How to plan essays

Why plan?

  • To create a successful essay, you need to know in advance where your line of argument is going and that it is relevant.
  • Just starting to write immediately will never produce a really focused piece of work and you may end up grinding to a halt halfway through, wondering what to write next.

Invest Time

  • For a term-time essay, it is worth spending several hours reading, thinking and planning, after which the essay should ‘write itself' fairly rapidly.
  • Once you are used to the idea of careful planning and of thinking your ideas through logically in this way, you should be able to use the same techniques very quickly in an examination.

How to plan

Read the question

  • Be sure that you know exactly what is being demanded
  • Underline the key words in the question
  • Avoid trying to re-work an essay you have previously written
  • Choose which poems you think best illustrate the question.

Jot down relevant ideas

  • Bear the key words in mind
  • Use single words or brief phrases – these are only reminders to you of points which you could make
  • Do not worry at this stage about getting these ideas into any order (that comes later)
  • ‘Brainstorm' your mind, producing as many relevant ideas as possible.

Group jottings together

  • Organise your ideas together (do not write them again but use letters/colours/symbols etc.) into about 5/6 different areas of discussion
  • These groups are going to form your main paragraphs
  • Do not yet worry about the order.

Create a title/phrase for each group

  • The aim is to sum up its main point
  • This is now the topic of each paragraph.

Decide on the order

  • This will depend on the line of argument you want to follow
  • Every essay should present a case, almost as if you were in a court of law: ‘This is my case and here is my evidence.' (Your evidence will be references to the text, and quotations from it.)
  • Now number your list of paragraphs appropriately.

Decide how to start your essay

  • Only once you know where your line of argument is going, can you write an introductory paragraph
  • Too many students write their introduction to the essay and only then stop to think what they are actually going to say
  • Your introduction should lead into your first main paragraph.

How to finish

  • After the main topics/arguments which will follow in the next four, five or six paragraphs (or however many you need), you need a conclusion, to relate back to the topic asked and to state where your line of argument or your evidence has led you.

Remember that a planned essay is much more likely to be a clear, logical essay.

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