Planning your Writing

Writing a plan before starting an essay is a good idea. It can help you to formulate ideas and to ensure that the structure of your final essay is logical and appropriate to the essay title.

Essay plans can also be useful, even if they are kept very brief, to remind you of important points that should be covered in your essay, as well as highlighting the final structure of your essay. This is particularly relevant to exam situations where it is all too easy to forget details if you dive straight into an essay without planning it first.

Try not to put too much detail into the plans: use keywords and phrases, make notes of important references and species names that should be included in the final essay. The plan is to serve as your reminder of what will go into the final essay and in what order.

The amount of time you should spend on an essay plan will depend on how much time you are given to construct the final essay. In exam situations, timing is crucial but you should still aim to spend at least 5-10 minutes working on your plan (assuming you are given a minimum of 45 minutes per essay).

There are a few simple 'rules' which can help make your essay plan easier to construct:

1. Read the essay title carefully. Read it again. Are you being asked to discuss, synthesise, explain, evaluate, review your subject?

2. Once you have established what exactly is required of you (see 1. above) it can help formulate your approach to the essay plan and subsequent final essay.

3. Your essay plan should have a logical order, i.e. a beginning, middle and an end. It should reflect what you would end up writing in the final essay. In other words, by looking at your plan, a lecturer should be able to clearly see the approach you are taking to address the essay title.

4. One way to start an essay plan is to think about possible definitions that may need to be given. For example, in an essay entitled 'Discuss animal locomotion', it would be logical to start your essay plan (and your final essay) with a definition of what 'locomotion' is. This can then help you to construct the rest of your essay plan.

5. Depending upon the subject matter, it can be useful to establish how many different approaches you can take to tackle the essay question. An essay plan (and subsequent essay) that shows a broad understanding of the subject matter and how it may be investigated from a number of different 'angles' where relevant (e.g. ecological, behavioural, physiological, morphological etc.) will often score highly, assuming the final essay is well written.


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