Planning An Academic Essay

Planning an essay

Planning starts with understanding your task, how much time you have, the number of words you have to write and what direction you're going to take.

Before you embark on research, give yourself realistic goals for the amount of material you need by sketching out a plan for length. Download an essay plan template

Check the title, idea or plan with your tutor. He or she might have expectations you haven't realised and may spot a problem with the basic idea. (Luke Martell, Professor of Political Sociology at the University of Sussex).

As soon as you have done some reading and thinking, you can begin planning the content of your essay.

Allow yourself to change your plan but remember it gives you a structure for your argument, so if you change the plan you will have to check your line of reasoning and the evidence you use.

Your tutor may give you specific guidance about the structure of your written assignment.

Tabular Plan

Making a tabular plan can help visualise your argument and is useful for a comparative essay - see the example below (click on the image to enlarge).

Example plan

Is globalisation a new phenomenon? [pdf 22kb]

Linear Plan

A linear plan helps you think about structure. Your tutors may ask to see an essay plan but even if you do not need to hand it in, it is essential to your essay.

Here is a linear plan: (click on the image to enlarge).

Second year student: Molecular Cell Biology essay outline:

What are peroxisomes? What do they do? And, how are proteins targeted to them? [pdf 65KB]

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Essay planning and structure

It is really important to plan your essay before you begin writing. Planning will save you time later. It is also essential that you have a starting point to plan from, even if it is in a very rough form.

The obvious place to start is at the assignment question itself. From the question you can develop your answer in the form of a thesis statement. From there you can decide what your essay's subtopics will be and what you want to say about them. After you have a basic idea of what you want to talk about, you can begin to write the essay.

However, when writing an essay, it can also be difficult to come up with a point of view early on. Therefore, instead of developing a thesis statement first, you may choose to read up on the assignment question and make notes on relevant concepts, theories, and studies. Once you have these notes and can develop a summary of the issues, it should be much easier to write a thesis statement.

For more information on analysing the assignment question and planning your essay, see planning assignments.

Essay structure

All essays share the same basic structure, although they may differ in content and style. The essence of an essay is an opinion, expressed as a thesis statement or proposition, and a logical sequence of arguments and information organised in support of the proposition.

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Last updated on 26 October, 2012

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