One of the first and most critical mistakes a writer often makes is trying to start
an essay without planning. All writers know the feeling of sitting at a computer and
staring at a blank screen, not sure where to begin or what to write next. Many times,
this problem can be avoided by taking the time to structure thoughts, planning and
organizing the essay, and creating an outline for the essay.
Here are some important things to consider before writing an essay:
- Come up with a working thesis – Doing this will help keep the essay structured and on topic. Don’t worry about the
thesis being perfect at this point, as it may change, but crafting a working thesis
before writing will provide a structure for deciding what belongs in the essay and
what doesn’t. For more information on thesis statements, see the page on thesis statements and the thesis statement exercise on this site.
- Consider your audience – Who, specifically, are you addressing in this essay and how do you need to tailor
the essay to fit this audience? Do you need to provide background information to
your readers so that they will understand the topic, or are you writing to an audience
that already knows the basic background information?
- Consider the goal of the essay – Are you attempting to persuade a reader’s thinking, or are you simply presenting
information and hoping to educate the reader? The way you structure your thoughts
and the order they appear in the essay should be influenced by goal of the essay and/or
the assignment’s guidelines.
- Ask/formulate as many questions as you can – Formulating an extensive list of possible questions is helpful in expanding an essay
and making sure it is comprehensive. The more questions at this stage, the better.
These questions can then be answered and, in many cases, become specific points or
paragraphs to develop in the essay.
- Perform research, if necessary – If your assignment requires you to use outside sources, it is helpful to perform
research and find a variety of possible sources before writing the essay. Doing the
research in advance will help with structuring the essay and will ensure that there
are enough sources to use.
- Come up with the main points that will be expanded upon in the essay – Along with creating a working thesis, it is also important to think about the main
points that will be written about in the essay, how they can be expanded upon, and
ensure that they relate to the thesis. To do this, it may be helpful to create some
initial topic sentences. View the topic sentences page for more information.
- Put together an outline – Some people are natural planners while others are not. Regardless of your tendency,
an outline can help any writer. An outline can be detailed down to each individual
paragraph and the evidence to be presented, or it can be less structured and just
present the main points in a planned order. Either way, an outline will make the actual
writing process both faster and easier. View the creating an outline page for more information.