Setting Writing Goals

Office of Graduate Studies Author
03/10/2015 Added
180 Plays


Making progress on your big writing projects is like running a marathon—finishing well takes strategy and stamina. Set writing goals help you pace yourself and finish well. This video is a companion to an article on Graduate Connections.

Video Transcript

A sprinter runs as hard as he can for the whole race—he doesn’t have to plan or strategize during the race in order to finish.

To run a marathon, on the other hand, you need to be strategic about your pace and decide when to push yourself. You do this by breaking down the race into miles and setting smaller goals. Making progress on your big writing projects is like running a marathon—finishing well takes strategy and stamina.

Many of us are guilty of trying to write a term paper in one night. The resulting work isn't very good. Ideas aren’t fully formed, the argument isn’t well constructed or developed, and the paper doesn’t get reviewed and edited. To write well, think like the runner who sets a pace for each mile of the marathon. Setting small writing goals helps you) avoid burnout 2) produce your best work and, 3) be more productive.

The best goals are SMART goals. They are specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic, and time-oriented.

Goals that are Specific are narrow and defined. For example, "I will write every day" isn't specific about the project, what you’re going to do, or what you expect to gain from the goal. A more specific goal is to draft the methods section of your paper.

A goal should be Measurable so you know if you have achieved it or not. “I will write two pages” or “I will finish the data analysis section” can be measured. 

Action-oriented goals keep what you need to do—what actions you need to take—in view.

Realistic goals are challenging, but reachable. You have the resources to achieve your goal.

Finally, SMART goals are Time-oriented. They include completion dates and set intermediate or checkpoint deadlines keeps you on track. If you want to complete an article for publication in three months, you’ll create smaller deadlines for each month, week, and day to help keep you on track.

Setting SMART writing goals takes practice. Over the course of a project, by setting goals and reflecting on the work you did that day, you’ll learn when you’ve been too ambitious and when you can push yourself a little more.

If your writing goals are too ambitious and they don’t take your long-term goals into account—if they’re more like a sprint than a carefully-paced half-mile during a marathon—you’ll feel bad about not meeting them and you'll tend to avoid writing the next day.

In practice, a term paper gets broken down into small chunks. A writing journal sets goals for the day and tracks daily progress. 

Here’s the entry for a day, where four hours are dedicated to working on a term paper:

Daily Goal
Complete background section of paper (2 pages)
Write one paragraph each on:

    • Arnold van Gennep's rites of passage
    • Turner's liminal phase
    • M.B. Hamilton

End of Day
Did you achieve your goal?

At the end of the day, the writer will reflect on her goals and the progress she’s made toward them. She’ll use this information to set her writing goals the next day and adjust her pace and ambition accordingly. 

With steady practice, you’ll get better and better at setting writing goals and making significant and steady progress on your writing projects.

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