The best essays are driven by a clear sense of direction, with a handful of ideas presented with a sense of purpose, logic, and drive. Each idea builds on the one before it and leads smoothly into the one presented after it.

As such, pre-planning is essential. You can’t just wing it, dash off a single a draft, and end up with a successful essay. Outlining it vital, and the only way to craft a coherent progression of ideas that leads the reader from the introduction, through the body paragraphs, and onto a strong conclusion.

“Outlining is vital, and the only way to craft a coherent progression of ideas…”

It can take some time to create a solid outline, but this is time very well spent. Your outline not only helps keep you on track during the writing process, it can help immensely during the revision phase, giving you a reference point that can help you evaluate your ideas and put them together in a way that the reader will be able to navigate without getting lost of confused.

Rewrite the assignment

Many an essay has gone off track before it even gets started because the writer was a little fuzzy about their assignment or failed to really zero in on the meaning of their writing prompt. One way to make sure you are clear is to rewrite the assignment in your own words. Any confusion will reveal itself in the process, allowing you to think it through, take a closer look or, if necessary, ask for clarification.

Collect your thoughts and research

With your objective clearly in mind, take some time to brainstorm possible approaches to the topic. Collect research, conduct interviews, and take copious detailed notes, always being sure to capture all necessary detail about your sources for easier citation later.

Sort and arrange your ideas.

Once you begin to have a sense of the argument you will make in your essay can begin to bring some logical order to the ideas, notes, and research material you have collected. At this point, your notes are probably listed in the chronological order in which you collected them or in which they occurred to you. Your goal now is to rearrange them to suit the argument you plan to make.

To do this, you will group your notes into subject categories based on the information they contain and how that information relates to you argument. Then you will arrange your notes by these categories and arrange the categories themselves in a logical order.

Note Structure Tips

1. Organize notes by subject

2. Combine when possible

3. Discard what doesn’t fit

4. Support thesis with notes

As you organize your notes, do your best to reuse categories whenever possible. Your goal is to find the key patterns or themes that unify the information, making it more than just data you have collected, but evidence that forms an argument. Combine those categories whenever possible, and group similar categories together.

“Don’t include anything simply because you took the time to collect it. Not everything belongs.”

At the same time, look for any that don’t seem to fit. It’s entirely likely that you will have collected some research which does not fit the argument you are going to make. You can and should discard it. Don’t include anything simply because you took the time to collect it. Not everything belongs.

With your notes now grouped into logical categories, consider the thesis of your essay. Try to sum up each category into a sentence that clearly supports your thesis.

Map it out.

Begin to create an outline – which may be as simple as a list – showing the information you plan to present in each paragraph of your essay. Try out a few different sequences for the information, but make sure to put your strongest supporting idea first.