How to Plan Your Essay

How to Plan Your Essay

When you've been asked to write an essay, it can feel overwhelming. That's especially true if you're just getting started out in college and haven't had to write that many essays before. You can also have trouble if you're being asked to write on something you don't know much about, or in an area where you have strong opinions. You don't need to panic, though. There are plenty of things you can do to make your essay writing easier, and a number of ways to work through any topic or subject. One of those ways is to plan your essay, so you have an outline to follow and can move through the writing without getting lost. Follow these steps to make sure you plan your essay as easily as possible.


1.  Choose Your Topic

You can't write a good essay without a clear direction for your topic. Choose something that interests you, if possible. Also, try to pick something you already have knowledge about. That can help make the essay writing a lot easier. Of course, choosing this kind of topic isn't always possible. Your instructor may decide to assign topics to his or her students. If that happens, you'll end up with something to write about that you might not know much about, and that might not even seem interesting to you. Fortunately, it's not the end of the world. You can learn a lot about the topic, and you may even find out that it's really interesting once you understand it better. You could even end up with a new passion or hobby, even if you feel "forced" into writing about a particular subject.

2.  Research What Others Have Written

To find out what you need to know to write your essay, you'll want to find out what other people are saying about the topic. That can help you plan what you want to say. There are different types of essays, and you may be asked to agree or disagree with a particular point of view, or just to give a general overview of the subject. Read your instructor's requirements carefully, and ask questions if there's something you don't understand. Then you can focus your research more easily. Many essays have sourcing requirements, so take careful notes of where you got your information from. Even if you've been asked to write from your own knowledge, you want to make sure you know enough about the subject. If you don't have to cite sources, take special care not to plagiarize. No matter how many sources you read, the ideas you present in your essay must be your own. By reading everything from formal, academic studies to blogs and opinion pieces, you can learn a great deal about a topic area and form your own opinions about the issue.

3.  Determine Length and Word Count

Not every instructor will tell you how long an essay has to be. There may be a general requirement, such as three to five pages, or the instructor may simply say that the essay should be as long as necessary to cover the issue properly. That can be vague and frustrating, but it does give you more freedom when it comes to the word count of your essay. If you double space your writing, as opposed to single spacing it, you'll have fewer words on a page. It's still the best choice, though, because single-spaced writing can be harder to read. Double space your essay, and determine how many pages you want it to be. If you have a page requirement given to you by your instructor, try to keep your paper somewhere in the middle of that requirement. Doing just the bare minimum may not get you the best grade, and being too wordy just to try to fill up space can also be harmful. Once you've decided on how long your paper will be, you can start figuring out exactly what you want to put in it. If you break it into sections, you can meet a page requirement more easily.

4.  Create an Outline

Your essay will be easier to write if you take the time to create an outline for it. A lot of people don't like to do that, because they think it's a waste of time. That's not true, however. Outlining what you're going to say can really help you get your thoughts together and stay on track. Then you won't need to be concerned with getting lost in the process of writing, or spending too much time on any one area and running out of space for the others. By keeping your thoughts organized, you'll make things easier for your reader, as well. Anyone reading your essay will be able to follow the logical progression of your thoughts, and they can agree or disagree with the information you're providing. An outline doesn't take long to write, and when it's done you'll be glad you took the time. As you work on your essay, the outline will keep you on track and make sure you're providing quality information in your writing, instead of just filler content.

5.  Fill in the Outline

Outlines are often very general when they are first created. They may have basic information only, and that isn't always enough. If your essay is large or on a complicated topic, you'll want to fill in your outline. Whether you're including it with your essay for your instructor to read or you're just using it for your own organization, filling in the outline can mean the difference between having enough to say and writing just to fill space. Once you have your basic headings, you can start adding subheadings and even sub-subheadings. Some people create a very formal outline, and others choose to focus on more of a note-taking way of addressing the issue. You can use whatever works for you, as long as you fill in your outline and make sure you have a record of all the main points that need to be cover. That will go a long way toward ensuring that you don't leave anything out.

6.  Write Your Essay

A filled-in outline means you're ready to start writing your essay. It will be a lot easier to do, because you'll have a lot of the information you need already in the outline. The books and other information you read will also help you, as you can draw on what you learned from them in order to express your opinions and provide knowledge to the readers of the essay you're creating. You're not done when you've finished writing your essay, though. There's one more step you have to consider.

7.  Proofread and Edit

This is possibly the most important step in the entire process. You don't want to turn in an essay that provides a lot of great information, but that's full of awkward wording and spelling mistakes. Your message will get lost that way, and your grade might go with it. Instead of taking the risk, take a few minutes to read your essay – out loud is best – and fix anything that doesn't sound right. Use your spell check. Even have a friend read over it. There are many ways to improve upon what you've written, but proofreading and editing should always be the last step in any writing project you get involved in.


  • Don't wait until the last minute. Even if you've written lots of essays and they're easy for you, something could go wrong. It's better to get things done early, so you don't have to worry about complications at the last minute.
  • Plagiarism is serious, and you should avoid it at all costs. Make sure you don't take all those great ideas you read about and use them as your own. If you talk about the ideas of others, you have to cite your sources. Not all instructors want sources used in an essay, so make sure you understand what's being asked of you before you get started writing.

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