Planning and structuring an essay

The process of planning and structuring go hand in hand- a solid plan will often lend to a well thought through and logical structure. Planning can also make the essay-writing process much quicker.

The structure of an essay

An essay has three parts: introduction, main body and conclusion. Here are some tips to effectively craft each part:

  • Introduction- An introduction sets the tone for the rest of the essay. Here, you should state your overall argument and tell the reader what to expect in the rest of the essay (this means telling your reader about the order in which your main points have been organised). You should also define any key terms. By doing this, you are directly answering the essay question.
  • Main body- you can expect to have about three paragraphs in your main body for a 2000-word essay. Each paragraph should be making a point that directly supports your line of argument and includes evidence and examples. The main body is an opportunity to analyse the quality of the evidence you have collected during your time reading, as well as draw connections between readings and concepts. You should always work to support your argument and should link back to the essay question. If you’re stuck on how to structure a paragraph, a simple ‘point, evidence, explanation’ format is usually a good place to start!
  • Conclusion- The conclusion should tie together your essay, by summarising your findings and highlighting how you have answered the question. Refrain from including new evidence in the conclusion.

Here is a useful resource from the University of Portsmouth that details the basic structure of an essay with examples:

Approaches to planning

Planning is often an individualised process, with methods ranging from flow charts to colour coded lists or linear plans. Whatever it is, the primary purpose of the plan is to give your essay a direction. Here is some advice on how to approach planning:

  • Think about the question- contextualise the question in relation to other themes and ideas you have come across in the module so far. Highlight key words and make sure you understand these terms before proceeding. Break down the question into smaller subsections and ask yourself: what am I being asked to do? What do I need to find out in order to answer this question?
  • By breaking down the question, your reading can be more precise and purposeful. To learn more about active reading, click here
  • Once you have done the bulk of your reading, you can start to organise these ideas. Start a new document for your plan, so that your ideas are easy to follow. 

Planning an essay and structuring

The process of organising your ideas will allow you to structure your essay and result in your argument being expressed more clearly. It will also help you stick to the main points, particularly if you are writing to a word limit.

  • A useful tip is to clearly state your overall argument at the top of the page. This will act as a reminder that the points you make and evidence you use should work to strengthen this argument.
  • Think about the major themes/points you will need to cover in order to answer the question at hand. If you are writing a 2000-word essay, you should strive for 3-4 points. These themes will form the basis of the main body of your essay and should work to build and strengthen your argument.
  • It may only be possible to determine what these themes or points will be once you have done the reading.
  • Order these themes/ points in terms of their importance, with the most important point being made in the first paragraph.
  • For each big point, think about what evidence you will need to include and what can be left out. This evidence should work to prove your arguments and support your ideas. Briefly note down any discussion points you want to include, so that you don’t forget when you start writing your essay.