Steps to planning an essay

The steps to planning an essay include understanding first and foremost the subject of the essay, and the scope of what is to be written. The scope of the essay is determined largely by relevance. Relevance here means what the reader is interested in. The essay also needs to present ideas and arguments / explanations in a manner which the reader finds interesting, engaging, and ultimately useful, as the reader is the judge of whether the essay does what is required. The essay needs to be structured appropriately, and use suitable language and styles to present information. The essay also needs to be the correct length, and to provide evidence as to any claims made. It is also good practice to present a balanced view of a subject, by putting forward arguments for and against, or citing both benefits and disadvantages. All of these elements need to be considered and the essay planned carefully to deliver the information in an optimal way for the reader.

As an example, an essay about personality sounds straightforward, but for the essay to be effective, it needs to be focussed on only the relevant aspects of personality. The first stage in planning the essay would be to define what information about personality is relevant to the audience. If the audience of the essay is a company interested in using psychological measures to assess the personality of their employees, the essay would need to present the key points about personality measures, for and against, possible costs / implications, and maybe some information about how measures could be implemented. Each of these elements needs to be planned into the essay, so that they are presented in a logical and clear way, and flow on from one another. These elements would likely provide the content of the essay, and so would sit in the middle of the plan, perhaps using ‘content’ as a heading.

The content needs to be delivered to the reader in a way that the reader can appreciate the arguments / explanations being provided, so they need to be introduced. A useful way of presenting information is to move from broad, general statements, toward more specific claims, in the same way a salesman might talk to a potential buyer; first establishing a specific need by talking around a subject, and then trying to demonstrate to the buyer how the purchase could meet their specific need, by presenting specific benefits matched to the buyers need(s). The essay plan, therefore, needs to begin with an introduction, and include the general ideas that the essay will use to frame the specific content already planned in.

The essay plan now has a beginning, middle, and no conclusion. The conclusion should summarise the key points made in the middle of the essay. Good practice here is to present the key points in the same order that they are written in the content of the essay, which should be evident from the essay plan. The conclusion also needs to revisit the opening points made in the introduction, so as to relocate the reader, and give them an understanding of the broader context or meaning of the arguments / explanations presented in the essay. Again, these broad points should be evident from the essay plan. Well planned essays usually produce a conclusion almost of their own volition; if the planning was effective, then the conclusion should almost write itself, as the key points that need to be made will be obvious from the planning.

The essay plan should read like an outline of the arguments / explanations that the essay is presenting, moving from broad introductory points toward more specific points, and then concluding with the key points within context. The essay plan should show how the subject of the essay is introduced in general terms, and then how these generalisations are funnelled into specifics, which are presented as elaboration on the generalisations made in the introduction. The plan needs to include a conclusion, which should show how the specific points made are relevant to the original generalisations, or to put it another way, the specific points made in the essay should be placed into the broader context for the reader. The flow of the ideas that underpin the essay should be clear from the plan.

The reason that planning an essay is useful is that it helps the writer frame their thoughts so that the essay is focussed, effective and entirely relevant to the reader. The reader is the judge of whether an essay is good or not, and if the essay does not deliver what the reader wants, they will stop reading. Building an essay plan forces the writer to think about the aim of the essay, and about what can be practically achieved by the essay. It is at the planning stage that writers should be defining what is to be written about, and how it is to be written, so as to best address the needs of the reader of the essay. The secret of planning an essay is in understanding what the reader wants, and how the essay is defined in light of the reader’s requirements. Planning an essay also drives out areas of the subject where the writer may need to do further research, or provide evidence to back up their claims, and highlights any weaknesses in the line of argument that the writer hopes to use. Planning an essay is essential preparation to writing an essay. Not only does it provide a logical framework for the thoughts of the writer, and ensure that the reader wants to read the essay, it also drives the writing of the essay itself. Just as a good essay plan will drive the writing of the conclusion, it should also drive the writing of the entire essay. A good essay plan allows the writer to concentrate on writing well, as all the thinking about the requirements of the reader was built into the essay plan.

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