Step 3: Construct an initial essay plan
After you have generated some ideas, it’s important to write an initial plan before you head for the library. This can feel strange—after all, how can you answer a question when you haven’t done any research?—but starting with an initial plan helps you order your ideas and focus your reading. Without a sense of which direction to head in, it’s easy to get lost in the research process.
This initial plan will be provisional and might consist of:
- a provisional answer to the question (or thesis statement)
- a brief outline of possible main points
As you research and develop your understanding of the topic, your ideas will likely change, and your answers may change with them. Try to see your essay plan as something that evolves as you engage further with your topic.
While it’s a good idea to write an initial plan before you start researching, if you really know nothing at all about the topic, some initial skimming and browsing through recommended or assigned readings can provide a few ideas. However, the initial planning stage is not the time for a lot of intensive or detailed reading.
What elements should an essay plan consist of?
A plan should indicate the answer to the question. A clear and well-written thesis statement will help you to determine the direction and structure of your argument.
What is a thesis statement?
- a clear and direct answer to the essay question
- a claim that can be discussed and expanded further in the body of the essay
- one or two complete sentences
- part of the introduction
In the initial plan, the thesis statement is usually provisional. However, after you’ve done some research, you will need to work on your thesis statement until it is clear, concise and effective.
- Try introducing your thesis statement with the phrase ‘this essay will argue’ or ‘this essay argues’.
- Paraphrasing the assignment question can help ensure that you are answering it.
Once you have a thesis statement, follow it with a paragraph or a set of points that indicate the ‘reasons why’ for your answer. The ‘reasons why’ can be developed into the main points of your essay.
What are main points?
- Main points make up the body of an essay.
- Each point should be developed in a paragraph. These paragraphs are the building blocks used to construct the argument.
- In a 1000-1500 word essay, aim for three to four main points
In the initial plan, try to express the main idea of each point in a single, clear sentence. These can become topic sentences (the first sentence of each paragraph which establishes its central idea) when, in your second plan, you develop these points further.
Arrange your main points in a logical order and number them (is there one that would seem to go first or one that would seem to go last? Are there any two that are closely linked? How are the ideas connected to each other? Do the main points, when considered as a whole, present a unified discussion?).
A plan should follow the STRUCTURE of an essay (eg. Introduction, body and conclusion).
While you may not be ready to construct an introduction or conclusion, this three-part structure should be at least suggested in your plan.
For more about essay structure, see The Learning Centre's essay writing guide
A plan should include some indication of the sources you might use to RESEARCH the topic.
Make a few notes about how each main point might be developed. Consider and if possible, specify the evidence you might draw on and which texts you might refer to. Jot down titles, authors, page numbers etc.
Before you start writing your essay, it is important that you plan it. Below is an example of what an essay plan should look like (including explanations and tips), and how much detail it should contain. You can use this as a guide for your essay plans.
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Essay Question: Was the Russian Revolution a genuine revolution or was it a coup?
Word Limit: 2,000 words
Introduction (10% of word limit): 200 words
Introductions should never be longer than 500 words, so this 10% guide only applies to essays shorter than 5,000 words.
To be considered an Introduction, an Introduction must do two things:
Answer the question – It was a genuine revolution.
This must be done first. An Introduction must answer the question. This is how you put forward a strong argument.
List the evidence your essay will put forward to prove your answer – This can be seen through an examination of the sections of society which supported the revolution. workers, peasants, soldiers, national minorities. Any major topic or subject that you plan to discuss in your essay must be introduced in the Introduction.
Body of the Essay: 400 words each
How long you spend writing about each subject should reflect the importance of each subject. If all four topics are of equal importance, write roughly the same amount of words on each. If a topic is more important, write about it first and write more words on it. If a topic is less important, write about it last and write fewer words on it.
Topic 1: workers
Topic 2: peasants
Topic 3: soldiers
Topic 4: national minorities
Conclusion (10% of word limit): 200 words
Conclusions should never be longer than 500 words, so this 10% guide only applies to essays shorter than 5,000 words.
To be considered a Conclusion, a Conclusion must do two things:
Answer the essay question again (using different words than in the Introduction, don’t repeat yourself exactly) – It was a genuine revolution.
Recap (repeat, summaries) all the evidence you have given to prove your answer during your essay– workers, peasants, soldiers, national minorities
A conclusion must not contain any new information, you are only summarising what you have already written.
Click Here to Download a Free Essay Template