An essay outline (essay plan) is vital to ensure that your essay is constructed in a logical and coherent manner


Essay preparation involves making an essay outline (essay plan). This is vital to ensure that your essay is constructed in a logical and coherent manner. It’ll help you make your essay well-ordered and fluent. It’s also something you can use when you’ve written your essay, for example, to check that you haven’t omitted anything important.

Your essay plan doesn’t have to be linear during the early stages of essay preparation, but it helps if it ends up in that form. For a start you could make what’s called a “mind map”: write the main subject in the middle of a large sheet of paper and then write sub-topics in an array encircling it. From each sub-topic create branches for sub-sub-topics and examples, as you think of them, perhaps later noting the key references beside each. Arrows can indicate which topics are related to which, and how. The advantage of this kind of map is that it helps you to think about what should go in your essay, and to realize what relates to what. You’ll also be more easily able to identify where the gaps in your knowledge are. The essay outline can evolve while you do your research.

Another way to make an essay outline involves using cards. Each card indicates a sub-topic, example or some other small part that’ll be included in the essay. The cards can be arranged by spreading them out on the floor or a table. This method has the added advantage of allowing you to “edit” your essay outline by adding, subtracting and moving cards about.

The way your essay is ordered is to some extent a matter for personal preference, but you should think about now, during essay preparation. There’s usually more than one satisfactory way to do deal with the same essay topic. The main thing is to avoid abrupt changes between topics, example or arguments. One thing should smoothly lead on to another without startling the reader (although the content can shock your reader if that’s the nature of your essay topic!).

During your essay preparation you'll need to consider the balance of your essay. Different parts of your essay should take up different amounts of space according their importance. You shouldn’t necessarily expend lots of ink on a particular topic just because you’ve found a lot of information on it. Instead look for information on all the important parts and then be choosey about what you include. Indicate on your essay outline the relative importance of each point and roughly what proportion of your essay will be taken up by it. If your essay has a word limit then translate the proportions into an approximate number of words.

Balance is particularly important if you’re writing a multi-part essay. For example if you’ve been asked “How is modern genetic technology used in medicine? What are the moral issues associated with its use?” then an essay that mostly describes how genetic technology is used to diagnose a particular disease wouldn’t be sufficient. Even if your essay contained lots of up to the minute details about exactly how and why the technology is used your essay wouldn’t be balanced and would most probably be awarded a low mark. In this case a less in depth survey of various techniques might be expected along with a discussion of the ethical issues connected with using that technology. Unless otherwise indicated you might well expect the two parts of the essay to carry equal weighting (and marks). It follows that addressing only one part would earn you at most only half the marks, even if you made a really good job of it. Make sure you KNOW the relative weighting of the different parts of a multi-part assignment now, as part of your essay preparation.

Unless you’ve a really clear idea of what you’re going to write your essay outline should evolve over time: being expanded and refined as your essay preparation progresses.

Essay Preparation 3: Do some research