Top Tips for Planning Your Writing

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A few weeks ago, we shared five tips to help you improve your writing and one of the pieces of advice we gave was to always begin with a plan. This week we’re delving into the art of planning.

Here are our top tips:

Look Closely at Your Brief or Question

Before you start planning, take a moment to examine your brief or essay question. Copy the brief out by hand and highlight any key words.

Pay attention to both the subject you are being asked to write about and how you are being asked to write about it. For example, you may be asked to summarise a subject, to compare one subject to another subject, to evaluate the positive and negative aspects of a subject, etc. It is surprisingly easy to go off on a tangent and end up answering a different question to the one you are being asked. In examination circumstances, this will lose you marks.

Map Out Your Ideas

Once you are clear about what you need to write about, it is time to get your ideas down on paper. We recommend spending at least fifteen minutes doing this. Different people will find different idea-generating methods useful. Here are some methods you can try to see what works for you:

Automatic Writing
Automatic writing is a really useful way to come up with ideas when you are struggling to get started. Set a timer for five or ten minutes and write down everything that pops into your head. See if you can write without stopping. When your time is up, read over what you have written. While there is likely to be a few things that are irrelevant to your project, you will hopefully have a few ideas or discussion points to help you get started.

Mind Maps
A mind map helps organise ideas in a visual way. Begin by writing your question or brief in the centre of a page and then add branches outwards for each idea you want to discuss or argument you want to make. Draw further branches to add more information to each idea and use arrows to show how ideas connect to each other. Your mind map will you an overview of all the factors you should consider when you come to writing your piece and how they relate to each other. You can then use it to determine which ideas are the most pertinent to your brief.

Pro/Con or For/Against Lists
If your question requires you to evaluate the successes and failures of something, you might find it useful to make a table with two columns. List the successes on one side of the table and the failures on the other. The length of the lists in comparison to each other will give you an idea of how to structure your writing.

Plan Your Structure

The final step before you start writing is to organise your ideas into a coherent structure. Think about which ideas you feel are most relevant to your brief and then put them into an order. Try to balance arguments with their counterarguments in a clear and focussed way. Depending on the length of your project, you may want to outline structures for both the overall piece and the individual sections within it. Once you have a wider plan for the structure of your piece, add as much detail as you are comfortable with. Some people thrive with a just list of key words to prompt them, while others prefer planning on a paragraph-by-paragraph level.

What methods have you found most useful for planning your writing? Let us know on Twitter or by leaving a comment below.

Have a good week!

21 Mar 2018
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