Setting Writing Goals: Three Easy Steps

We’ve discussed the importance of getting organized in your writing and how often you should write. Today I want to get a bit more fine grained and discuss why and how to set writing goals.

Your Overall Goal

Your overall goal is that big piece you are wanting to get done. It could be a specific manuscript. It could be a dissertation proposal or a piece of your dissertation. Start here. What is the big piece you want to finish?

Next, consider when you need to have this done. Some things might come with deadlines (like a book chapter) but often these deadlines are self-imposed. It’s good to create deadlines for yourself on a large scale (when the piece will be finished) and on a smaller scale (baby steps to getting it done). Consider what is a realistic amount of time to getting your piece finished, and consult with others if you need feedback on this.

Set Weekly Goals

Once you know what you are working towards consider each week what you will do to get there. I like to sit down on a Friday and identify what I want to get done the following week. I map out when I will be writing and schedule it into my planner. Then I think about what I want to have done by the following Friday. Obviously this will vary depending on what you are doing and where you are in the writing process. But some examples of weekly goals could include:

  • revising one or more specific sections
  • drafting a new section
  • reading background information relevant to your project
  • creating an outline and getting started

These broader weekly goals will then feed into how you craft your daily goals.

Set Daily Goals

Daily goals are even smaller and more specific than your weekly goals. This is what you are going to do each day that will get you to meet your weekly goals. Over time, these small specific tasks will add up and, before you know it, you are done! Small daily goals are the secret to getting your writing done and out for publication.

Here’s an example from something I am currently doing. I’m working on a conference proposal that is due in about a month. I have a fixed deadline for submission. I’ve got it about 75% drafted at this point, and it’s looking ok in some parts and like garbage in other parts. In thinking through to some daily goals I have arrived at:

  • revise the methods section (Wednesday)
  • revise the findings section (Thursday)
  • draft the conclusion (Friday)

I gave myself 60 minutes to work on the proposal for each of these days. If I finish a goal in less time than I might move on to the next, take a break, eat some chocolate, or start doing something completely unrelated. It’s up to me. On Friday, I will evaluate the quality of my work and decide what I want to do in the upcoming week.

Note that sometimes things might take longer than planned. For example, I might be very unhappy with my work on the findings section. I could then make a choice. I might continue on with it on Friday (bumping the drafting of the conclusion over into the next week) or I might continue on with my plan as scheduled and take a break from the findings section.

You do not have to stay the course, but you do need to show up and do the work. What I mean is, you need to show up and work on whatever you said, but if you need to modify the goals then by all means do so.

See the full playlist of academic writing tips.