Show Me An Essay Plan

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  • Have you ever borrowed some books to start your research and realised you did not know where to begin?
  • Have you ever spent time reading a great deal of information that in the end was irrelevant to the essay or assignment you were working on?
  • Have you ever started to write your essay and realised you had too much information on one topic, and not enough information on another topic?

If you write the first draft of your essay plan before you begin your research, you will be organised and prepared, and you will save time.

​You must write the first draft of your essay plan before you start your research. This will give your research direction and ultimately make it easier for you to write your essay. Having a plan will let you know what you need to research and how much research you need on each topic or subject that you will be writing about.

​You will base this first draft of your essay plan on your essay question, and your current knowledge of your subject. You will not often be asked to write an essay on a topic you know nothing about, since you will already be studying the subject and will normally have had one or more lectures or tutorials on the topic.

It is acceptable if your essay plan is rough or vague at this point, or if you do not have a great deal of detail. You will develop your essay plan (expanding it and including more detail) and possibly even change it as you go through the research process.

What does a first draft of an essay plan look like?

The first draft of your essay plan will show you what main topics you will discuss in your essay, how the essay will be structured, and roughly how many words you will spend on each part.

If your essay question was 'Is Critical Thinking relevant to the role of a Registered Nurse?' and you had to write 1,500 words, then your essay plan might look like this:

(Please note that this sample essay plan is intended only to serve as a guide for how to develop and write an essay plan, and should not be used as an essay plan by students writing an essay on this topic.)

Introductions and conclusions

As you can see from the example essay plan above, an introduction and a conclusion will normally be approximately ten per cent of the word count of the entire essay. (This is a general guide and does not apply to essays longer than 5,000 words).

​In order to be considered a true introduction, your first paragraph must do two things:

  1. Answer the essay question in a clear statement (this is called your thesis statement)
  2. Introduce the main points your essay will make to support your argument

Essay question: 'Is Critical Thinking relevant to the role of a Registered Nurse?'


Essay length: 1,500 words

Introduction (150 words)

  1. Thesis statement: Through an examination of the evidence, it is clear that Critical Thinking is highly relevant to the role of a Registered Nurse for a number of reasons.
  2. Introduce main points or topics to be discussed: accuracy of diagnoses, patient outcomes, prevent and solve problems, communication

Topic 1: Accuracy of diagnoses (300 words)

Topic 2: Patient outcomes (300 words)

Topic 3: Prevent and solve problems (300 words)

Topic 4: Communication (300 words)

Conclusion (150 words)

  1. Concluding statement: Thus, it can be seen that the concept of Critical Thinking is invaluable and highly relevant to Registered Nurses.
  2. Sum up main points or topics that have been discussed: accuracy of diagnoses, patient outcomes, prevent and solve problems, communication

You cannot discuss any major points or topics in your essay if you have not introduced them in your introduction. In addition, you must discuss all your main points or topics in the order that you introduce them in your introduction. This helps to maintain the flow and structure of your essay.

​Similarly, in order to be considered a true conclusion, your last paragraph must do two things:

  1. Restate the answer to the essay question (i.e. restate your thesis statement)
  2. Sum up the main points your essay has made to support your argument

Remember, a conclusion cannot contain any new information.

Body of the essay and topic sentences

You can find out how many words you will write in the body of your essay by taking away the number you will spend on your introduction and conclusion from the total amount. How you divide the number of words in the body of your essay between your main topics will depend on how important each topic is to your argument. How long you spend writing about each topic should reflect the importance of each topic. If all of your topics were of equal importance, you would write roughly the same amount of words on each. If one topic were more important, you would write about it first and spend longer discussing it. If one topic were less important, you would write about it last and write fewer words on it.

​Using topic sentences at the beginning of each new paragraph is essential to ensure that your essay is well organised and well structured. It also ensures that the essay flows logically and reads well. (This is something that your essay editor can check for you when you submit your document for editing.) A topic sentence must do two things:

  1. Introduce the new topic about to be discussed
  2. Show how this new topic helps to answer the essay question or support your argument in answering the essay question

If your essay question were 'Is Critical Thinking relevant to the role of a Registered Nurse?' and you were about to discuss the topic 'accuracy of diagnoses', then your topic sentence might sound like this: 'Another way in which Critical Thinking is highly relevant to the role of a Registered Nurse is in ensuring accuracy of diagnoses'. This sentence clearly demonstrates to the reader that you are about to discuss 'accuracy of diagnoses' and you are doing so because it is another way that Critical Thinking is relevant to Registered Nurses, which is what your essay is arguing.

The information in this article is relevant to the second step of writing an academic essay. However, there are five other steps. Please ensure you read all of the articles in the series How to Write Distinction Essays Every Time. When you have completed following the steps and have written your essay, remember to submit it to one of our academic editors for professional editing. Academic essay editing and proofreading helps students to improve their grades.

Other parts in this series;

Step 1: Analyse the Question
Step 2: Draft the Essay Plan
Step 3: Conduct the Research
Step 4: Finalise the Essay Plan
Step 5: Write the First Draft of the Essay
Step 6: Professional Academic Editing

​Back to Top

This page is the first of two that describe the processes involved in producing an essay for academic purposes, for school, college or university.

This page covers the planning stages of essay writing, which are important to the overall process.

The second page, Writing an Essay, provides more information on the steps involved in actually writing an essay. We recommend you read both pages to gain a full understanding.

Developing the skill of essay writing takes practice, time and patience, your essay writing skills will improve and develop the more you write.

With the help of your course tutor (teacher or lecturer) and peers (other students) and from constructive feedback from the marker of your work, writing an essay will become easier as you progress through your studies and your confidence increases.

This page details general good practice in essay planning, including what you should do and what you should try to avoid. It is important however, that you understand the specific requirements of your school, college or university.

Writing an essay helps you to consider the issues raised in your course and to relate them to your own experience, way of thinking, and also any wider additional reading and research you may have undertaken in order to tackle the essay topic. 

Writing an essay (or other assignment) is an important part of the learning process.  In the writing of an assignment, learning occurs as you think through and interpret the points raised (together with those of other writers on the subject).

Presenting your experience and showing understanding within your assignment will, from the marker's point of view, demonstrate your knowledge of the subject area.


The Purpose of an Essay

The original meaning of an essay is 'an attempt', or a try, at something. It is therefore appropriate to consider writing an essay as a learning exercise.

Essays, and other academic writing, focus the mind and encourage you to come to conclusions about what you are studying.

Writing is often the best possible way to assimilate and organise information. Writing helps to highlight any areas that you have not fully understood and enables you to make further clarifications. It develops your powers of criticism, analysis and expression, and gives you a chance to try out your and other writers' ideas on the subject.

The feedback you receive from the marker of your essay should help to advance your study skills, writing, research and critical thinking skills.

What is the Marker Looking For?

As an essay - in the context of this page - is an assessed piece of work, it can be very useful to consider what the person who will be assessing the work, the marker, will be looking for. 

Although different types of essays in different subject areas may vary considerably in their style and content there are some key concepts that will help you understand what is required of you and your essay. 

When marking an assignment, a marker will look for some of the following elements, which will demonstrate you are able to:

  • Find relevant information and use the knowledge to focus on the essay question or subject.
  • Structure knowledge and information logically, clearly and concisely.
  • Read purposefully and critically. (See our page: Critical Reading for more)
  • Relate theory to practical examples.
  • Analyse processes and problems.
  • Be persuasive and argue a case.
  • Find links and combine information from a number of different sources.

Answer the Question


One main factor, always worth bearing in mind, is that a marker will usually only award marks for how well you have answered the essay question.

It is likely that the marker will have a set of criteria or marking guidelines that will dictate how many marks can be awarded for each element of your essay.

Remember it is perfectly possible to write an outstanding essay, but not to have answered the original question.  This will, in all likelihood, mean a low mark.


Planning Your Essay

Planning is the process of sorting out what you want to include in your essay.

A well-planned and organised essay indicates that you have your ideas in order; it makes points clearly and logically.  In this way, a well-planned and structured essay enables the reader, or marker, to follow the points being made easily.

Essay assignments are usually formulated in one of the following ways:

  • As a question
  • A statement is given and you are asked to comment on it
  • An invitation to ‘outline’, ‘discuss’ or ‘critically assess’ a particular argument or point of view

Remember always write your essay based on the question that is set and not on another aspect of the subject.  Although this may sound obvious, many students do not fully answer the essay question and include irrelevant information.  The primary aim of an academic essay is to answer the task set, in some detail. 

To help you do this, you might find the following list of stages helpful.

Producing an Essay Plan

The essay plan below contains ten steps.

It is often useful to complete the first six steps soon after receiving your essay question. That way information will be fresh and you are more likely to be thinking about your essay plan as you do other things.

  1. Study the essay question intently.
  2. Write the essay question out in full.
  3. Spend some time, at least half an hour, brainstorming the subject area.
  4. Write down your thoughts on the question subject, its scope and various aspects.
  5. List words or phrases that you think need to be included.
  6. Note the main points you should include to answer the question.

If, at this point, you feel unsure of what to include, talk to your tutor or a peer to clarify that you are on the right track.

Once you have finished the first six steps and you feel sure you know how to proceed, continue to expand on your initial thoughts and build a more in-depth essay outline.

  1. Skim through any course material or lecture handouts and start to build up a more detailed outline. Scan through your own lecture notes, and if anything strikes you as relevant to the assignment task, write where to find it on your detailed outline
  2. Write down where you will find the necessary information on each of the points in your detailed outline (lecture notes, course handouts etc.).  Indicate on the outline where you feel that some further research is necessary.
  3. Note down sources of further information, books, journals, webpages and media sources as appropriate.
    • Be careful not to allow your outline to become too complicated; stick to main points and keep it relevant to the question.
    • If you have been given a reading list or a core text book then check the relevant sections of that.
    • See our page: Sources of Information for more ideas of where you can find relevant information for your essay.
  4. Once your plan is complete, stop and think about the proportions – how many words in total you need to write and how many words to allocate to each section of your essay.
    • Academic essays usually have a word limit and writing within the word limit is an important consideration. Many institutions will penalise students for not writing the correct amount of words – for example, the essay question may call for a 2,000 word essay, there may be a 10% grace, so anything between 1,800 and 2,200 is acceptable.
    • Think about the main elements that need to be covered in the essay. Make sure you allocate the greatest number of words to the 'main body of the essay' and not to a subsidiary point.
    • Decide how much space you can devote to each section of your outline.  For example, a third of a page for the introduction, half a page for point 1 which has two sub-points, one and a half pages for point 2 which has five sub-points etc.  Although you will not follow such a space scheme rigidly, it does enable you to keep things under control and to know how much detail to put in, keeping the balance of the essay as you originally planned.

Of course, you will make minor adjustments to your essay plan as you actually write. However, do not make major adjustments unless you are absolutely certain about the alternative and how it fits into your original scheme.

Having a strong essay plan makes the actual task of writing an essay much more efficient.

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