As an English student, I’ve had to write a fair amount of essays in my time at university. I used to blunder through them, entirely unsure of where my argument was going, pulling quotations that seemed relevant from articles I’d never read. Where I might have produced a high-quality argument, I wasted more time trying to work out exactly what that argument was. As essays grew longer, the struggle became more intense. That was until the end of second year when I came up with a system of planning that allows for a smoother essay writing experience in general. With the hopes that it might help someone else out, I decided to write about it here.
It’s vitally important to take this step, no matter how tempting it might be to jump straight into the bulk of the essay. Properly formulated research will only make life easier when it comes to writing the essay itself. Collaborate your course notes and additional research relevant to the question into bullet points. Take note of any quotes that stand out to you as useful.
Next, decide on the themes of your main paragraphs and the issues you will address therein. Sort the bullet points from your research into these sections, forming a kind of checklist of the key points you will make as you write your way through the essay.
Make a master-list of all the quotations you want to include in your essay. Keep them in source groups, with all your bibliographical information at the top of their section. Number each quote down the list, then go into your essay plan and slot the number of the corresponding quote into where it seems appropriate.
By now, the writing of the essay should be smooth enough. Work your way through your plan, using your quote sheet to insert quotations and cite sources as you go, which will also save you time formatting after the essay is complete. I find planning out the whole essay in this way and slotting all quotations in before sitting down to write speeds up the process, and I can spend more time thinking about the words and the writing of the argument rather than worrying about where everything is going.