How to Plan Your Essay

When you are getting all set for writing a composition, you will come up with many drafts before you’ll end up with the final copy.

And if you have the appropriate planning stage, you might well produce a nice full first draft and start to work from there.


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 merely for your convenience.

When you’re planning for a composition, take into account the topic, the length, the format, your intent, the resources, and your audience.
Now, what will the paper be about? How long will it need to be? Is that a required amount of words or can you get to choose?

What format will it be? Is your paper supposed to be a more casual essay or a research paper?

What’s your paper’s intent? What’s your paper’s purpose? Are you writing your piece to persuade? For entertainment? To inform? Who or what are you writing the piece for?

What will your resources be? Will you just write about your personal ideas or do you need to go out to find more or other resources? When you’ll be writing a research paper, you probably will need to come up with a few credible resources.

And what will your intended audience be? Maybe for someone you want to persuade? Or is it maybe for your peers or friends? Is it intended for some supervisor? Is it perhaps just for the instructor? What’s your audience like?

Think also about space. When you pick your essay topic, is it too small or perhaps too big? In case you’ll have to write a research paper, your topic can’t be small. You’ll need to plenty of material to write about. And when you’ll be writing a smaller essay, you won’t be able to pick something that’s too big. Or maybe you can’t fit everything on your topic in just that one small, short essay.

So you need to pay attention to this sort of things when you’ll first be starting out planning and thinking about the best process to write your piece.

Then, start working with planning exercises. One good exercise is listing. You can list all facts, ideas, opinions, questions, or anything that you may think of and that’s easy to quickly jot down. All these are little ideas that may well be good for your essay. You can come back to this list later and possibly expand upon. Just write these ideas down.

The more you’ll write down on your computer or on paper, the more and the sooner you’ll be able to work on editing and expanding it later. So you should start out with writing down as much as you can, and then start working on organizing it all once you’ve got it all down.

Free-writing is one more planning exercise. This is where you will write quickly until you’ve run out. You will as fast as you possibly can until you can not think any more of anything else to jot down. So hopefully, you’ll get lots of stuff down on paper, but remember that free-writing doesn’t need to be grammatically correct.

Here, you don’t need to get all the spelling or punctuation correct. The key idea is just to jot down as much information as you can, to get as many thoughts on paper or in your computer as you can, so that there’ll be more for you later to work with.

Later, you can correct punctuation and grammar issues when you’ll be editing but right now, all you want is to get all your information and ideas down in writing because when you’ve got it down and later, you’ll be reading it and say, “Oh, here I forgot about this or that. I could use that information right now.” “I might go and research more information about it and flush out my paper.” Try to get it all down in your planning stage so well before you’ll get too caught up in some other main thoughts or ideas.

One more planning exercise is taking notes but this mainly is done when writing a research paper. If you come across sources that you like, write down what you liked about them. Make copies of those specific sections you are interested, take notes to the side, or maybe stick a piece of paper or a Post-It note with the copy of the original source, and jot down the notes there, what exactly you liked about them, what your thoughts were about it. Do this because you’re in the moment then. You know what you are thinking, and later on, when looking at that source, you might say to yourself, “What should I want with this? Where would I be using this in my essay?”

So, if you’d have these notes handy, it could help you out very well in the future.

Another thing you might do is come up with a concept map. This is a sort of visual organization. This is where you place one idea central. They will not all be looking like this, but say we took “warm vacations” that we’re going to talking about. Now, we might put in “Florida,” or I could put here “Hawaii,” or I could put “Cancun,” or let’s just stay with “Texas.” All these spots are warm spots where we could go for a vacation. And with any one of these, we might be talking about what we might be doing there. In Hawaii, we could go to the beach. We might be riding horses. We could go on a tour. We could learn how to surf. Actually, there are so many different things we could do.

Composition Planning. Well, having everything laid out in a sort of a visual map rather than just having it written out in an outline form may be helpful to some people. When you are a visual learner, you may want to see it all in a map like this to where we’ve just got that main tree with all those little branches. And then, when you’ll talk about cold vacations, for example, you might come down here to talk about these.

You might say, “Okay, we might put Alaska on here. We could put Minnesota there. And we could also put Vancouver there.” Then, for each one of those, we might be talking about what we would be doing there. In Alaska, we might take a cruise; we may go on a hike; we may go fishing. So, we’ve got those different areas where we’re outlining our different main thoughts and ideas. Then come to your sub ideas, and later, you even can add more specific details for each of these. So you see, a concept map may really be helpful for those who are visually well-organized, those who are real visual learners.

The last thing that we will be working on is outlining. This happens at the end of your planning because when you’ve just started out, you just don’t know how your paper’s going to be organized exactly. What you want is to get all your ideas on paper. We want to get every fact, idea, opinion, every thought and question, written down first before you can organize it in a better way. You’ll be able to see all you have and how you might group all those different things and ideas.

So with working on outlining, you need to wait until you’re done with the planning stage. But you need to begin with the thesis statement. The main idea summary. Then, you’ll bring the supporting ideas to support your main idea. Then come the supporting details to support all these ideas. Outline forms are generally looking like this: number 1, number 2, number 3, … Probably, you’ll be needing more than just three because that would be just two ideas, but then you’ll still need your conclusion.

So here, you may have idea number one, and here, you’ll have detail number one. And each time you’ll go down one step or one level in your outline, you’ll be changing the way it is organized. Now first, we’ll begin with Roman numerals. Then, we have the capital letters at this next level. Thereafter, we’ll come to the small numeric numbers at the next level. Now, that would be where we’re talking about the places over here. Here, you have warm vacations, so we may have Cancun, Florida. Here, cold vacations, we could have Alaska, hike, cruise.

And if we had more organization and we would be going down even further. If only it would be broken down into more details. We might be using lowercase Roman numerals, for example little “i, and” little “ii,” and so on and we might be using lowercase letter types if we wanted to keep going down further into our levels if only we had more details available about details, and then again more details in our paper. If only it would be that thorough.

So keep in mind that whenever we’re planning our composition writing, we shouldn’t be stressing over it. Please don’t think things like “Oh my …, this is so huge… I’ve got no clue on where I should start.” Just begin.  Start to list things. Begin with free-writing. Take some notes on research that you’ve found. Just think about what you want your topic to be. Think about things like the length of your paper. You should be paying attention to this sort of stuff because when you’re still unsure about what you’ll be writing about, begin at least with writing about something. One of the key things is, to begin writing and get something jotted down on paper. From there, begin to work with a few of the above-listed planning exercises. You’ll want to get it all organized, yet before you’ll have it organized it come up with a great perfect paper, you’ll need to get at least something written down on paper.

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