Essay planning and structure
It is really important to plan your essay before you begin writing. Planning will save you time later. It is also essential that you have a starting point to plan from, even if it is in a very rough form.
The obvious place to start is at the assignment question itself. From the question you can develop your answer in the form of a thesis statement. From there you can decide what your essay's subtopics will be and what you want to say about them. After you have a basic idea of what you want to talk about, you can begin to write the essay.
However, when writing an essay, it can also be difficult to come up with a point of view early on. Therefore, instead of developing a thesis statement first, you may choose to read up on the assignment question and make notes on relevant concepts, theories, and studies. Once you have these notes and can develop a summary of the issues, it should be much easier to write a thesis statement.
For more information on analysing the assignment question and planning your essay, see planning assignments.
All essays share the same basic structure, although they may differ in content and style. The essence of an essay is an opinion, expressed as a thesis statement or proposition, and a logical sequence of arguments and information organised in support of the proposition.
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Last updated on 26 October, 2012
A very common complaint from lecturers and examiners is that students write a lot of information but they just don't answer the question. Don't rush straight into researching – give yourself time to think carefully about the question and understand what it is asking.
Set the question in context – how does it fit with the key issues, debates and controversies in your module and your subject as a whole? An essay question often asks about a specific angle or aspect of one of these key debates. If you understand the context it makes your understanding of the question clearer.
Is the question open-ended or closed? If it is open-ended you will need to narrow it down. Explain how and why you have decided to limit it in the introduction to your essay, so the reader knows you appreciate the wider issues, but that you can also be selective. If it is a closed question, your answer must refer to and stay within the limits of the question (i.e. specific dates, texts, or countries).
Underlining key words – This is a good start point for making sure you understand all the terms (some might need defining); identifying the crucial information in the question; and clarifying what the question is asking you to do (compare & contrast, analyse, discuss). But make sure you then consider the question as a whole again, not just as a series of unconnected words.
Re-read the question – Read the question through a few times. Explain it to yourself, so you are sure you know what it is asking you to do.
Try breaking the question down into sub-questions – What is the question asking? Why is this important? How am I going to answer it? What do I need to find out first, second, third in order to answer the question? This is a good way of working out what important points or issues make up the overall question – it can help focus your reading and start giving your essay a structure. However, try not to have too many sub-questions as this can lead to following up minor issues, as opposed to the most important points.