Answers to Frequently Asked Questions

Here you can find answers to frequently asked questions about essay and assignment planning.

Is planning really necessary?
Shouldn't I just be able to sit down and write?

Writing is an iterative process and planning is an essential part of that process. A great essay doesn't flow out fully formed from the mind of the 'perfect student'; nor do coherent, well-developed arguments. Good essays are produced through hard work, thinking and (usually) writing and rewriting. Although it can feel chaotic, planning will ultimately save you time and unnecessary confusion.

Constructing an essay plan is a way to provide yourself with an outline or 'road map' to help work out which direction to take. A plan can focus and define your ideas, provide a starting point and help break the assignment into manageable parts. Drafting a quick initial plan is a great way to avoid procrastination and to get started.

When should I make an essay plan?
Will I need to write more than one?

Before you start any journey, it's best to plan your trip. Sketch out a brief initial plan BEFORE you head for the library to spend days or weeks reading. A second plan, one you write AFTER research and reading, will strengthen and clarify your ideas and give you a solid framework from which to begin writing. So, assume that you'll draft a couple of plans over the course of writing your essay or, at the very least, revising your initial one.

What should a plan look like?

An essay plan should allow you to see the shape the essay might take. It can range from a brief sketch of main ideas to a detailed point-by-point outline, complete with draft paragraphs and topic sentences (the sentence that conveys the main idea of a paragraph). How much detail you include will depend on how developed your ideas and your knowledge are.

In terms of how it should look, an essay plan can take a number of forms: a list of bullet points, a mind map, a diagram or a few rough paragraphs. Like notes, plans can take whichever shape you find most helpful and meaningful.

I'm supposed to write an essay plan for my course,
what should it consist of?

Students are sometimes asked to submit a preliminary essay plan or outline as part of their course. This might be done as a prelude to completing a major essay, or it might be an individual form of assessment. The purpose of setting this kind of assignment is to encourage students to start engaging with the essay topic early in the semester and to provide feedback to help them proceed.

If you have been asked to submit an essay plan or outline as a course assignment, there will usually be guidelines to follow. A plan usually requires a thesis statement and an indication of main points. Other than that, clarify what your tutor/ lecturer has in mind. You need to know:

  • What form the plan should take. Should it be a list of points, a diagram etc?
  • The amount of detail required. Should you indicate sources for research, should you provide references, etc?