procrastinated on writing a term paper.” Fritzsche and Young’s research results were similar—in their study, “38% of participants reported that they ‘nearly always’ or ‘always’ procrastinated on writing a term paper.” But all that these numbers show is that procrastination is fairly common in college settings. These figures do not, however, tell us how procrastination was defined for the students in each study. If we take these figures seriously, then we are also assuming that actually less than half of college students procrastinate in their writing. Other forms of research–besides students’ self-reports–could provide a more accurate view of the role of time management in student’s writing lives. But the student self-reporting is still interesting.
2. Procrastination has many negative performance-related consequences. Fritzsche and Young observed that the tendency to procrastinate often had negative consequences. “For example, participants who tended to procrastinate overall, and those who tended to procrastinate on writing, reading, and studying specifically, generally earned lower grades in writing-intensive courses.” They also found that people who had a high tendency to procrastinate were “more likely to write papers later than intended and less likely to be satisfied with their writing process.”
3. Writing center visits can increase one’s satisfaction with writing. Fritzsche and Young found that their research participants who visited the writing center for feedback had “higher satisfaction and fewer procrastination behaviors” than those who did not. Academic writing is designed to provide learning opportunities. A writing center visit can be a self-imposed deadline, which will allow the writer to test his or her ideas before a real audience—a sort of dress rehearsal for the final performance.
4. Writing center feedback may be more helpful than feedback from a friend, but sought after less. Fritzsche and Young wrote: “Of those writers who sought feedback from multiple sources, 31% reported that the teacher provided the most helpful responses, while writing center consultants provided the second most helpful responses (22%). Friend (other than roommate) was the most frequently used source of feedback, but it was only the third most helpful (19%).”
5. Feedback on one’s writing, including from teachers, does not always correlate with higher grades. Fritzsche and Young reported that, “None of the feedback from any sources studied (i.e., roommate, other friend, family member, writing center consultant, other) was significantly associated with higher overall GPA, course grades, or paper grades.” As with many things, there are some learning experiences that simply cannot be captured or measured in a final grade or assessment. Other aspects of this study demonstrate that learning and satisfaction seem to increase when writing is not a solo activity—when others are consulted in the process. (This observation about grades could also open up a lengthy discussion about research design and expectations—conversations that are common in graduate level research methods courses).
6. People who seek feedback generally start writing earlier than those who do not. Fritzsche and Young found that participants who sought out feedback either from writing center consultants or from “other sources” also “started writing their papers significantly earlier than participants who didn’t receive feedback.” Fritzsche and Young also categorized their research participants into those with low procrastination tendency and those with high procrastination tendency. The writing center visits proved most helpful, as we might expect, to those with high procrastination tendencies.
7. A writing center appointment may help writers even before they walk in the door. Fritzsche and Young found that three-fourths of the writers in their study had “already begun their drafts by the time they used the writing center” and that, of these, 59% brought with them a “full-length draft.” It may be, as Fritzsche and Young go on to hypothesize, that just the idea of the pending writing center appointment is enough motivation to write more, and write earlier, than one otherwise would do.
Some final observations: My own experience tells me that starting early, and including a variety of behaviors in the process, is essential to developing a strong piece of writing. Those behaviors include, among other things, intensive reading, journal writing, talking to people about what I am reading/writing, surfing the web for general information, seeking out experts on a topic, and taking copious notes. It’s also important to schedule down-time into one’s writing process. The research shared by Fritzsche and Young underscores the importance of time management in the writing process, which is a good reminder for most of us, if we’re being honest.
Fritzsche, Barbara A. and Beth Rapp Young. Writing Center Journal 23.1 (Fall-Winter 2002). Print.
Solomon, Laura J. and Esther D. Rothblum. “Academic Procrastination: Frequency and Cognitive-Behavioral Correlates.” Journal of Counseling Psychology, 31 (1984): 503-509.