How to Plan an Essay
Many essays fail to impress readers, fail to make effective arguments, and fail to make the grade. They fail because they are disorganised. They fail because ideas do not flow seamlessly together. They fail because they are written without a plan.
Good research and articulate writing are vital to creating a winning essay, but a solid plan brings it all together, and provides the foundation on which a great essay is built. This report will show you how to quickly develop a solid framework for any essay.
Determine your thesis or the purpose of the paper. This can be refined and revised as you write the paper, but it is needed in order to help you decide how to frame your essay.
Review your research notes and consider them by topic. Think about how they prove your thesis or explain your theme. Consider how they will best flow together. Decide on a logical order in which to present your information and arguments.
Putting facts or events in chronological order works best when telling a story, or when discussing the evolution or life of an organisation, person, or idea. Thematic presentation of one main point after another is most suitable for analytic essays. Organising information and arguments by the source from which they are drawn is effective when comparing sources, such as when writing a comparative book review.
Consider where counter-evidence or counter-arguments will fit best. Should they be grouped together at the beginning or the end, or will it be more effective to present points and counterpoints together throughout the paper?
E.g. An essay discussing the technical development of the steam engine would work best with the facts presented in chronological order.
E.g. An essay assessing the social and economic impact of the steam engine would be most effective if the information is presented by theme: impact on women and home life, impact on the working class, impact on the global economy, impact on the domestic economy.
E.g. A comparative review of two books could look at one book, then the other, or it could compare them point for point.
If you have an assigned minimum or maximum number of words, allocate specific numbers of words to your various key points. Carefully consider how much space should be allotted to each main point and whether you have enough information to fill that space. If you do not have a rigid word count guideline, decide on one yourself. Remember to allot space to your introduction and conclusion.
E.g. A 2000 word paper explaining how to eat healthily:
Introduction - 100 words
Explain the 4 food groups - 200 words each, total 800 words
Explain serving sizes - 150 words
Explain carbohydrates, proteins, and fats - 200 words each, total 600 words
Explain calories and kilojoules - 250 words
Conclusion - 100 words
Take a piece of paper and draw out a series of rectangles to represent the pages of your essay. Convert the word allocations to portions of pages - most people write about 260-270 words per page. On your rectangles draw out the space that each section of your essay will occupy. Do your best to stick to your outline, otherwise you will find yourself running out of space or struggling to fill blank pages.
E.g. An opinion essay describing the perfect hamburger:
Introduction - 50 words - 1/5 of a page
The bun - 150 words - 3/5 of a page
The meat - 150 words - 3/5 of a page
The toppings - 150 words - 3/5 of a page
Conclusion - 50 words - 1/5 of a page
A few final tips
If an idea, argument, or fact does not fit into your plan and will not flow with the rest of your paper, ask yourself if it is really relevant and necessary to the paper as a whole.
Stream-of-consciousness writing may work for personal columns and English class assignments but this is NOT an effective technique for research or argumentative essays. Make a plan!
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