Twelve Steps to the One Night Essay

Step 1. You know what this is going to be.

  1. It’s me. You know what the first step is going to be.


This isn’t ideal. But a lot of people get themselves into this position.

A  lot … Yes. A LOT … of people have tried to write an essay in one night.

Some of them managed it.


And some of them even lived.


So clear your desk. Get out all the stuff you’ve got and …

… did I say? …

Screen Shot 2015-06-29 at 4.08.19 pm

Step 2. Read and highlight what you have.

Read everything you have. Highlight everything that stands out. Highlight everything you agree with in green and a few things you don’t agree with in orange.

(Earlier, I made up an example question. Let’s use that.)

“Compare the representation of dogs in the two movies, Bolt and  Wallace and Grommit: The Curse of the Were Rabbit. Which representation is nearer to the nature of real dogs? Discuss.”

(Yes, I do recognise that it’s not a question you’re ever likely to get, but it works to illustrate what I mean.)

So, reading and highlighting … In our example you might be highlighting a movie review of Wallace and Grommit which says : “Wallace is utterly charming”.

You might want to quote that. Highlight in green.

Or maybe you have a book that says: ‘all dogs need to know who is in control.’  You might not think that Bolt demonstrates that. Highlight that in orange. (Highlight a photocopy, not the book! Or stick a post it note on the book.)

Do this with everything you have and then …

Step 3. Tell someone all about it.

Pull out the essay plan and go and see your mother.


No. I  mean it.

NOT  because she’s going to save you from the big bad teacher. No sickies here.

And of course it might not be your mother. But someone like that.

You need someone you can persuade to listen.

Pick someone who will do it helpfully. They don’t have to be good at English. All they have to do is act as a giant pair of ears.

ears cropped

A dog or an the imaginary friend would be OK, if that’s all you’ve got.

But humans would actually be better here.

Humans might ask you helpful questions. They will also tell you if you’re getting off the track and poke you if you stop talking, and also they will hopefully stop you from panicking.

The aim is for you to say all your thoughts out loud so that you can hear them.

Then you can grab them and write them down.


So. Tell the Giant Ears what the question is. Then take all the stuff you have highlighted and describe it to them.

Then tell them what you think about it.

Then write down what you said.

Then talk again.

Step 4. Decide what the essay is going to say.

While you are talking, try to find  your overall answer to the question. Use as many words from the question as you can.

In the example you might want your essay to argue that: “The representation of Bolt is closer to the true nature of dogs than Wallace.” Note, I stole most of the words from the question.

Now download the plan of the Introduction paragraph.

Screen Shot intro template

Write your overall answer in the Sentence 3 (Answer the Question) box.

It might not be in perfect sentences at this point. Notes are OK.

Step 5: Find topics for each paragraph.

While you are talking to the Ears, try to find some reasons for your overall answer. You can refer to the material you have, especially the stuff you have highlighted in green.

Download the Template for Middle Paragraphs and print a copy for each middle paragraph.

Screen Shot middle template

Get all of these except two, and write your reasons for your overall answer down in the Sentence 1 (topic sentence) boxes. 

You might be doing one or two or more of these, depending on how long the essay needs to be.

BUT leave the plans for two middle paragraphs empty.

For example:  “Bolt is more realistic because he is flexible. He moves like a real dog. He has teeth and feet like a real dog and he is furry.”

“The music, action and colours of Bolt emphasis the way he is energetic and feels things strongly. He doesn’t sit and think. He acts and the way he feels changes quickly.”

Step 6: A complication paragraph.

Life isn’t simple. What you think about the answer to the essay question won’t be simple. There will be complications you can add. Write a complication down in the first sentence (topic sentence) box of the next middle paragraph (one of the ones you left empty).

For example: Bolt is flexible and energetic, but there are things about Grommit which are also true to real dogs.  Both dogs are faithful and loving, like real dogs. Some older dogs are calmer like Grommit.

Step 7. Fill in the empty boxes.

Leave the Giant Ears. They have done their work.

UNLESS they are really into it now and are prepared to help you with the rest of the steps. In which case LUCKY YOU.

Look at the plans for the middle paragraphs. Try to fill in the boxes for evidence and examples from what you’ve got highlighted. If you can remember anything or think up any new stuff to fill in the boxes, do that now. Or use the ideas of your helper if they are still with you.

Writing in sentences would be great if you can do it but remember, sentences are not necessary at this stage. Notes will do.

You will hopefully have enough for most of the boxes. Maybe not all, but this is an emergency, right? If there are empty boxes, don’t worry, just keep moving. Some examples or interesting comments might come to you as you go.

Step 8. A contradiction paragraph.

Now IMAGINE that you have arrived at school and you are discussing this essay. (Yes –  this would never happen. I get that.)

But IMAGINE you discussed the essay with a friend, and the friend said that his or her answer was the opposite of yours.


So, in our example, imagine someone insisted that Grommit is a more realistic dog than Bolt.

Ask them ONE reason. They only get one. Imagine what that reason might be.  Write down their reason in the First Sentence (topic sentence) box of the last (empty) middle paragraph. This is your “contradiction” paragraph.

For example: Grommit is more like a real dog because he can’t talk. He is silent and can only communicate by leading people to things. Bolt talks.

Now argue with your imaginary opponent. Tell them why you don’t agree, with help from your green highlights. Write your arguments in the evidence and examples boxes of this same paragraph.

But Bolt is still more realistic because Grommit’s behaviours are all completely human. He knits and reads etc.

Step 9.  Three important sentences: Definition. Hook. Conclusion.

Think up way of defining the topic and write something about that in the first box of the plan for the Introduction paragraph.

Think up an intriguing hook (something interesting you can say that grab a reader’s attention) for the box for the second sentence of the introduction paragraph.

Think up a dramatic opinion or statement to conclude with and put it in the last box of the conclusion paragraph.

Screen Shot conclusion template

Look at the first paragraph.

Screen Shot intro template

Look at  Box 3, for what you wrote as the overall answer.

Write the same thing in different words.  Put the new sentence in the  first box of the conclusion paragraph.

Screen Shot conclusion template

Step 10. Put it into sentences.

Put the plans next to the computer and type the whole thing out in sentences.


Do not try to make the words clever or beautiful. Do not worry if the English is bad.

Just imagine you are telling your helpful friend what the paragraph is about and what the evidence is and what example you have chosen. Write down what you say to them. Just try to put something on the page that represents your plan and looks like English.

This is very VERY hard to do without freaking and jamming up.

If you had more time you could do things that would help. But, hey, maybe next time. Just try to imagine you are telling someone, use your own words, keep your flow and don’t panic.

Maybe the actual helpful friend will make you a Milo.


This is not advised if the HF is a dog.

If it isn’t working …

have a look at the pages called 12. The Actual Actual Writing and 13. How to Make Writing Really Easy.

Step 11. Polish the Writing. 

If you have time, you can go through the essay and fix up the writing. Correct the grammar and improve the expression (the way you have said things) and check the spelling. This is the time to worry about whether the English is correct.

This might be the time to ask the friend to help again, but you are the one who needs to be at the keyboard.

Step 12. Collapse.


Cry if you have to.

Probably better to laugh hysterically, though. Preferably with your helper.

* If you can’t do step 11. 

… and if there is no one who can help you …

I would take the rough draft in to the teacher. Tell them how much work you have put into this (maybe exaggerate just a teeny bit here, but don’t think you are fooling anyone). Ask them to help you check the English.

And look, how could they say no?

Because, after all, you did a lot. You got yourself to this point IN ONE NIGHT.

In fact, you are a bit of a legend.


 Thanks to these people for the images

“Air Force Warrior Games athlete Matt Sanders hugs teammate Adam Tanverdi after completing a track event during the Warrior Games at the U.S. Air Force Academy Track in Colorado Springs, Colo., May 14, 2010” BY English: Staff Sgt. Desiree N. Palacios [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“Dreaming of better days’ by Elizabeth Ashley Jerman on Flickr under Creative Commons licence Attribution 2.0 Generic

“H.M. The Queen Mother Allan Warren crop” by H.M._The_Queen_Mother_Allan_Warren.jpg: Allan warrenderivative work: Sodacan (talk) – H.M._The_Queen_Mother_Allan_Warren.jpg. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

“VulpesZerdaScratching cropped” by ChrisStubbs, cropped by I do not exist – cropped version of Image:VulpesZerdaScratching.JPG, originally by ChrisStubbs. –

“Catching Butterflies” by Ida Waugh via Wikimedia

“Lyndon Johnson and Richard Russell”by Yoichi Ikamoto via Wikimedia

Cup of cocoa “Becher Kakao mit Sahnehäubchen” by 4028mdk09 – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

“Angel of Grief” by Francis Mariani on Flickr under Creative Commons licence 2.0 Generic

“Hysterical laughter” by Pamela 700 on Flickr under Creative Commons licence Attribution Share-Alike 2.0 Generic

Ron Killing & Vince McMahon laughing by James (originally posted to Flickr as 081204-A-4676S-140) [CC BY 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

“Victory Silhouette” by MarLeah Cole on Flickr under creative commons licence Attribution 2.0 Generic