How to Plan Your Essay

When you’re getting ready to write a composition, you’re going to have lots of drafts before you come up with your final copy.

And a good planning stage can get you a nice full first draft to start working from. So, when you are planning for your composition, consider the topic, length, format, intent, resources, and audience.


Question 1 of 2

What’s the most important aspect of planning an essay?


Question 1 of 2

Question 2 of 2

You need to choose a topic that is …


Question 2 of 2


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This transcript is for your convenience.
What is your paper going to be about? How long does it have to be? Is it a required amount or do you get to pick?
What’s the format going to be? Is it supposed to be a research paper or a more casual essay?

What’s the intent? What’s the purpose of your paper? Are you writing to persuade? To entertain? To inform? What are you writing for?

What are your resources going to be? Are you just going to be writing about your own ideas, or will you have to go out and find more resources? If you’re writing a research paper, you’re probably going to have to have several credible resources.

And who is audience intended to be? Is it someone you have to persuade? Is it for your friends and peers? Is it for a supervisor? Is it just for your teacher? Who is your audience?

And think about space. Whenever you pick your topic, is it too big or too small? If you’re writing a research paper, you can’t have a small topic. You’re going to have to have plenty to write about. If you’re writing a small essay, you can’t pick something too big, or you’re not going to be able to fit everything about your topic in that one short essay.

So, pay attention to all these things whenever you’re first starting out your planning and thinking process for your writing.

Then, you can start working with some planning exercises. One exercise is listing, and you can list facts, opinions, ideas, questions, anything that you can think of that you can just quickly jot down as little ideas that might be good for your paper that you can come back to and think on later and expand upon. Write them down.

The more you get down on paper or on the computer, to begin with, is going to be the more you get to work on the edit and expand on later. So, start with as much as you can get here, and then you can work on organizing it once you get it down.

Another planning exercise is free-writing, and this is where you’re going to write quickly until you run out. You’re going to write as fast as you can until you can’t think anything else to write. So, hopefully, you get a lot down on paper,  but free writing isn’t meant to be grammatically correct.

It’s not meant to have all the punctuation or spelling correct in there. The main point is just to get as much information, as many thoughts on paper,  or in the computer, if you’re typing, as you can get so that you’ve got more to work with later.

You can fix the grammar and punctuation in the editing part, but right now, you want to get all the information down on paper that you can, because if you have it down and then later on you read it and say, “Oh, I forgot about that. I could really use this information now.

I could go and research some more information about this and really flush out my paper.” So, try to get it down on the planning stage before you get too caught up in your other main ideas.

Another planning exercise is to take notes. Now, this is mainly with research papers. If you find sources that you like, take notes on what you liked out of them. Make a copy of the specific section you’re interested in and take notes out to the side, or stick a Post-It note or a piece of paper with the copy of the actual source, and write down the notes on it, what you liked about it, what your ideas were about it, because you are in the moment right then, you know what you’re thinking, but later on, when you look at that source, you may say to yourself, “Why did I want this for? Where was I going to use this in my paper?”

So, having those notes handy would really help you out in the future.

The other thing you can do is make a concept map, and this is a kind of visual organization, and it’s where you have one idea in the center – and they’re not all going to look like this, but let’s say we had “warm vacations” that we were talking about. Well, we might put “Florida,” and I might put “Hawaii,”  and I might put “Cancun,” and let’s just go with “Texas.” All of these are warm spots you could go to for a vacation. Now, with any each one of these, you could talk about what you might do there. So, in Hawaii, you might go to the beach. You might ride horses. You might go on a tour. You might learn how to surf.

There are different things that you could do. Composition Planning   So, having laid out in more of a visual map than just written out in outline form may help some people. If you’re a visual learner, you might want to see it in a map like that to where you just got the main tree with all the little branches on it. And then, if you were going to talk about cold vacations, you could come down here and talk about those.

You could say, “Okay, we might put Alaska on there. We might put Minnesota. And we may put Vancouver.” And then, for each one, you might talk about what you would do there. In Alaska, maybe you’ll take a cruise, maybe you’ll go on a hike, and maybe you’ll go fishing. And so, you’ve got these different areas where you’re outlining your different main ideas, and then your sub ideas, and then your even more specific details for each one of those. So, a concept map can really help those who are visually organized, who are visual learners.

And the last thing that you’re going to work on is an outline, and this is going to be at the end of planning because you don’t know exactly how your paper is going to be organized when you’re starting out. You want to get all these ideas on paper. You want to get every idea, fact, opinion, question, though down on paper first, and then you can organize it better. You can see what all you have and see how you want to group all these different things.

So, you want to wait till you’re at the end of your planning stage to work on your outline. But it’s going to start with your thesis statement, which is like the main idea summary. And then, you’re going to come up with supporting ideas that support that main idea. And then, supporting details that support each one of these ideas. And an outline form is generally going to look like this: 1,2,3… You probably need more than three because this would only be two ideas, and then you still need a conclusion.

So, you might have idea one, and then here, you’ve got detail one. So, each time you go down a step or level in this outline, you’re going to change the way it’s organized. So, first we start with Roman numerals, then we start we capital letters on the next level, and then we go to little numeric numbers for the next level down. So, this would be like where we were talking about these places over here,  so you may have warm vacations, and then you may have Florida, Cancun. Cold vacations, you might have Alaska, cruise, hike.

And you would keep going even further if you had more organization, and it was broken down into even more details. You could use lowercase Roman numerals with little “i,” little “ii,” and you could use lowercase letters to keep going further into the levels if you had details about details about details in your paper, if it was that thorough.

So, remember, whenever you’re planning your composition writing, don’t stress over it. Don’t think, “Oh my gosh, this is so big. I don’t even know where to start.” Just start. Start listing things. Start free-writing. Take notes on research you’re finding. Think about what your topic is going to be. Think about how long your paper has to be. You want to pay attention to all of this stuff because if you’re not sure what you’re going to write about yet, you can at least start writing something. The most important thing is to start writing to get something on paper, and then start working on some of these planning exercises. You want to be able to get everything organized, but before you can organize it and create the perfect paper, you have to get something written on that paper.

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