After you've researched and your ideas are more developed, it's time to write a second plan. This one might be a detailed point-by-point outline complete with paragraphs and topic sentences. How much detail you can include will depend on how developed your knowledge and ideas are. You can also return to your initial plan and revise it.
Questions to ask yourself
- In light of your research, has your answer changed? If yes, write a new thesis statement. Now is the time to ensure it is clear, concise and fully answers the essay question.
- Are the main points still relevant? Are they still in line with your thesis statement? What should you add or change?
- Is each main point expressed as a topic sentence? Specify each point the essay will make by writing the main idea in a single sentence.
- How does each point relate to the question? Include a brief sentence explaining how each point relates to the question – doing this can make sure your discussion stays on course. If you can't see how a particular point relates to the question, delete it.
- How will you develop each main point? How will you explain and illustrate each one? What evidence or examples might you use?
- Do you have specific evidence to draw on? Specify the texts you will refer to. Jot down titles, authors, page numbers.
- How does each main point link together? How is each one connected? Are they in logical order?
When you have an outline, make a few rough notes to get the introduction and conclusion started. Start thinking about:
- how you will introduce and 'lead the reader in' to the topic
- how to conclude and 'close the door' on the topic
Do this last, as you can't know how you're going to introduce or conclude something until you're clear about what you're going to say.
Should I write while I'm researching?
YES, writing is a means of thinking and working out ideas. A 'writing-as-you-go' approach helps you to avoid a 'split' process, where you do lots of reading, defer writing until the last minute, and so experience a lot of confusion.
Try the following strategies
During each study session, set yourself a goal and spend 5-10 minutes writing. As you think through ideas, try expressing them in short paragraphs. You might produce some that are well developed and require little revision. Other fragments might require a lot of rewriting. That's fine—the point is, you're not starting with a blank page.
Use the split-page note-making method to make notes and write as you read. In addition to noting specific information, write your comments and ideas. You don't have to write perfect sentences, but writing-as-you-go can mean that by the time you're ready to write a first draft, you'll already have a framework of notes and comments to build on.
For further details, see the section How to organise effective notes for academic writing on Note-making from written text Taking notes from your reading.
As you read, write in response to these questions:
- In what ways is what I've been reading relevant to my essay?
- What more do I need to find out and why?
- How does what I'm reading link in to what I already know?
Try free writing (or 'stream-of-consciousness' writing) – a technique in which you write continuously for a set period of time. Write in full sentences and don't worry about spelling or grammar. If you can't think of what to write, don't slow down, just repeat the last phrase you wrote. Freewriting is often used to collect initial thoughts and ideas on a topic, often as a preliminary to formal writing. It is also a great way to overcome writer's block.
Emerson, L (ed) 2005, Writing Guidelines for Social Science Students, Dunmore Press, Victoria.
Fletcher, C 1995, Essay clinic: a structural guide to essay writing, Macmillan, Melbourne.
Monash University Learning Support 2009, Thinking strategies: Learning Support for Higher Degree Research Students, Monash University accessed 17 August 2010 <http://www.monash.edu.au/lls/hdr/build/3.1.7.html>
Taylor, G 2009, A student's writing guide: how to plan and write successful essays, Cambridge University Press, New York.