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Third Step in Essay Writing:
Planning the Process

Although it is tempting to start writing as soon as you have chosen a topic, it really is faster and more efficient to spend a little time planning your essay and drawing up a proper outline on which to you could firmly stand when developing the main body. This simple thing will enable you to spot any serious problems before they arise and it will prevent you from becoming confused as the process continues. Indeed, with a solid plan for the entire project and a well-crafted outline, the writing part should become nothing more than filling in a few gaps!

Carefully Read the Instructions You Were Given

The very first step is to read any instructions you were given extremely carefully. No matter how good your essay is or how well it is written, you will not score high if you do not adhere to the instructions your tutor provided. Usually, you are given a separate document with instructions and guidance notes. It is even better news if that document is short and provides some scope for artistic freedom. Most tutors, however, are quite specific in the instructions they provide on how they want an essay written. They do not assume you are an exceptional writer so they try to help by providing a framework you could work within.

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By now you are probably wondering what you should look for in the instructions you were given. The answer to that is: look for the guidelines you are expected to adhere to. The following are some common and important instructions to watch for:

  • The length of the essay: This refers to the number of words or pages your essay needs to be. Bear in mind that a standard page of text, in a normal size and type of font and with double line spacing, is approximately 275 words.
  • The type of essay: Check whether the assignment is an argumentative, creative, personal, persuasive or some other type.
  • Requirements in terms of sources: What type and amount of sources are required?
  • Style of citation: Although it is likely your essay will require the MLA formatting style, it is worth checking in case another style is stipulated.

Consider Any Biases or Opinions

It is now important to examine any biases or opinions in the articles you have read. For instance, do the article authors take any particular stances that could have determined the conclusions they finally came to? Because you are dealing with humans, it is inevitable you will find that academic writers are not immune to biases. Quite often, academicians are biased towards a particular train of thought. Just consider, say, psychologists and sociologists and their differences. The former are interested in the study of individuals while the latter are more focused in society and social interactions. So, each one will take a particular stance when assessing the cause of different issues regardless of their subject area or school of thinking.

Hint: Do not forget to keep your audience in mind during the process. A paper at undergraduate level will target a different set of readers than a doctoral level paper.

Therefore, it is your task to examine all opinions and figure out what aspects are underexplored, interesting or could be a good subject for debates. Do not forget that you may be asked to provide a readers’ analysis. This is where you assess how much subject matter expertise your readers have, which is something you will need to take into account. Follow this same line of thinking when examining your source material and devising your essay plan.

Identify Main Assumptions

A subject or topic will normally have some key assumptions which you need to understand. These assumptions are locally and universally known facts about a topic and they may not even be properly explained or available in written form. However, understanding core assumptions surrounding your subject or topic will enable you to understand thw whole thing more thoroughly. If, for instance, your essay is sociology-related, you may want to examine poverty and its causes.

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In the field of sociology, there is a core assumption that the majority of societal problems are caused by whole structures rather than individuals. If you do not understand this core assumption, you could end up reading psychology-related sources that look at poverty from the individual’s perspective. It is essential to avoid this easy-to-make mistake by thoroughly identifying any core assumption that relates to your topic or generally surrounds it.

Example One:

The topic is: Examining poverty and its causes
The core assumption here is: Established institutional structures in society are the cause of most society-related problems.
Possible solution: Look specifically for material that addresses society’s institutional structures rather than individual views on the issue of poverty.

Look for Common Threads/Themes

Lastly, you need to look for common threads or themes in your research material, which you can use in the next stage of the process. In seeing commonalities, you should see an argument starting to formulate. The source material or evidence you examined and gathered should begin to point in a particular direction. It may well be that the evidence of a contradictory nature may emerge and you can use this to demonstrate how the topic is quite complex. In any case, some patterns should manifest themselves and you can describe them in the main body of your essay. The number of common threads you look for or find will largely depend on the required length of your paper. Usually, you will need to identify one theme for a three to four page essay.

Let us look at another example to see how this fits into place. Let us assume, for instance, that your research project is about the civil rights movement and its cause. For this type of project, you would need to look at the domestic and international issues.

  • The US role was protective in nature and international in scale when inequality existed worldwide (the topic).
  • Democracy and communism were key dividers around the globe (the core assumption).
  • Activist groups started forming and began organizing events, marches and protests.

This information starts to indicate a significant theme and a pattern should start to emerge. This is the contrast between the US’s approach to inequality at a domestic and international level. It was not sensible for the USA to enforce “free” democratic societies at international level while its citizens at home were being marginalized. The common theme here suggests that this hypocritical approach abroad led to American people taking a stance at home to show how a really free society should work. This provides sufficient evidence to start developing a thesis statement, followed by an essay outline.

If you find this part of the process difficult, try thinking critically about it and analyze any information available until you find common themes. You should be able to form a strong and unique argument if you think creatively about how the different strands of evidence interrelate.