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Writing essays: Why bother with essay plans?

What is an essay plan and why bother writing one? Isn’t it a waste of time when you could be getting on with actual essay writing? Here are some reasons why taking the time to write a plan is a better bet in the long run:-

Writing essays with a plan
  • Focus on the question. What are you being asked for? What does it mean? Take the question apart on paper and identify the key words. A common mistake amongst students is to just write everything they know on the topic. But how often have you seen an essay question that asks you to “Write down everything you know about… enzymes (or Elizabeth I or existentialism or Italo Calvino”? Never, right? It’s time to start paying attention to what the examiner really wants. Essays and exams are not just a test of memory.
  • Give your essay a clear structure. In the essay plan you can start to design a structure for your essay. Structure is essential because you want to make your ideas as clear as possible for your reader (i.e. the marker or examiner who is reading and marking your work). If you dart back and forward from one idea to another you will write a confusing essay.
  • Avoid the drivel! If you write your essay without a clear idea of what you want to say then you will include some waffle. This is a clear indicator to the marker that you aren’t really sure what you want to say or that you don’t know enough and are filling up space. Use the essay plan to make sure that you essay has a tight structure with no padding.
  • Key points. In the essay plan, jot down what you think the key points of your essay will be.  Each paragraph will deal with one of these key points.  The first sentence of a paragraph often sets out this key point and then the rest of the paragraph explains further.  This sentence is known as the ‘topic sentence’.
  • Plan your introduction. It is often advisable to write your introduction last for an essay that you have had a whole term to prepare. This won’t be possible in an exam. Either way, the essay plan gives you the opportunity to begin to order your thoughts. Your introduction may include phrases such as “This essay will explore/analyse/focus/discuss…). The introduction will set out what you are going to say in the essay.

Plans become even more important if you go on to write a masters dissertation later, so try to get into good habits now.  You might also like to look at our blog on how to write an essay to help you organize your plan.  Did you find this helpful?  Please leave a comment below.

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