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Academic Writing

Planning an Essay


Planning your essay is an important first step to the success of an essay. You should spend some time exploring your topic and outlining how to organize your ideas in the paper. The purpose of writing in college is to show your own thought processes and analysis on the subject you are writing about. 

Identifying the Essay Requirements

To begin, some of the questions you may ask include:   

  • Which type of essay is required? For example, a literature review or argumentative essay? See more information on Types of essays.
  • Are you required to do research? (If yes, what types of sources do you need to use?)
  • How long is the essay? The length may impact the scope of the topic you are writing about.
  • Is APA, MLA or another citation style required? Refer to Sheridan Library's Citation Style Guides for more information.  

Exploring the Topic

Generally, for an essay assignment, you are either assigned a topic or given a choice to select one. For instance, you may be asked to select a topic from a list provided by your professor.

What do you know about the topic? Try using a concept map to brainstorm and explore a topic. It would help you determine the focus and scope for your essay. See below for an example. You can do this on paper or try using an online tool such as mindmaps or Popplet.


Summary video: Planning your essay [1:25]