Planning essays

by Andrew Perman | Thursday 9th of February 2023

Planning essays

It’s very important to plan an essay before you begin, even in timed conditions. The first stage of planning is to generate ideas that are relevant to the question, then to put them into a sensible order.

Generating ideas

It’s useful to ‘brainstorm’ the key words and phrases in the question so you get lots of possible ideas for inclusion in the essay. This means writing down in no particular order all the things which come to mind as relevant.

If you struggle to remember key facts like dates, case studies, or descriptions of events, try making your own mnemonic. It doesn’t have to be clever- in fact you’re more likely to remember silly or rude versions!

Don’t forget to frame your ideas around what the question is asking- refer back to the command words and key words to make sure you don’t go off track.

Once you have written down all your ideas, you need to decide which of them should be used and which should be rejected. Cross out anything that is not relevant to the question.

Organising ideas

Once you have a list of possible content you can begin to think about organising your ideas into the most effective order, and come up with a structure for your essay. After Brainstorming, you can group similar ideas together to make sections. These sections will be the main arguments in your essay. The titles should be outlined in the introduction, the content expanded on in their own paragraphs, and then summed up in the conclusion.


Once you have organised the section titles and their content, it is easy to plan the order of them, depending on the question. For this essay, it would be effective to produce the points in order of importance.

Here, the positive and negative effects of school uniform are clearly separated, making it easy to structure the essay.

Examples of excellent essay plans

An Essay Plan on: 'To what extent, if at all, is New Labour new'.

Essay plan-Origins of the Cold War. In what ways, and for what reasons, did the relationship between wartime allies deteriorate between 1945 and 1949?

Ways you could structure an essay

  1. Arguments and evidence in favour of something followed by arguments against.
  2. Listing a series of points in order of importance (more important can be first or last).
  3. Listing a series of events in the order they occured (chronological order).
  4. Going through the causes of something followed by their effects.
  5. Listing similarities followed by differences.

Tip: There might be lots of angles to consider. Don’t be scared to pick a particular one and focus your answer on a very specific area of the topic. For a lot of questions, this is usually fine as long as you acknowledge in the introduction that you have just chosen one.