How to plan and structure your essay

Everyone has their own approach to essay writing – some students are more methodological, and others prefer a more freehand creative approach. Either way, there will be a process that most will go through and that is:

  • Looking at the question
  • Brainstorming
  • Going over previous knowledge
  • Structuring your ideas
  • Deciding on a conclusion
  • Producing a draft

In this brief article we will explain how to address these steps to ensure that your essays are well-planned and well-structured.

The first thing to do is look closer at the question. It might be evident to you upon reading it what the question is asking of you, especially if it is very specific. However, some questions require a little bit more unpacking. Underlining the key words will help in deciding on an overall approach. Important to this task is to understand the type of question, whether it is looking for a critique, comparison or explanation. This is what the question is asking you to do, so look out for words like compare, explain, critically evaluate, discuss etc.

It might be that the question is very clear on what you should focus on. In some cases however, you should look closer at terms to see if there is more than one understanding, or strand of thought, attached to it. Some words, such as “realism” have different meanings across different disciplines. Be sure that you are approaching the question in the right way, or else explain these nuances (in fact this might be what the question is asking of you!). In addition, it is good to know that there are different essay writing service websites on the internet, where there is an ample variety of free essay questions and topics to choose from.

Once you have an idea of how to approach the question, you can start brainstorming. You could, for instance, brainstorm around the key words of the question, or what you feel are the main concepts that you should use. Brainstorming is excellent in remembering and creating interesting links and associations between different terms. In doing so you are unpacking your current understanding.

Now you are ready to go over your previous knowledge or notes. By this stage you should be better acquainted with the question and have begun to bring your own ideas into play. This is a good time to go through your notes, picking out any useful information and reproducing them, either as part of your brainstorm or on another sheet of paper.

One method is to draw a table with two simple columns: one for the idea that you have pulled out of your notes and one where you can quickly explain why you think it is relevant to the essay question. In doing so, you stretch your understanding and start to construct the basis of your essay. This helps in building meaning, which is what essay writing is all about.

Once you have a brainstorm and table of previous notes to hand, you can start to structure your essay. Most essays have a core structure which includes an introduction, main body and conclusion. It is also worth organising what you have already done under these headings. So, for instance, you might decide that there is a particular fact that would serve you well in the introduction, or that the idea of one particular author matches quite nicely with how you want to conclude. It is very helpful to start arranging accordingly.

If you are stuck on a general narrative, then you could start bringing together the disparate theories, references, and facts, by deciding on a conclusion. Far from being biased, deciding on a conclusion can then serve as a working hypothesis as you do some extra reading and critically evaluate your own assumptions.

This process should now leave you clear as to how you can go about writing your essay. It should also be the making a thorough essay plan. Again, this depends on your style. It may be that you have enough in terms of preparatory notes, brainstorm and initial plan. If so you are ready to start.

Although brief – there are many different techniques within each phase – this process gives you a good basis to produce a coherent and well-argued essay. You should now be ready to produce your first draft.




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