Tools to tackle that ten page paper

A guide to U of T's writing and assignment planning resources

Nawa Tahir


Sometime in the middle of your first year at university, you'll probably realize university essays are no walk in the park — unless you are talking about walking on the icy pavements of Queen's Park a day after it has snowed. 

During my very chaotic first semester at U of T, I slipped on a lot of icy sidewalks and often found myself finishing papers less than an hour before they were due. But after those first four months, I found out that U of T has a lot of writing resources that you can use well in advance of your deadlines. 

Here is a guide to the ones that I've discovered so far. 

  1. Teaching assistants
    It is absolutely essential to begin this guide with the one thing that no one ever stops telling you: ask your teaching assistants (TAs) for help! Over the course of two years at U of T, I have definitely had professors who weren't the least bit approachable, but never have I met a TA who wasn't willing to talk to me and give me helpful advice. Talk to your TA and discuss your essay ideas with them — they can offer you so much insight and steer you in the right direction.  
  2. U of T Writing website
    Next up is a website that has a wide range of resources for those who are new to academic writing — all hail the gorgeous! This website has lists of writing advice and books meant to help improve your writing. 
  3. Writing Plus
    Writing Plus is a series of free workshops at U of T structured to guide students through planning and writing an essay. The workshops do not require registration, so you can just drop in when you have an epiphany during a lecture that you need essay writing resources. 
  4. Writing centres
    Every college at U of T operates its own writing centre. These centres offer one-on-one appointments to discuss essays and papers in any stage of the writing process. Sometimes, I've shown up to these appointments having only fleshed out a thesis; other times, I've brought a finished first draft. 
    Appointment slots usually run out very quickly, so I would highly recommend booking appointments once you've looked at your course outlines and figured out when you expect to be riddled with essay problems. However, if no appointments are available for the days when you are going to need help, the writing centre website allows you to sign up to get an email or message when any slot becomes available.
    Any U of T student in the Faculty of Arts & Sciences can book appointments at their college's writing centre. If you are taking any courses that are offered by another college, you will also be eligible for appointments at that college's writing centre— for example, students taking a women and gender studies (WGS) course can go to the New College writing centre for WGS assignments, irrespective of their college affiliation.
    The Health Sciences Writing Centre offers writing support for undergraduate and graduate students in the Nursing, Pharmacy, Social Work, and Kinesiology & Physical Education faculties and the Department of Philosophy also offers the Philosophy Essay Clinic for assignments for philosophy courses. One-on-one writing tutoring is available to UTSC students through the writing centre website, and at UTM, the Robert Gillespie Academic Skills Centre offers appointments to discuss essays with someone who can guide you through the process. 
    For all U of T students, this general link leads to a login page where you can use your UTORid to access all of the writing centres available to you — except for the Philosophy Essay Clinic, which can be found on a separate website
  5. English Language Learning
    English Language Learning (ELL) offers support to undergraduate students at the Faculty of Arts & Science whose first language is not English, as well as native speakers who want to improve their English language skills. ELL offers free non-credit courses on writing and oral English skills. 
  6. Planning your assignment
    Learning strategists at Academic Success are also great resources for essay planning, coursework, and exam preparation. I once reached out to a learning strategist two days before a deadline and told them that I hadn't even looked at the assignment instructions. They guided me through the whole essay planning and writing process.  However, if you are a planner instead of the sort of person who tends to panic a day before a deadline, there is an amazing assignment planning tool on the UTSC website called the Assignment Calculator. The calculator helps break down an assignment into manageable steps. You can insert the dates when you will start and end the assignment, and choose an assignment type from a list of 11 options, such as research essay, lab report, or presentation. Any U of T student can use the Assignment Calculator, regardless of their campus, college, or faculty affiliation.

Some of these resources have done wonders for me, but they might not work for everyone. Stay on the lookout for other helpful resources as you try to make sense of the U of T world. As it turns out, the one thing that has worked the best for me in the last two years is copy editing at The Varsity — I have learned more about grammar and writing here than I probably could have anywhere else. No matter what works for you, though, I hope you find it at U of T.