In my post How to Begin Researching a Topic, Part One, I stressed the need to start early with any assignments you have. Looking back to my own experience, it is amazing how much time I spent procrastinating on research in my first and second years of university. I would find myself with bits of research completed here and there, a half thought out thesis statement, and piles of notes stuffed into books without a clear focus or direction. Finally somewhere in my third or fourth year, through trial and error I figured out the concept of scheduling the steps of research and writing to make what was often a painful process into something I felt I had some control over and would ultimately come to enjoy. Learning and mastering time management is a vital part of the university experience, but is often left to students to figure out for themselves. Fortunately we now have many web-based tools to help calculate and create personal calendars to complete assignments on time and with confidence.
Simply visit the site, enter the date you are given the assignment, the date the assignment is due, and then select the appropriate subject area of the research (in the screen shot above, I selected "Art and Art History." Press the "Calculate Assignment Schedule" and voila!, you are presented with a clear path and a reasonable timeline to finish the assignment.
With each step, you are provided with tasks to complete and linked to useful online tutorials about how to define your topic, how to begin the process of outlining, and when and how to start writing. Over the years, many universities have quietly adapted the Minnesota calculator and added other useful functions. I especially like the UCLA version of the Assignment Calculator since it addresses the concerns of ESL (English as a Second Language) students, brainstorming techniques, links to resources on citation styles and highlights modules on learning the difference between scholarly and popular sources of information. I suggest using both calculators to access and combine the weekly suggestions and tasks. You can also download a version of Assignment Calculator for your desktop and use it when you do not have access to the Internet.
P.S. For masters and doctoral students, I highly recommend the Dissertation Calculator -- it is one of the only online tools that actually walks PhD students through the mystical process!
Remember, start early, and avoid the pitfalls of late nights and even later papers and assignments. Your time is precious, don't waste it procrastinating. How many all-nighters did it take me in my first and second years to figure this out? Too many! Trust me on that one.