How to plan an essay: Essay Planning
- What's in this guide
- Essay Planning
- Additional resources
How to plan an essay
Essay planning is an important step in academic essay writing.
Effective planning can speed up the essay writing process, and give the essay direction and precision. As you are working through the process of drafting and writing your essay, you can record any changes you make on your essay plan, so that your essay and the plan develop side by side.
One way to start planning an essay is with a ‘box plan’.
First, decide how many stages there are in your argument – how many important points do you want to make? Then divide up a box into an introduction, one body paragraph for each part of your argument, and a conclusion.
Next, figure out how many words per paragraph you will need. This depends on the word count and how many paragraphs you want. Remember you need one paragraph to discuss each main point you are making. The introduction and conclusion are both usually 10% of the word count and what is left is divided into how many body paragraphs you have.
Let's use the following example: Discuss how media can influence children. Use specific examples to support your view.
Next, in each body paragraph box record your main argument, either as a heading or as your topic sentence.
Finally, use dot points to list useful information or ideas from your research notes for each paragraph. Remember to include references so you can cite each idea in your essay.
Remember, a useful document for essay planning is the marking rubric (also known as the marking checklist or marking criteria). This indicates what the lecturer is looking for, and helps you make sure that all the necessary elements are there.
- Essay plan template Use this template to plan your essay. This template also contains a structural plan, along-side the essay plan, to help you organise your paragraphs and keep your arguments cohesive. Sticking to the word limit allocated for each section means your overall word count will remain within the assigned limit for your task.
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Answering the question
Generating ideas, planning your essay, different planning methods.
- Writing your essay
- Developing your essay writing
Useful links for writing essays
- Study Advice Helping students to achieve study success with guides, video tutorials, seminars and one-to-one advice sessions.
- Academic writing LibGuide Expert guidance on punctuation, grammar, writing style and proof-reading.
- Guide to citing references Includes guidance on why, when and how to use references correctly in your academic writing.
- Reading and notemaking LibGuide Expert guidance on managing your reading and making effective notes.
- Academic Phrasebank Use this site for examples of linking phrases and ways to refer to sources.
- Ten stages of assignment success (Prezi) Based upon Burns and Sinfield, Essential Study Skills.
- Critical Thinking A short video on Critical Thinking that the BBC have prepared in partnership with The Open University
The first thing to do when preparing to write an essay is to make a plan. You could just rush in and write everything that comes into your head, but that would make it difficult for your marker to read and would reduce the effectiveness of your ideas. These will make much stronger arguments if you group them together than they would do on their own.
The guidance on this page will show you how to plan and structure your essay to produce a strong and focused response to the question.
A very common complaint from lecturers and examiners is that students write a lot of information but they just don't answer the question. Don't rush straight into researching – give yourself time to think carefully about the question and understand what it is asking.
Underlining key words – This is a good start point for making sure you understand all the terms (some might need defining); identifying the crucial information in the question; and clarifying what the question is asking you to do (compare & contrast, analyse, discuss). But make sure you then consider the question as a whole again, not just as a series of unconnected words.
Re-read the question – Read the question through a few times. Explain it to yourself, so you are sure you know what it is asking you to do.
Try breaking the question down into sub-questions – What is the question asking? Why is this important? How am I going to answer it? What do I need to find out first, second, third in order to answer the question? This is a good way of working out what important points or issues make up the overall question – it can help focus your reading and start giving your essay a structure. However, try not to have too many sub-questions as this can lead to following up minor issues, as opposed to the most important points.
- Answering the question and planning (video) Watch this brief video tutorial for more on the topic.
- Answering the question and planning (transcript) Read along while watching the video tutorial.
The kinds of things to note briefly are:
- What you already know about the topic – from lectures, seminars, general knowledge.
- Things you don't know about the topic, but need to find out in order to answer the question.
- Initial responses or answers to the question – what you think your conclusion might possibly be.
This helps you start formulating your argument and direction for answering the question. It also helps you focus your reading, as you can pinpoint what you need to find out and go straight to the parts of books, chapters, articles that will be most relevant.
After reading - After your reading, it is often good to summarise all your findings on a page. Again, a spider diagram can help with this.
Bringing together the key points from your reading helps clarify what you have found out, and helps you find a pathway through all the ideas and issues you have encountered. If you include brief details of authors and page nos. for key information, it can act as a quick at-a-glance guide for finding the evidence you need to support your points later.
It also helps you see how your initial response to the question might have changed or become more sophisticated in light of the reading you've done. It leads into planning your essay structure.
- It enables you to work out a logical structure and an end point for your argument before you start writing.
- It means you don't have to do this type of complex thinking at the same time as trying to find the right words to express your ideas.
- It helps you to commit yourself to sticking to the point!
You need to work out what to include, and what can be left out. It is impossible to cover everything in an essay, and your markers will be looking for evidence of your ability to choose material and put it in order. Brainstorm all your ideas, then arrange them in three or four groups. Not everything will fit so be prepared to discard some points (you can mention them briefly in your introduction).
Outline what you are going to include in each section:
- Introduction : Address the question, show why it's interesting and how you will answer it.
- Main body : Build your argument. Put your groups of ideas in a sequence to make a persuasive argument. One main point in each paragraph.
- Conclusion : Summarise your arguments and evidence, and show how they answer the original question.
Writing a summary - Some people plan best once they have written something, as this helps clarify their thinking. If you prefer to write first, try summarising the central idea of your essay in a few sentences. This gives you a clear direction for working out how you are going to break it down into points supported by evidence. You can then use one of the methods below to write a more detailed plan.
- Structuring your essay (video) Watch this brief video tutorial for more on the topic.
- Structuring your essay (transcript) Read along while watching the video tutorial.
Bullet points / linear plans - This type of plan lists the main points using bullet points or numbers. It can be a brief outline of the main point per paragraph, or a more detailed plan with sub-points and a note of the evidence to support each point (e.g. source and page no.).
No plan is perfect, so be prepared for your ideas to change as you write your essay. However, once you have an initial plan it is much easier to adapt it and see where new things fit if your thinking does change.
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7 Steps for Writing an Essay Plan
Have you ever started writing an essay then realized you have run out of ideas to talk about?
This can make you feel deflated and you start to hate your essay!
The best way to avoid this mid-essay disaster is to plan ahead: you need to write an Essay Plan!
Essay planning is one of the most important skills I teach my students. When I have one-to-one tutorials with my students, I always send them off with an essay plan and clear goals about what to write.
Essay Planning isn’t as dull as you think. In fact, it really does only take a short amount of time and can make you feel oh so relieved that you know what you’re doing!
Here’s my 7-Step method that I encourage you to use for your next essay:
The 7-Step Guide on How to write an Essay Plan
- Figure out your Essay Topic (5 minutes)
- Gather your Sources and take Quick Notes (20 minutes)
- Brainstorm using a Mind-Map (10 minutes)
- Arrange your Topics (2 minutes)
- Write your topic Sentences (5 minutes)
- Write a No-Pressure Draft in 3 Hours (3 hours)
- Edit your Draft Once every Few Days until Submission (30 minutes)
I’ve been using this 7-Step essay planning strategy since I was in my undergraduate degree. Now, I’ve completed a PhD and written over 20 academic journal articles and dozens of blog posts using this method – and it still works!
Let’s go through my 7 steps for how to write an essay plan.
Prefer to Watch than Read? Here’s our video on writing an Essay Plan.
how to write an essay plan
1. figure out your essay topic. here’s how..
Where did your teacher provide you with your assessment details?
Find it. This is where you begin.
Now, far, far, far too many students end up writing essays that aren’t relevant to the essay question given to you by your teacher. So print out your essay question and any other advice or guidelines provided by your teacher.
Here’s some things that your assessment details page might include:
- The essay question;
- The marking criteria;
- Suggested sources to read;
- Some background information on the topic
The essay question is really important. Once you’ve printed it I want you to do one thing:
Highlight the key phrases in the essay question.
Here’s some essay questions and the key phrases you’d want to highlight:
This strategy helps you to hone in on exactly what you want to talk about. These are the key phrases you’re going to use frequently in your writing and use when you look for sources to cite in your essay!
The other top thing to look at is the marking criteria. Some teachers don’t provide this, but if they do then make sure you pay attention to the marking criteria !
Here’s an example of a marking criteria sheet:
Sample Essay Topic: Is Climate Change the Greatest Moral Challenge of our Generation?
Now, if you have a marking criteria you really need to pay attention to this. You have to make sure you’ve ticked off all the key criteria that you will be marked on. For the example above, your essay is going to have to make sure it:
- Takes a position about whether climate change is a serious challenge for human kind;
- Discusses multiple different people’s views on the topic;
- Explores examples and case studies (‘practical situations’);
- Uses referencing to back up your points.
The reason you need to be really careful to pay attention to this marking criteria is because it is your cheat sheet: it tells you what to talk about!
Step 1 only takes you five minutes and helps you to clearly clarify what you’re going to be talking about! Now your mind is tuned in and you can start doing some preliminary research.
2. Gather your Sources and take Quick Notes. Here’s how.
Now that you know what your focus is, you can start finding some information to discuss. You don’t want to just write things from the top of your head. If you want top marks, you want some deep, detailed and specific pieces of information.
Fortunately, your teacher has probably made this easy for you.
The top source for finding information will be the resources your teacher provided. These resources were hand picked by your teacher because they believed these were the best sources available our there on the topic. Here are the most common resources teachers provide:
- Lecture Slides;
- Assigned Readings.
The lecture slides are one of the best resources for you to access. Lecture slides are usually provided online for you. Download them, save them on your computer, and dig them up when it’s time to write the essay plan.
Find the lecture slides most relevant to your topic. To take the example of our climate change essay, maybe climate change is only discussed in three of the weeks in your course. Those are the three weeks’ lecture slides you want to hone-in on.
Flick through those lecture slides and take quick notes on a piece of paper – what are the most important topics and statistics that are relevant to your essay question?
Now, move on to the assigned readings . Your teacher will have selected some readings for you to do for homework through the semester. They may be eBooks, Textbooks or Journal Articles.
These assigned readings were assigned for a reason: because they have very important information to read ! Scan through them and see if there’s any more points you can add to your list of statistics and key ideas to discuss.
Next, try to find a few more sources using Google Scholar. This is a great resource for finding more academic articles that you can read to find even more details and ideas to add to your essay.
Here’s my notes that I researched for the essay question “Is Climate Change the Greatest Moral Challenge of our Generation?” As you can see, it doesn’t have to be beautiful #Studygram notes! It’s just rough notes to get all the important information down:
Once you’ve read the assigned lecture slides and readings, you should have a good preliminary list of ideas, topics, statistics and even quotes that you can use in step 3.
3. Brainstorm using a Mind-Map. Here’s how.
Do your initial notes look a little disorganized?
That’s okay. The point of Step 2 was to gather information. Now it’s time to start sorting these ideas in your mind.
The best way to organize thoughts is to create a Mind-Map. Here’s how Mind-Maps often look:
For your essay plan Mind-Map, write the essay question in the middle of the page and draw a circle around it.
Then, select the biggest and most important key ideas that you think are worth discussing in the essay. To decide on these, you might want to look back at the notes you took in Step 2.
Each key idea will take up around about 200 – 350 words (1 to 2 sentences).
Here’s a rough guide for how many key ideas you’ll want depending on your essay length:
- 1000-word essay: 3 to 4 key ideas
- 1500-word essay: 5 to 7 key ideas
- 2000-word essay: 6 to 8 key ideas
- 3000-word essay: 9 to 12 key ideas
Once you’ve selected your key ideas you can list them in a circle around the essay question, just like this:
Last, we need to add detail and depth to each key idea. So, draw more lines out from each key ideas and list:
- Two sources that you will cite for each key idea;
- A statistic or example that you will provide for each key idea;
- Any additional interesting facts for each key idea
Here’s how it might look once you’re done:
4. Arrange your Topics. Here’s how.
You’re well and truly on your way to getting your essay down on paper now.
There’s one last thing to do before you start getting words down on the manuscript that you will submit. You need to arrange your topics to decide which to write first, second, third, fourth, and last!
Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Start and end with your strongest points;
- Ensure the points logically flow.
To ensure your points logically flow, think about how you’re going to transition from one idea to the next . Does one key point need to be made first so that the other ones make sense?
Do two key points seem to fit next to one another? If so, make sure you list them side-by-side.
Have a play around with the order you want to discuss the ideas until you’re comfortable. Then, list them in order. Here’s my order for my Climate Change essay:
Each of these key ideas is going to turn into a paragraph or two (probably two) in the essay.
5. Write your topic Sentences in just 5 minutes. Here’s how.
All good essays have clear paragraphs that start with a topic sentence . To turn these brainstormed key points into an essay, you need to get that list you wrote in Step 5 and turn each point into a topic sentence for a paragraph.
It’s important that the first sentence of each paragraph clearly states the paragraph’s topic. Your marker is going to want to know exactly what your paragraph is about immediately. You don’t want your marker to wait until the 3 rd , 4 th or 5 th line of a paragraph before they figure out what you’re talking about in the paragraph.
So, you need to state what your key idea is in the first sentence of the paragraph.
Let’s have a go at turning each of our key ideas into a topic sentence:
6. Write a No-Pressure Essay Draft in just 3 Hours. Here’s how.
Okay, now the rubber hits the road. Let’s get writing!
When you write your first draft, don’t put pressure on yourself. Remind yourself that this is the first of several attempts at creating a great essay, so it doesn’t need to be perfect right away. The important thing is that you get words down on paper.
To write the draft, have a go at adding to each of your topic sentences to turn them into full paragraphs. Follow the information you wrote down in your notes and Mind-Map to get some great details down on paper.
Forget about the introduction and conclusion for now. You can write them last.
Let’s have a go at one together. I’m going to choose the paragraph on my key idea “Is climate change caused by humans?”
I’ve already got my first sentence and my brainstormed ideas. Let’s build on them to write a draft paragraph:
- “Most scientists believe climate change is caused by humans. In fact, according to the IPCC, over 98% of climate change scientists accept the scientific data that climate change is caused by humans (IPCC, 2018). This figure is very high, signalling overwhelming expert consensus. This consensus holds that the emission of carbon from burning of fossil fuels in the 20 th Century is trapping heat into the atmosphere. However, a minority of dissenting scientists continue to claim that this carbon build-up is mostly the fault of natural forces such as volcanoes which emit enormous amounts of carbon into the atmosphere (Bier, 2013).”
Your turn – have a go at your own draft paragraphs based on your Mind-Map for your essay topic! If you hit a rut or have some trouble, don’t forget to check out our article on how to write perfect paragraphs .
Once you’ve written all your paragraphs, make sure you write an introduction and conclusion .
Gone over the word count? Check out our article on how to reduce your word count.
7. Edit your Draft Once every Few Days until Submission. Check out this simple approach:
Okay, hopefully after your three hour essay drafting session you’ve got all your words down on paper. Congratulations!
However, we’re not done yet.
The best students finish their drafts early on so they have a good three or four weeks to come back and re-read their draft and edit it every few days.
When coming back to edit your draft , here’s a few things to look out for:
- Make sure all the paragraph and sentence structure makes sense. Feel free to change words around until things sound right. You might find that the first time you edit something it sounds great, but next time you realize it’s not as good as you thought. That’s why we do multiple rounds of edits over the course of a few weeks;
- Check for spelling, grammar and punctuation errors;
- Print out your draft and read it on paper. You notice more mistakes when you read a printed-out version;
- Work on adding any more details and academic sources from online sources like Google Scholar to increase your chance of getting a top grade. Here’s our ultimate guide on finding scholarly sources online – it might be helpful for this step!
Before you go – Here’s the Actionable Essay Plan Tips Summed up for you
Phew! That essay was tough. But with this essay plan, you can get through any essay and do a stellar job! Essay planning is a great way to ensure your essays make sense, have a clear and compelling argument, and don’t go off-topic.
I never write an essay without one.
To sum up, here are the 7 steps to essay planning one more time:
The 7-Step Guide for How to Write an Essay Plan
Chris Drew (PhD)
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]
- Chris Drew (PhD) https://helpfulprofessor.com/author/admin/ 7 Best Scientific Calculators for Students
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Essay writing tips
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Not sure how to get started with an assignment? Here are our top tips to help you avoid all-nighters.
Plan first, write later.
Plan your essay in bullet points before you start writing it. This makes it easy to have an overview of your essay and structure your argument so you know what to write. Make your points follow on from one another so your argument builds to a logical conclusion. Once you have all your points in order, then start writing.
You don't need to have done 100% of your research to start writing your essay. Make notes as you research and organise these into key points. Use these as the basis for your bullet points. (Reference the source for your notes as you go — this will make referencing your essay later much easier.)
Once you have your bullet list essay outline, you can start writing — one bullet point at a time. This makes essay writing more manageable than trying to think about the whole piece at once. If you struggle to expand on a bullet point, you probably need to do more research. The good news? You only need to focus your research on this missing bit of information.
You don't need to tackle your bullet points in order. It's usually best to focus on whichever one you have the most information for or are in the mood to write about. You can go back and fill the gaps in any earlier bullet points later, once you’ve made some progress with the rest of your essay and built some momentum. (Mildly interesting fact: professional writers use "TK" as a placeholder for missing information. If you use a similar method, you can go back and search for "TK" once you've finished your first draft, then tackle each missing item one at a time until your essay draft is complete.
Keep writing and editing separate
Don't worry about word count or try to edit your essay while writing your first draft. Your first goal is to expand on each bullet point until you get all the way through your essay. The quality of writing in your first draft doesn't matter. What matters at the start is momentum. You can fix the word count by adding or removing words and tightening up your writing so it reads well after you've finished your first draft.
Once your first draft is written, you're ready to proofread and edit it. It's usually helpful to put your first draft aside for a few hours (ideally overnight) once you've finished it and come back to it with fresh eyes to edit it. you have two goals for this stage: 1. Edit for clarity 2. Edit for wordcount Go through it sentence by sentence and ask yourself these questions: · Have I said what I wanted to say? · Does it make sense? · Is this the best way to say it? If you are under your word count, look for areas where you can give more detail to improve the clarity or strength of your argument. If you are over your word count, look for places where you have repeated yourself or are over-explaining things. Also, look for ways you can restructure sentences to make them shorter. This can be challenging. It's usually easier to add words than cut them, but there should be parts of your first draft that are the written equivalent of "thinking aloud." You can often cut many words by focusing on these areas and turning whole paragraphs into single sentences. Similarly, long, complicated sentences can often be split into two or three simple short sentences that improve clarity and reduce your total wordcount.
Do the details last
Add references and formatting at the end. It's much quicker to write and edit your first draft if you don't worry about formatting and referencing at this early stage. Once you've edited for clarity and length, read back through your essay one final time, and format your text and add references as you go. Once you get to the end of this final pass, you are done.
You can (kind of) apply this approach to non-essay projects. Outline a project plan first before you get stuck in. If you plan well and make your decisions on paper before you start to execute your project, you're less likely to run into unforeseen problems part-way through and you should get a better finished project with less effort and stress as a result.
Essay writing summary
1. Start your essay by making a bullet point outline. This will break your essay into manageable bite-sized chunks. Your outline will expand and get reordered as you do your research 2. Once you're happy with your bullet point essay outline, write your first draft by expanding on each point. If any points are hard to expand on, move on to the next point. come back later and do more focused research on any missing points 3. Write your first draft quickly. Momentum is your friend. Don't worry about word count. You can add or remove words later when you edit it 4. Once you've finished your first draft, go back and fill in any missing points. Once you've done this, read through your essay and edit it for clarity and length. Short, simple sentences help with both of these, so use fewer commas and more full stops. 5. Once you have an edited essay of appropriate length, give it a final read-through, add references, and format it so it is presentable and easy to read.
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- Knowledge Base
- How to write an essay outline | Guidelines & examples
How to Write an Essay Outline | Guidelines & Examples
Published on August 14, 2020 by Jack Caulfield . Revised on July 23, 2023.
An essay outline is a way of planning the structure of your essay before you start writing. It involves writing quick summary sentences or phrases for every point you will cover in each paragraph , giving you a picture of how your argument will unfold.
Table of contents
Organizing your material, presentation of the outline, examples of essay outlines, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about essay outlines.
At the stage where you’re writing an essay outline, your ideas are probably still not fully formed. You should know your topic and have already done some preliminary research to find relevant sources , but now you need to shape your ideas into a structured argument.
Look over any information, quotes and ideas you’ve noted down from your research and consider the central point you want to make in the essay—this will be the basis of your thesis statement . Once you have an idea of your overall argument, you can begin to organize your material in a way that serves that argument.
Try to arrange your material into categories related to different aspects of your argument. If you’re writing about a literary text, you might group your ideas into themes; in a history essay, it might be several key trends or turning points from the period you’re discussing.
Three main themes or subjects is a common structure for essays. Depending on the length of the essay, you could split the themes into three body paragraphs, or three longer sections with several paragraphs covering each theme.
As you create the outline, look critically at your categories and points: Are any of them irrelevant or redundant? Make sure every topic you cover is clearly related to your thesis statement.
Order of information
When you have your material organized into several categories, consider what order they should appear in.
Your essay will always begin and end with an introduction and conclusion , but the organization of the body is up to you.
Consider these questions to order your material:
- Is there an obvious starting point for your argument?
- Is there one subject that provides an easy transition into another?
- Do some points need to be set up by discussing other points first?
Prevent plagiarism. Run a free check.
Within each paragraph, you’ll discuss a single idea related to your overall topic or argument, using several points of evidence or analysis to do so.
In your outline, you present these points as a few short numbered sentences or phrases.They can be split into sub-points when more detail is needed.
The template below shows how you might structure an outline for a five-paragraph essay.
- Thesis statement
- First piece of evidence
- Second piece of evidence
- Importance of topic
- Strong closing statement
You can choose whether to write your outline in full sentences or short phrases. Be consistent in your choice; don’t randomly write some points as full sentences and others as short phrases.
Examples of outlines for different types of essays are presented below: an argumentative, expository, and literary analysis essay.
Argumentative essay outline
This outline is for a short argumentative essay evaluating the internet’s impact on education. It uses short phrases to summarize each point.
Its body is split into three paragraphs, each presenting arguments about a different aspect of the internet’s effects on education.
- Importance of the internet
- Concerns about internet use
- Thesis statement: Internet use a net positive
- Data exploring this effect
- Analysis indicating it is overstated
- Students’ reading levels over time
- Why this data is questionable
- Video media
- Interactive media
- Speed and simplicity of online research
- Questions about reliability (transitioning into next topic)
- Evidence indicating its ubiquity
- Claims that it discourages engagement with academic writing
- Evidence that Wikipedia warns students not to cite it
- Argument that it introduces students to citation
- Summary of key points
- Value of digital education for students
- Need for optimism to embrace advantages of the internet
Expository essay outline
This is the outline for an expository essay describing how the invention of the printing press affected life and politics in Europe.
The paragraphs are still summarized in short phrases here, but individual points are described with full sentences.
- Claim that the printing press marks the end of the Middle Ages.
- Provide background on the low levels of literacy before the printing press.
- Present the thesis statement: The invention of the printing press increased circulation of information in Europe, paving the way for the Reformation.
- Discuss the very high levels of illiteracy in medieval Europe.
- Describe how literacy and thus knowledge and education were mainly the domain of religious and political elites.
- Indicate how this discouraged political and religious change.
- Describe the invention of the printing press in 1440 by Johannes Gutenberg.
- Show the implications of the new technology for book production.
- Describe the rapid spread of the technology and the printing of the Gutenberg Bible.
- Link to the Reformation.
- Discuss the trend for translating the Bible into vernacular languages during the years following the printing press’s invention.
- Describe Luther’s own translation of the Bible during the Reformation.
- Sketch out the large-scale effects the Reformation would have on religion and politics.
- Summarize the history described.
- Stress the significance of the printing press to the events of this period.
Literary analysis essay outline
The literary analysis essay outlined below discusses the role of theater in Jane Austen’s novel Mansfield Park .
The body of the essay is divided into three different themes, each of which is explored through examples from the book.
- Describe the theatricality of Austen’s works
- Outline the role theater plays in Mansfield Park
- Introduce the research question : How does Austen use theater to express the characters’ morality in Mansfield Park ?
- Discuss Austen’s depiction of the performance at the end of the first volume
- Discuss how Sir Bertram reacts to the acting scheme
- Introduce Austen’s use of stage direction–like details during dialogue
- Explore how these are deployed to show the characters’ self-absorption
- Discuss Austen’s description of Maria and Julia’s relationship as polite but affectionless
- Compare Mrs. Norris’s self-conceit as charitable despite her idleness
- Summarize the three themes: The acting scheme, stage directions, and the performance of morals
- Answer the research question
- Indicate areas for further study
If you want to know more about AI tools , college essays , or fallacies make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples or go directly to our tools!
- Ad hominem fallacy
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You will sometimes be asked to hand in an essay outline before you start writing your essay . Your supervisor wants to see that you have a clear idea of your structure so that writing will go smoothly.
Even when you do not have to hand it in, writing an essay outline is an important part of the writing process . It’s a good idea to write one (as informally as you like) to clarify your structure for yourself whenever you are working on an essay.
If you have to hand in your essay outline , you may be given specific guidelines stating whether you have to use full sentences. If you’re not sure, ask your supervisor.
When writing an essay outline for yourself, the choice is yours. Some students find it helpful to write out their ideas in full sentences, while others prefer to summarize them in short phrases.
You should try to follow your outline as you write your essay . However, if your ideas change or it becomes clear that your structure could be better, it’s okay to depart from your essay outline . Just make sure you know why you’re doing so.
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An essay plan is a way to identify, select, and order the points you want to make in your essay. It helps you to work out your argument and your structure before writing, which should make the writing process more efficient and focussed. Sometimes essay plans are set as formative assignments so tutors can provide feedback before you write your full essay.
Scroll down for our recommended strategies and resources.
Enough detail for feedback
If you have an essay plan as an assignment, the main purpose is to give your lecturer enough information about your structure and main points so they can give you useful feedback. Follow any guidance you have been given, but usually an essay plan doesn’t have to be in full sentences; an outline structure of main points in a bullet point list, maybe with some further details of the evidence you will use or explanation under each point, is often enough. See these guides on how to do simple outline plans for an essay:
How to plan an essay (University of Newcastle)
Structuring the essay (Monash University)
Different ways of planning
Group similar ideas.
The aim of planning is to put down all your ideas and then to sort through them and order them. Look at where the ideas group together to see if any common themes start emerging, as these might form the paragraphs in your essay. See the video below for an example of how to group and order ideas in a plan.
Planning: General structure [video] (University of York)
Changes are normal - reverse outline
We rarely follow our essay plans exactly because our ideas develop as we write. If you don’t keep to your plan, it isn’t a sign of failure or a sign that planning doesn’t work. However, you may need to reflect on your planning process - are you over-planning and it takes too much time, or are your plans too vague and more detail would help? If you have strayed from your plan, a good strategy is to check the structure of your essay afterwards to make sure it all matches up. See the guide below on how to do a reverse outline as a useful part of your redrafting process.
Reverse outlines (Queen’s University, Belfast)
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Basic essay structure
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Organise your essays to demonstrate your knowledge, show your research and support your arguments.
Essays are usually written in continuous, flowing, paragraphed text and don’t use section headings. This may seem unstructured at first, but good essays are carefully structured.
How your assignment content is structured is your choice. Use the basic pattern below to get started.
An essay consists of three basic parts:, introduction.
The essay itself usually has no section headings. Only the title page, author declaration and reference list are written as headings, along with, for example, appendices. Check any task instructions, and your course or unit handbook, for further details.
Content in assignment introductions can vary widely. In some disciplines you may need to provide a full background and context, whereas other essays may need only a little context, and others may need none.
An introduction to an essay usually has three primary purposes:
- To set the scene
- To tell readers what is important, and why
- To tell the reader what the essay is going to do (signposting)
A standard introduction includes the following five elements:
- A statement that sets out the topic and engages the reader.
- The background and context of the topic.
- Any important definitions, integrated into your text as appropriate.
- An outline of the key points, topic, issues, evidence, ideas, arguments, models, theories, or other information, as appropriate. This may include distinctions or contrasts between different ideas or evidence.
- A final sentence or two which tells the reader your focal points and aims.
You should aim to restrict your introduction to information needed for the topic and only include background and contextual information which helps the reader understand it, or sets the scene for your chosen focal points.
In most essays you will have a considerable range of options for your focus. You will be expected to demonstrate your ability to select the most relevant content to address your focal points.
There are some exceptions. For example, if an assignment brief specifically directs the essay focus or requires you to write broadly about a topic. These are relatively rare or are discipline-specific so you should check your task instructions and discipline and subject area conventions.
Below are examples of an opening statement, a summary of the selected content, and a statement at the end of the introduction which tells the reader what the essay will focus on and how it will be addressed. We've use a fictional essay.
The title of our essay is: 'Cats are better than dogs. Discuss.'
To submit this essay you also would need to add citations as appropriate.
Example of opening statements:
People have shared their lives with cats and dogs for millenia. Which is better depends partly on each animal’s characteristics and partly on the owner’s preferences.
Here is a summary of five specific topics selected for the essay, which would be covered in a little more detail in the introduction:
- In ancient Egypt, cats were treated as sacred and were pampered companions.
- Dogs have for centuries been used for hunting and to guard property. There are many types of working dog, and both dogs and cats are now kept purely as pets.
- They are very different animals, with different care needs, traits and abilities.
- It is a common perception that people are either “cat-lovers” or “dog-lovers”.
- It is a common perception that people tend to have preferences for one, and negative beliefs about and attitudes towards, the other.
Example of closing statements at the end of the introduction:
This essay will examine both cats’ and dogs’ behaviour and abilities, the benefits of keeping them as pets, and whether people’s perceptions of their nature matches current knowledge and understanding.
Main body: paragraphs
The body of the essay should be organised into paragraphs. Each paragraph should deal with a different aspect of the issue, but they should also link in some way to those that precede and follow it. This is not an easy thing to get right, even for experienced writers, partly because there are many ways to successfully structure and use paragraphs. There is no perfect paragraph template.
The theme or topic statement
The first sentence, or sometimes two, tells the reader what the paragraph is going to cover. It may either:
- Begin a new point or topic, or
- Follow on from the previous paragraph, but with a different focus or go into more-specific detail. If this is the case, it should clearly link to the previous paragraph.
The last sentence
It should be clear if the point has come to an end, or if it continues in the next paragraph.
Here is a brief example of flow between two summarised paragraphs which cover the historical perspective:
It is known from hieroglyphs that the Ancient Egyptians believed that cats were sacred. They were also held in high regard, as suggested by their being found mummified and entombed with their owners (Smith, 1969). In addition, cats are portrayed aiding hunters. Therefore, they were both treated as sacred, and were used as intelligent working companions. However, today they are almost entirely owned as pets.
In contrast, dogs have not been regarded as sacred, but they have for centuries been widely used for hunting in Europe. This developed over time and eventually they became domesticated and accepted as pets. Today, they are seen as loyal, loving and protective members of the family, and are widely used as working dogs.
There is never any new information in a conclusion.
The conclusion usually does three things:
- Reminds your readers of what the essay was meant to do.
- Provides an answer, where possible, to the title.
- Reminds your reader how you reached that answer.
The conclusion should usually occupy just one paragraph. It draws together all the key elements of your essay, so you do not need to repeat the fine detail unless you are highlighting something.
A conclusion to our essay about cats and dogs is given below:
Both cats and dogs have been highly-valued for millenia, are affectionate and beneficial to their owners’ wellbeing. However, they are very different animals and each is 'better' than the other regarding care needs and natural traits. Dogs need regular training and exercise but many owners do not train or exercise them enough, resulting in bad behaviour. They also need to be 'boarded' if the owner is away and to have frequent baths to prevent bad odours. In contrast, cats do not need this level of effort and care. Dogs are seen as more intelligent, loyal and attuned to human beings, whereas cats are perceived as aloof and solitary, and as only seeking affection when they want to be fed. However, recent studies have shown that cats are affectionate and loyal and more intelligent than dogs, but it is less obvious and useful. There are, for example, no 'police' or 'assistance' cats, in part because they do not have the kinds of natural instincts which make dogs easy to train. Therefore, which animal is better depends upon personal preference and whether they are required to work. Therefore, although dogs are better as working animals, cats are easier, better pets.
Download our basic essay structure revision sheet
Download this page as a PDF for your essay structure revision notes
Better Essays: Signposting
Paragraphs main body of an assessment
Essay Mapping Tool
Effective writing at university is a process:
Analyse the task → Gather content → Plan → Draft → Edit
This tool may help you to bridge from planning to drafting by helping you arrange your sentences in a logical order. It also provides tips for each component of an essay – the introduction, body, and conclusion. It can be used to improve your understanding of essay writing in general or as a planning tool for one of your university assignments.
Because this tool is for your personal use only, you may decide to write in bullet points, but we recommend full sentences. Once you have filled in each section, a complete essay overview will be generated which can be printed.
Three paragraphs planning spaces have been provided for you. You can add or delete as necessary.
The purpose of the body is to logically develop the points made in your thesis and outline statements. There are no rules about the number of paragraphs required in assignment, but in general, you are advised to develop one idea per paragraph. This is done with a clear and coherent structure which introduces the topic in a topic sentence, defines or clarifies which aspect of the topic you are going to discuss, develops and supports your discussion and (optionally) concludes your discussion.
A topic sentence generally has two parts. You may refer to the overall essay topic and also introduce the specific aspect you plan to discuss in this paragraph. This is referred to as topic + controlling idea . You can also use a topic sentence to link to or contrast with the previous paragraph. This is an effective strategy to use with the second body paragraph onwards. You may choose to conclude the paragraph with a summary sentence; however, you are advised not to overuse this type of sentence as it may seem repetitious.
Cohesion and coherence refer to how effectively sentences are connected and how smoothly the writing flows. This is not simply achieved by following a logical paragraph structure, but also by using linking words (e.g. however/furthermore/consequently ) and referring words (e.g. this/that/these/those )
When you develop your argument, remember to use a range of support. You can use examples, logical reasoning, speculation, statistics and citations
Write the topic and controlling idea (one sentence).
Support your controlling idea using evidence, examples, elaboration or explanations. Do not go off topic. Do use in-text references.
Sum up the paragraph and link to your thesis OR link to the next paragraph (one sentence).
Paragraph 3, 3. conclusion.
The purpose of the conclusion is to summarize the key points you have discussed; however, it often contains a paraphrase of the thesis statement. This helps link the whole essay together. A conclusion may also contain a statement which links the essay to the broader topic or suggests a future action.
You can begin with the phrase ' In conclusion, ' but there are other phrases you could consider: In summary/This assignment has…/In this essay, I have… . Avoid Finally/Briefly/
Remember to reference any sources you have used. Refer to CDU Library for more information on referencing.
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Can an Essay be Written in Bullet Points or Main Points Form
Bullets in Your Essay Writing
An essay is a piece of academic writing that ranges in length from 500 to 5000 words. Originally, the term essay meant practice or first attempt, which could imply an exploratory phase.
Essays are a type of intellectual investigation that involves examining various arguments and facts while also developing the writer’s point of view. Bullet points typically highlight and separate a list, and some subjects may allow them in essays.
It is essential to double-check the essay writing guidelines provided by your professors or institution. Some departments may demand bullet points in essays, while others prohibit them.
Can an Essay be Written in Bullet Points?
Essays normally adhere to a rigid format, but now and then, something happens to throw that structure off. The essay may require lists, which might cause problems with its design, organization, and grammar.
Ideally, an essay can be written in bullet points if that is how the instructor wants it or if only the main points format is required. Generally, in some subjects , readers will tend to understand your point quickly when you add a list of subtopics or themes, components of an item, phases of analysis, lists of recommendations, and the like.
The key to using lists in an essay is to employ proper punctuation and language while maintaining a consistent grammatical style.
To introduce a standard list, begin with a new sentence or independent clause.
To indicate that the list will be long, use a colon, or commas to divide items in a shortlist.
If you need to divide things in a list, a semicolon separates items with more than three words and items with commas. You can use a dash to start a shorter list from within a sentence. Dashes are informal punctuation that marks an abrupt transition in a sentence.
Numbered lists are different from other types of lists. You start with a statement that introduces the list, then list the stages with numerals and periods.
It is possible to incorporate numbered lists in an MLA essay, although you should avoid them as much as feasible. You can integrate lists in your essay in a few different methods, so ask your professor which style they prefer.
One technique to incorporate lists into MLA essays is to write them into a sentence.
Use a colon to introduce the list in the sentence, then commas or semicolons to separate the items on the list. You can employ parentheses to number the items in the list without the “and” at the end. Longer lists and lists with long articles benefit from block quotes.
Why Bullets are Discouraged in Essay Writing
Bullet points are discouraged in essays because educational institutions want to evaluate how well you can put words on paper rather than rely on writing aids like bullet points. The essays should have a formal framework, but the tone can depart significantly from formal rules.
The goal of writing an academic essay is to demonstrate your ability to conduct research, weigh arguments, organize your thoughts, articulate these views in a logical, cohesive, and critical manner, and draw conclusions based on the facts and arguments you present.
You will have to be judicious about what you write because the number of words and writing aids you can use is limited.
Writing an essay, regardless of topic, is a complex procedure that takes a great deal of practice, and regrettably, no method can guarantee excellent written work.
There is no one-size-fits-all technique to writing an essay; nonetheless, there are some duties that should assist you in producing a quality piece of work. When a bullet point is a complete sentence, it should begin with a capital letter and close with proper punctuation.
Bullet points don’t require a complete sentence. Keep Bullet point statements at a minimum to have the most impact.
You can also read a guide on how to write a college essay .
How to Incorporate Bullet Points into an Essay
There are specific guidelines to follow when using lists in your work. However, first, determine that you require a list. Lists are excellent when you need to convey a lot of information to the reader quickly and easily without bogging them down with lengthy passages.
They can also help provide precise instructions for a procedure, prerequisites for completing a specific task, or in using references to keep track of a timetable or an event.
When utilizing lists, make sure to adhere to acknowledged formatting standards.
It will instill confidence in your audience, and you will be sure to get a good mark.
You can use an online APA format generator to avoid making mistakes in your reference list.
When using lists, keep the following points in mind:
- If your list items are whole sentences, make sure to capitalize and punctuate each one as if it were a separate phrase.
- When employing fragmented sentences, avoid using any punctuation at the end.
- When using semicolons to divide list items, a full stop should come after the last item.
- Make sure your list items all have the same structure and style. For example, if you use complete sentences, make sure all of your list items are complete sentences.
- Make sure that all of the items on your list connect to the same subject.
In APA or MLA papers, use a bulleted list with semicolons.
A formal list using semicolons looks like this:
- Avoid overusing lists;
- Use lists to add interest to your work;
- You can use lists can in various documents, from a simple essay to a Ph.D. dissertation.
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