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How To Write An Essay
Part 4 - Planning Your Essay
You've gone from an idea, to research, to a pile of random notes, to categorized notes. You're now ready to start planning how the essay will fit together.
Formal essays differ from informal essays in several ways, most of which will be covered in the section on writing. During the planning stage, you need to know whether or not the essay is going to be a formal one. If the teacher or professor didn't specify, they probably want it to be formal. An informal essay is one that doesn't necessarily rely on structure to make its point, such as an essay explaining how you personally feel on a given subject, or what you did last summer. Formal essays must have an underlying structure that makes sense so the reader doesn't have to wonder where you're going with your points.
For most of these instructions and tips, we'll assume you're working on a formal essay.
Start by putting the subgroups that you pulled out of your focus into a logical order. Consider the reader's point of view: they may not have read all the sources you have on your topic, and might need definitions first. If you're discussing a person's life and contributions as in our example, it's probably more logical to describe the person and their life before bringing in the bits about their contributions. If your subject is a historical overview of anything, it usually makes sense to move chronologically.
If you'll eventually be typing the entire essay on a computer, now would be a good time to move from written notes to computer documents. Here is how I would begin planning our example essay with the subgroups:
Next, plan in the introduction and conclusion, and make sure each fits with the outline so far. In our example, I would include the widget watching information in an introductory paragraph, so I'll absorb that into the introduction in the outline:
Now it's time to add in the notes. Go through your notes and type in (or cut and paste, if they're already on the computer) the highlighted bits. Don't worry about their order yet, just make sure you get everything into the outline for now. Of course, I'm just making up the following for an example, and the outline could be much longer for a real topic.
Now go back through that list and cut-and-paste the elements within each subgroup into an appropriate order. When you've finished, read over the entire outline from start to finish. Does it make sense? Is there a reasonable flow? If there are gaps, you may need to go back to your notes or do more research to fill them. If you're having trouble deciding on an order in a subgroup, make it work as best as you can, and it may straighten itself out logically next in the writing phase. If something really doesn't fit, perhaps you should consider removing it from the essay, because perhaps it's unimportant and would just jar the reader.
Next Lesson: Writing
Last updated in February 2005.
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