How to plan an essay

Why plan?

  • To produce a successful essay, you need to know in advance where your line of argument is going
  • Starting to write without a clear plan is likely to result in an unfocused piece of work, and you may well grind to a halt partway through.

How to plan

Invest time

  • For a term-time essay, it is worth spending several hours reading, thinking and making notes – this will help you actually to write the essay quite quickly
  • Once you are used to the idea of planning and thinking through your ideas in this manner, you should be able to use the same techniques in an examination.

Read the question

  • Be sure that you understand what is being asked
  • Underline the key words in the question
  • Avoid trying to rework an earlier essay.

Jot down relevant ideas

  • Use a large sheet of paper (A4 or larger) to give yourself plenty of room
  • Bear the key words in mind
  • Allow yourself to range widely to produce the maximum number of ideas
  • Keep referring to the question to ensure that what you are doing is relevant.

Organise your jottings

  • Begin to group ideas that belong together
  • Don’t rewrite but use letters, number, colours or symbols and draw lines from one point to another to create links
  • Create a short title for each group
  • You should now have the main headings for your essay, each of which will form a paragraph (or perhaps two) in your essay.

Decide on the order

  • This depends on line of argument you wish to follow
  • Think of your essay as a case, almost as if you were in a court of law: you will set out your points, supported by appropriate evidence
  • You can now number your main headings appropriately.

Decide how to start your essay

  • You are now in a position to write an introductory paragraph, which will give the reader some indication of the line you intend to take
  • Try to make a smooth transition into the paragraph about your first main heading.

Think carefully about your conclusion

  • When you have completed all your main headings, re-read your essay and think how best to end it
  • Remind the reader (in different words and very briefly) of your main points
  • Offer a conclusion that makes clear where your argument and the evidence have led you.
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