Plan your essay

Argument determines structure

Now you have written your thesis statement and have carried out preliminary research, the next step is to formulate an essay structure that is logical, coherent and maximally persuasive.

The argument you make determines your structure. The key reasons for your position form the main points that are developed in your essay. If you change your argument, you will likely need to change your essay structure in order to better support the new argument.

At this stage, write down the basic structure as a list. Think of each line as a new heading or section of your essay. Arrange these main points in a way that you think is most logical and where the ideas flow together well. Do not be afraid to experiment with alternative structures, as this process may lead you to refine your argument further.

Make an essay plan

Once you have a clear thesis statement and a rough structure, you are ready to make an essay plan. This is a more detailed breakdown of your essay that helps guide you as you write. You can use the essay plan document on this page to help set out your ideas. 

Another important element of structuring your essay is determining the number of points you will make. Typically, an essay might have 2-4 main points, and then have several paragraphs devoted to persuading the reader of each of those larger points. It is important to plan this larger structure first, before you start composing individual paragraphs. Given the word length, estimate how many paragraphs you might devote to each of your larger points. Keep in mind that each paragraph contains one main idea and is around 150 to 200 words long.

Most essay word limits in undergraduate humanities, arts and social science courses are between 1000 and 4000 words. Longer essays can benefit from clearly defined sections with headings, though structuring and formatting conventions may differ between disciplines. It is important to check the course requirements.

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