Every good chef knows that the key to a successful dish lies in the "mise en place", the preparation that is being done before cooking: cutting ingredients, selecting tools, and setting up dishes ready for plating.

This part often represents the bulk of the actual labour, and if done well, it mostly ensures a smooth and stress-free service. I have come to the realisation that a similar process also comes in handy when you are working on university assignments or work deadlines. While I am by far no stranger to procrastination, I find that due diligence in my preparation gives me the necessary peace of mind to not be haunted by wasted time or streams of consciousness.

Formatting documents

Do think about who you are writing for and save a respective document layout on your laptop or computer. Whether student or employee, we very often have to hand in assignments in a specific format, so it makes sense to save some trouble and get this thing sorted once and for all.

Students may occasionally have to follow some professor's unique and peculiar style guide, but in general, university documents are expected to follow MLA or APA standards. So, don't start writing on (or staring at) a blank default document, but rather pick the adequate layout from your array of pre-arranged forms.

Monitoring sources

With his recent plagiarism controversy, Prime Minister Bettel inadvertently reemphasised the importance of knowing and showing your sources. Everyone knows that they are playing with fire when they lose track of their source material, but it can nevertheless happen if an assignment is written in a very short space of time, or if the topic simply fails to spark the actual interest of the student. Do yourself a favour in this regard and avoid any trouble by organising your sources before you even begin writing!

For every assignment, open a simple document (with the correct layout of course) entitled "works cited". Do this for all your assignments and create an entry for each and every single article or book you only so much as glance over during your research. I am being serious, every time you find something you stop right away and create a correct entry, even if the document only remotely relates to your ideas or topic. Don't underestimate how easy it is to forget where you read something and don't get yourself in the situation where an accidentally closed tab means farewell to the missing piece of your puzzle.

Do follow this step and you will see that once you are finally done writing, getting your sources right will be as easy as copying and pasting names from one document to the next!

Highlighting information

Let's not kid ourselves, we all feel like half of the research is done once we highlighted a few paragraphs and quotes. And indeed, familiarising yourself with a topic and identifying the key statements around it is of crucial importance. However, you also have to consider how each piece of information is being employed and which use it can eventually have for your own undertaking.

Do choose a simple but efficient colour code for your highlights. Academic articles, for instance, often operate according to similar principles: authors present a list of established facts, construct their own argument based on said facts, and illustrate their points with the help of examples. Don't lose track of what you are highlighting and differentiate such easily identifiable categories with the help of colours.

Do think about your own reading experiences and figure out what works best for the assignment that you are facing. You do not agree with what an author is saying? Pick a colour for all the statements that you want to disprove. You like the content of an article but think the author is doing a horrible job at explaining it? Pick a colour to highlight all the relevant sources and consult them for better quotes.

With all the good that this strategy does, it can quickly get out of hand and turn your papers into flashy rainbows, so, don't overdo it with the colours and categories. You will see that after going over two or three articles, you'll likely find what works best for you.