Planning and Structuring the Assignment

You’ve unpacked the topic, gathered information, and now you’re ready to write your assignment. If you spend time planning your assignment before you start writing it, you will find that the writing task is easier. Planning involves thinking critically about the main things you want to say, the best order to say them in, and how you can use information to best develop your overall position or argument.

Focus first on your overall argument or response to the essay topic

  • Write a statement to clarify your argument or position. (Hint: If your assignment topic were a question, what would your main answer be?)

  • Be concise and clear. This argument is central to how you structure your essay.

Now think about the main points you wish to make that will develop this argument

  • What are the main (key) points that will develop your argument?

  • In dot point form, jot down these main points.

  • Think about the best order for making these points. (Hint: Pretending that you are giving a talk may help clarify the best order.) Consider, the aims of the assignment: are you seeking to compare/contrast; present a chronology; identify a solution?

  • Check that each of these points is relevant to the essay topic and your overall response (argument) to the topic.

  • Each one of the main points will become a topic sentence in a paragraph

Check that you have an appropriate number of main points for the assignment length

  • A paragraph can range in word length – there is no set number of words to a paragraph. However, to help you plan, as a rough rule of thumb work on an average of 100 words per paragraph. That means a 2000 word essay will contain approximately (and only approximately) 20 paragraphs. This helps you also to focus on important points - not words.

  • If you have too many points for your essay length, group related ones together to make one point.

  • If you have too few points, are there some other key points you should be making? Or could some of the main points be broken down into several different points?

Organise your supporting detail
Look through your notes and information, and group related information together  Choose material that will provide evidence to support or develop each of the points you are making. Colour coding information may help here.

  • Take note of the author and other referencing details (year of text, page number(s).

  • Use this to expand your essay plan so that you now have main points and key details:

Organise your references

  • Create a list of all the books, articles and other resources you intend to mention or cite within your essay. These will be needed for your reference list.

  • List relevant texts that you have read but not referred to in the essay. Should you need to provide a bibliography, you will also need this information.

Reflect and revise if necessary

  • Allow time to revisit your plan so that you can check that you are making all the points that are necessary to address the topic and develop and support your argument.

  • Try reading it out loud – you can often hear if it is or isn’t flowing in a logical way.

You are now ready to write. You know the main points you are making, the order to make them in, and the detail needed to support and develop those points.