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Essay planning

Plan your essay

Planning your essay helps you in three important ways:

1. Structure

The plan gives your essay a clear structure for examiners to follow as they navigate their way through ideas and arguments that are unfamiliar to them. Without this you're likely to lose them, and if they can't see why your arguments are relevant, or they can't see what you're doing and why, they cannot give you marks, no matter how good your work might be.

2. Your arguments

It helps you ensure that all of your arguments are clearly and consistently argued, and that you have sufficient evidence to support them. It also reduces the risk of omitting some really important section or argument that is central to the issues raised by the essay.

3. Your writing

By rehearsing your arguments in detail you will avoid the problem of trying to do the two most difficult things in writing at the same time: pinning down your ideas clearly, and then summoning up the words and phrases that will convey them accurately.

Planning in an exam

Spend the first five to ten minutes writing down your plan before you begin to write the essay. Don't get panicked into writing too soon before you have exhausted all of your ideas and got them organised into a coherent, well structured plan, that answers the question with strict relevance.

Indeed, it makes very good sense to plan all the questions you have to do, before you pick up your pen to write the first one. Each time you plan an essay you ask your subconscious to answer questions and dig up material you can't recall. Except in the strongest of questions, there are always arguments, points, evidence and examples that you can't remember exactly. Nevertheless, by identifying the problem in the planning stage you will have ed your subconscious and, while you're writing another question, it will be busy unearthing what you need.

For more advice, see referencing and plagiarism and writing skills.

This content has been written by Bryan Greetham, author of How to Write Better Essays.

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