Essay preparation is an essential stage of essay writing.
Essay preparation might well take up a substantial amount of the time you spend on your essays. Before you start to write (or type!) your essay you’ll need to complete the following three stages (1) analyse the essay topic, (2) plan an essay outline and (3) do some research. For convenience I’ll deal with each stage in turn. In reality though your essay outline may well be modified as your research progresses, and possibly even during the essay writing itself. In addition the research stage of essay preparation involves doing some writing, leading you naturally into the essay writing stage.
If you’ve been given an essay topic you need to decide exactly what’s wanted
Stage 1: Analyse the Essay Topic
This is the first stage, before you do anything else! Underline key-words of the title to help you understand what’s required. Make sure you understand the meaning of all the keywords, not just vaguely, but completely. If you're unsure look them up: it's no good realising at the end - or even half way through - that you only partially understood whats required. If you’re still at all unsure what’s expected ask the teacher or lecturer to explain, as soon as possible, and before going any further.
You may have been told to think of an essay topic of your choice within a particular theme or subject area. If so then this will be the first stage of essay preparation. Once you've done this it’s a good idea to check your favoured essay title with your teacher as soon as you’ve chosen it. I sometimes set students essays in this fashion and am usually able to advise them if they’ve picked too difficult a topic, either because of conceptually difficult subject matter or because there’s little published on their chosen subject. In addition I try to help students to reword their essay titles if they’re a little ambiguous, or don’t quite convey what the student has in mind. I’m sure your teacher would be happier to advise you beforehand, rather than let you struggle over an essay that might not make particularly good reading when you’ve finished.
Now you’ve analysed the essay topic it’s time to move on to the next stage of making your essay outline.
Essay Preparation Stage 2: Make an essay outline (essay plan)