Essay planning

Essay planning

Need help on those dreaded essays? Check out these handy hints and tips to ensure you get those extra marks!

You can approach the composition of an essay using a number of different strategies. Some people just start writing and see what shape emerges from their ideas. However, it is preferable to plan your work carefully. You will need plenty of scrap paper on which to jot down notes and themes. If you are writing in an exam, don't spend too much time planning as you might run out of time when writing the essay itself.

Here are some steps to follow to ensure you write the perfect essay!


Make sure you understand exactly what you are being asked to do. What is the central issue of the question? What is it giving you the chance to write about? Underline key words and specific instructions.

Your essay must be relevant to the question you have been set. During the planning process, keep asking yourself, 'Is this issue directly related to the topic I have been asked to discuss?'.

What kind of response does the question call for? For example, are you asked to 'analyse' or 'compare and contrast' or 'discuss' the subject of the essay?

Write down anything which might be relevant to your answer. This can include ideas, observations, themes, or examples you remember from your study materials.

At this stage you are brainstorming so it is a good idea to make a note of anything you think of. If you are writing an English essay try to remember some quotes or images; if you are writing a history essay you should include key dates and events.

From the ideas you have jotted down, extract the main points you are going to make in your essay. Ignore anything which isn't relevant to the question.

Write your points down so that they form a logical sequence. Your aim is to formulate a persuasive and coherent argument in response to the question. Try out different arrangements of your points until you find the order which presents your ideas most clearly and convincingly.


A basic essay structure will look like this: Introduction-Argument-Conclusion. In the introduction you should state your case as briefly as possible and try to engage your reader's interest. In the main body of the essay you should present the evidence for the case, with examples to illustrate your points; the supporting material must be persuasive. Aim for clarity and conciseness in your writing.


The conclusion of an essay is often difficult to write. As a final statement, it should neatly sum up your ideas. Summarise the main point and echo the key themes without actually repeating them. Your conclusion should never introduce new ideas. End with a tidy final comment. The introduction and conclusion should focus clearly on your main argument.

If you are writing in an exam, leave enough time at the end to proofread your work. Check for misspellings and omitted words.

If you are using a computer to write your essay, you have the advantage of being able to edit the text easily. Read over your work and ask yourself: Can readers follow the overall structure? Are your ideas ordered effectively? Are the paragraphs logically linked and do they make sense? Are any of the paragraphs too long for easy reading?

When writing your essay, bear in mind the words of Spanish author Enrique Jardiel Poncela (1901-1952): "When something can be read without effort, great effort has gone into its writing"