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Planning Your Essay From Topic to Outline

Planning your essay is without doubt the most important stage of the essay writing process and yet, for hundreds of students, it is the stage that is given the least time. Planning your essay well will have a huge impact on the final product.

The planning process starts with the essay question.If you're a UK student, you'll probably find your topic or question has been set for you (unless you're researching a dissertation). In this case, don't be quick to jump in and start writing just yet - you need to think VERY carefully about what you have been asked to write. Evaluating the question is essential - you need to think careful about the meaning of each word used. As you unpack your question, ask yourself what type of paper you are expected to produce. Is it a narrow specific paper on a particular area or a general analysis of a subject? If it is to be a narrow paper, make sure the title of your essay reflects this - so rather than calling your paper "The Economy" you might name it "A Study of the Economy in the UK between 2000-2005".

Where the topic has not been given to you, then you have a lot more scope to write about something that you will enjoy and that will impress your lecturer. Choose something you find interesting (this will come through in your writing) and don't pick the same subject that every other student picks - when your lecturer has read through 25 versions of the same title, they will be less inclined to hand out a good grade, however great your essay turns out to be.

The next stage is to write an essay statement.  It will help you a great deal to decide on where you are actually going with your essay. You can do this by writing out a statement of what you hope to achieve, or a viewpoint that you hope to prove. You will of course want to include opposing viewpoints in your essay, and consider all angles of a particular topic, but the statement will help you refine the research process and keep you focused on what you hope to achieve.

Write your essay goal or purpose statement on a sticky note and put it somewhere you can see it while you're writing. It will help you stay focused!

When you've done these initial planning stages, you need to find ideas for your essay.  This is the stage where you decide on everything you want to include in your essay - in no particular order. It's a good time to use some special techniques to help you generate ideas. A great technique is brainstorming - in its simplest form, you just write down your issue in the middle of the page and 'add in' anything else that comes to mind round the edge - you then decide what are the most relevant ideas you've generated. It's a great idea to give someone else a sheet with your issue in the middle and see what THEY think are the most relevant issues too. If the project is particularly important, you might want to carry out a full brainstorming session before you plan your essay in more detail.

The next, and extremely important stage, is the core of the planning.  It is highly unlikely you'll achieve a decent grade if you don't do a little planning in advance. This stage helps you to sort out the information you have collected and to organize your ideas and develop an appropriate structure for the essay. A plan should not be regarded as fixed - as you write your essay and review your notes and the information you have collected you are likely to alter and change your plan. The purpose of a plan is to provide a starting point and to act as a document against which you can check your final essay - you can then ask yourself whether you have left anything out. You will need to take the relevant ideas you have identified and structure them so that the reader is taken on a clear and logical journey through your essay. You can even try any of the best essay writing service to get sample paper on the same topic but it will cost you some money.

As part of the planning stage you may wish to think about how you will allocate your allowed word count. Most universities will restrict the number of words you can use in the essay although CHECK to see if this includes (a) references and (b) the bibliography (it usually doesn't). For a basic essay, a good structure will have roughly the following word usage:

  • Introduction - 10%
  • Body - 70 - 80%
  • Conclusion - 10 - 20%

As word counts are often strict, every sentence included in your essay should be relevant to the question asked.

You may also feel it useful to break up your word count further for the ideas that you have identified for the main body of your essay. It is always easier to write to a limited word count for each issue than to try to cut down a paragraph later.

When you have finished, you have the basic structure for your essay and are ready to continue. You'll find the additional time you've spent on planning will make a huge difference to the quality of your final piece.

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Comments

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