A good essay plan makes the most of your essay material by helping you to organise the content of the essay before you begin writing. This guide shows you the key steps in preparing and planning an essay effectively.
Other useful guides: Writing essays; Thought mapping; Referencing and bibliographies.
Using essay plans
Being organised before you begin writing your essay will make the writing process quicker and easier. Good preparation and planning gives you a clear overview of your material so you can see the best way to organise your points. This guide presents four main steps to planning your essay:
- planning ahead;
- analysing the question;
- selecting material;
- organising your material.
Why an essay?
Essay writing gives you a chance to:
- explore a specific subject area in depth;
- select relevant material;
- explain theories and concepts;
- evaluate arguments;
- express and support your own views and opinions.
Before you begin
Check the assignment submiession and writing guidelines. There is information about:
- how long the essay should be;
- what the deadline is;
- relevant assessment criteria;
- requirements for presentation and referencing.
Choose your title as soon a possible. The availability of journals, books and other resources may affect your choice of title. Plan ahead to ensure you can use the resources you need in time. Make an action plan or 'to do list' for:
- finding relevant resources;
- contact the library for access to library books etc;
- obtaining items through inter-library loan;
- using computer facilities to search online databases.
Look at how much time you have before the deadline so you can see what can be realistically done.
Refer to the Guide Organising your time for more information on action planning.
Analysing the question
Before you can begin to select material for your essay, you need to make sure that you understand the exact requirements of the question. The following method of title analysis encourages you to break the question down into clearly identifiable elements so that you can accurately see what the question requires.
Analysing an essay title
Selecting the material
Use your analysis of the question as a focus for the selection of materials. Begin with the basic reading:
- module material;
- relevant chapters in texts.
When you understand the basics you can then select more detailed and specific texts. This may be in the form of journal articles or texts referred to in module materials.
- Be selective, use the techniques described in Improving your reading skills to identify relevant material for your essay.
- Use the essay question as a focus for note taking.
- Be sure to record only information that is directly relevant to your essay question. This will save you time and make your notes easier to organise in an essay plan.
Organising your material
All essays need a structure that is logical and coherent. An essay plan gives you a quick way of trying out different structures. One way of making an essay plan is to list your main points in keywords and phrases and organise them under main headings. This gives you an overview of your points so you can decide which should be included and what is the most logical sequence for them.
An example of a linear essay plan using key words and phrases
Index cards can be useful in essay planning. Write the keyword or phrase for each point on a separate index card. Use the cards to group and order the points. Number the cards sequentially when you are happy with the order of your points.
You may wish to use diagrams for essay planning. This method is described in the guide: Thought Mapping.
An example of a non-linear essay plan using key words and phrases
Find your preferred style
Experiment with different styles of planning essays and use the method that you find most useful. Make as many essay plans as you need to find the best sequence for your material. By separating the planning stage from the writing stage you will be better able to write an essay that is well organised and clearly expressed. The guide Writing essays explores the key elements of an essay and shows you how to use these elements effectively.
Make an action plan or 'to do list' as early as possible.
Analyse the essay question before you begin making notes.
Be selective in your reading.
Record only information that is directly relevant to your essay question.
Use essay plans to create a clear and logical sequence for your material before you begin to write.
The following student templates support the development of essay writing skills.
Understanding the question [Word 9.1 KB]
This template helps students to break down an essay question so they understand what they need to do before they start to write or research their topic. For more information on breaking down essay questions, see the Essay question page of this site.
Essay plan template [Word 21.57 KB]
This template provides students with a framework for planning an argumentative essay. For more information on essay planning, see the Plan your essay page on this site.
Organising essay ideas [Word 13.46 KB]
This template supports students to physically manipulate and reorder ideas to help with impoving essay structure. For more information on essay structure, see The writing process page on this site.
Note-taking outline [Word 41.36 KB]
This template provides students with a basic note-taking framework. For more information on note-taking, see the Learn page Organise notes on this website.
Bibliography template [Word 19.88 KB]
This template provides a structure students can use to record references they find during the research process. For more information on referencing see Bibliographies and the Research skills sections of this site.