April 7, 2022
What Makes A Good Essay Plan? A Student Guide
Whatever stage of education you’re at, creating a good essay plan can be a difficult task. But the best essay plans are surprisingly easy. Why? Because they work with your brain to optimise your creativity, boost your productivity, and improve confidence in your writing. This article will help you break down your essay into manageable chunks and build your study skills from the ground up.
What is essay planning?
An essay plan helps you organise abstract thoughts about a specific topic into concrete ideas. These ideas form the basis of essays for school, college, university, and beyond. Essay planning is a skill that you develop over time. Which sounds scary, but if you’re reading this, you’re already on the right track. One of the most efficient ways to do this is through a mind map. In the early stages of planning, the non-linear structure of a mind map helps get your creative juices flowing. It also helps you link thoughts and ideas, perfect for creating meaningful arguments.
More than this, an essay plan is a tool for you to use in lots of different ways. It is a chance for you to play around with your subject matter and essay writing skills, or even talk through your ideas with others before you write the essay. And your plan can be used after you’ve actually written the essay: a knowledge base around a topic for you to use when you need a refresher on what you actually know. In fact, it’s more effective to recreate or re-read a mind map of your essay than it is to reread the essay itself when it comes to consolidating your knowledge.
With all this in mind, let’s think about what makes a good essay plan:
1. A Good Essay Plan Divides and Conquers
This isn’t a new trick, but it’s more effective than you might think. Breaking down your main idea into 3 or 4 main points, sub-ideas, or themes, works wonders when creating a formidable argument. How you do this will depend on the length of the essay. This is important because you don’t want to be left with too much, or too little, to say.
For shorter essays:
If your essay is going to be shorter, maybe 500 – 1,500 words, you can break down the essay into 3 or 4 key points that you will be making. Then, put in whatever works for you. Maybe you need to include the example(s) you’ll be using to illustrate that point, or maybe you want to add the opening line of that paragraph to get yourself started. If you struggle with creating a cohesive essay, you might want to add in your linking statements to get the tricky bit out of the way.
For longer essays:
When things get a little bit more complicated, you simply repeat this process. The fundamentals of good essay writing don’t change (phew!), only the word count and number of points you make do. Break down the essay into 3-4 larger points, and then break down each point into 3 smaller points that will each make up their own paragraph when you come to writing your essay. For example, if you were writing about power in the Frank Hubert’s book, Dune, you could break the concept of power down as follows:
So, each of these final ‘sub points’ would be their own paragraphs, each with key examples from the book. You can use this technique for any subject, and it’s a great way to get your point across clearly.
Does your essay need to be balanced? Colour coding sub-ideas by whether they support your thesis statement or argue against it can help you see where your essay may need some more attention.
2. A Good Essay Plan Works For You
An essay plan is done whenever you feel ready to write the essay. What ‘ready’ means will change from person to person. It’s important to create a plan that actually helps you and works with your style of thinking, not against it. Sometimes, you can be so caught up in what an essay play ‘should’ be that you forget that it’s a plan for you.
So, take a second to think about what a ‘ready’ essay plan would actually look like for you. Do you work better with limited distractions and short, strong keywords to bounce off from? Or do you prefer to delve deeper into planning before you start?
Because this is a plan that works for you, make it as fun and visual as you need to. Add photos that you associate with a particular point, character, or idea. Change the colour of your mind map, the paper you use, the digital background colour. If your essay plan is digital, add links, videos, or even music to help you get into the zone. Turning your planning into a creative exercise can really help when it comes to motivating yourself.
Ask yourself: How flexible is my plan?
Importantly, an essay plan should be flexible enough to meet your needs. When you are planning your essay, you will probably come across additional knowledge or content that spark new arguments. These could be invaluable for your essay, so your plan should be able to make space for these. With digital mind maps you have an infinite canvas to work on. This lets you stay flexible as you capture all of your possible arguments into one mind map. Because in a mind map you can view all of your arguments at the same time, you can also easily decide which arguments will be your best bets when writing your actual essay. Be careful not to leave these in indefinitely though, or it might confuse you when it comes to writing your first draft. Instead, make a ‘further ideas’ branch to come back to at a later date, or use an ideas bank to store arguments you don’t want to make just yet.
Knowing what works best for your brain helps you stay efficient and focused in your planning. This lets you get everything done by your deadline. Need to be task-oriented to get stuff done? Ensure your planning is integrated into your weekly plan. You can assign each branch of the essay a specific day, where you’ll work only on that argument, or you can assign a time to each stage of the planning process. If you use digital mind maps or planning tools, use the task functions they might have to get the most out of your software. Giving yourself miniature deadlines can help you hold yourself accountable which will pay off in the long run.
3. A Good Essay Plan Makes Revision Easier
Finishing an essay can give you a HUGE sense of accomplishment. But after it’s finished, the work you put in shouldn’t have to go to waste. By creating an engaging, visually appealing essay plan in the form of a mind map, you can reuse this content for future essays and plans.
A really good essay plan helps you consolidate what you learnt and worked on. This means that every essay you write becomes easier; you’re building a knowledge base for yourself to make the most of what you already know.
Revising is a bit different to writing an essay. So, you might want to redraw your mind map or try out ideas in a different format. Stretch your brain and improvise: this will pay off massively when it comes to exam time, or when you have an opportunity to use this knowledge in the future.
When using a digital mind map software, like Ayoa, you can copy your mind map and see how you can reshape it to suit other questions you might be asked in your exam. Easy digital duplication means no excessive time is spent manually redrawing another mind map from hand. Questions you get in an exam might differ from essays you write, so this is great practice for improvising quickly.
One great way to make sure your essay plan will benefit you in the long term is to go back over your plan once you’ve had feedback on your essay. Integrate your feedback into the plan, asking yourself:
- Which of these points is most important, in retrospect?
- What additional points came up in my feedback?
- When discussing this topic with friends, did they say anything differently to me that I could add to my own work?
You can incorporate this into the design of your mind map in a way that builds upon your original content. Add the branches in a new colour, add them as comments to existing branches. You could even invite friends or supervisors via Mind Map Sharing so that they can comment directly on your map.
You’ve Got This!
Sometimes the best techniques are the simplest – your approach to planning your essays is no different. In working with your brain via mind maps on your essay plan, you will ensure that you get the most out of your studies.
Most importantly, having read this guide, you’re already on the way to creating good essay plans. We hope some of these tips will serve you well in the coming months and years as you grow your study skills and essay planning technique.
Like this guide, and want to see more? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below or by using the #mind-map hashtag on social media! If you really want to level up your studying, read our other blogs on improving your study skills!