How to Plan an Essay

Planning is one of the most important parts of the writing process, but it’s also one of the most overlooked. Some students think planning is a waste of time, while others aren’t exactly sure how to plan.  

In this article, we’ll explain why planning actually saves you time, plus give you tips on how to create an effective plan for any essay or paper.

Why you should plan your essays

So, why is planning such a big deal? Why can’t you just start writing?

A plan is an organized roadmap for your essay. It helps you sort your ideas into coherent paragraphs that flow logically. Without a plan, you might end up rambling and leave your readers lost and confused.

Planning also gives you a chance to make sure that your ideas make sense and that you have plenty of evidence before you start writing. You don’t want to get halfway through your essay and realize you’ve lost your train of thought—or that you don’t have adequate evidence to support your claims.

How Planning Saves You Time

Far from being a time waster, planning actually saves you time in the long run. Once you’ve done the work of planning, writing your essay comes easily. You’ll already have all of the information you need for your essay in one place. Now all you have to do is put it into sentence form!  

What Does a Plan Look Like?

There’s no one way to plan an essay. You can format your plan using whatever method works best for you.

You may want to try a traditional outline, a bubble map, or even some carefully organized notes. However you choose to record your plan, there are some key elements you should include.

What to Include in a Plan

In order to plan thoroughly and effectively, be sure to include the following items.


At the top of your planning sheet, write your thesis statement. Your thesis should clearly, concisely state the main claim or argument you’ll be advancing in the essay. If you’re writing the essay in response to a prompt, your thesis is a clear answer to the question the prompt is asking.

Often, your thesis will also list 2-3 main points in support of your claim.

Here’s an example:

Overuse of social media is dangerous because it limits face-to-face interaction, and studies show it increases anxiety and depression while decreasing self-esteem.  

You should list your thesis at the top of your paper because it controls your entire argument. Every paragraph, supporting detail, and piece of evidence in the rest of your essay exists to support your thesis.

As you map out the rest of your paper, continue consulting your thesis. Does the information you’re including directly support your thesis? If not, leave it out. (Or rewrite your thesis.)

Your thesis also dictates the structure of your essay. Based on the sample thesis above, readers would expect information about how social media limits face-to-face interaction, increases anxiety and depression, and decreases self-esteem. And they would expect the information in that order.

For these reasons, start by generating a thesis statement and writing it at the top of your planning sheet. Then allow your thesis to guide the remainder of your plan.

2-3 Supporting Reasons

Your plan should also include your 2-3 supporting reasons (the reasons why you’ve chosen to take a particular stance or make a certain claim).

For our essay about the dangers of excessive social media use, for instance, our supporting reasons are already outlined in the thesis statement:

  • Social media limits face-to-face interaction.
  • Overuse of social media increases depression and anxiety.
  • Overuse of social media decreases self-esteem.

These supporting reasons will be the main topics of your body paragraphs.


Once you’ve written your thesis and determined your supporting reasons, it’s time to plan out your evidence.

How will you support each of your supporting reasons (which in turn support the thesis of your essay?)

Depending on what type of paper you’re writing, your evidence may include:

  • Quotes
  • Statistics
  • Facts
  • Information about current or historical events
  • Examples

If you’re writing the paper for an assessment, it’s likely that you’ll be provided with a prompt and a series of passages or texts. In this case, you must use only textual evidence (evidence selected from the provided texts).  

For each of your supporting reasons, try to plan at least three pieces of strong, relevant evidence. When you write your essay, you’ll also need to provide your own commentary or analysis of the evidence you select, so ensure you only choose evidence that you can explain in your own words.

As you select your evidence, begin building your bibliography. Recording them as you research and write is easier than doing it at the end of your process where you may forget where a piece of evidence came from. It’s also important to include a parenthetical citation or another type of in-text citation when mentioning evidence within your paper.


If you’re writing an argumentative/persuasive essay, you’ll also need to plan your counterargument. A counterargument has three main parts:

  • Introduce the opposition
  • State an opposing argument
  • Refute the opposing argument

Choose an argument from the other side that you’d like to address in your paper. It should be one of the most popular arguments from the other side, and it should be one that you’re confident you can refute.  

Once you’ve selected an argument, plan how you’ll refute it as well. You may point out a logical fallacy, provide a stronger reason from your own side, or offer a compromise.

Next Steps

Once you have all the pieces of your essay planned, putting it on paper is simple.  

Your introductory paragraph will include your thesis statement (and list your 2-3 supporting reasons). The topic sentence of each body paragraph will introduce one of your 2-3 supporting reasons (in the order they were mentioned in your introduction). Each body paragraph will contain the evidence you’ve already planned out to support it.

All you need to do is organize this information into sentence form, insert transitions, add commentary to your evidence, and include a conclusion.

Final Thoughts

Some students see planning as a pain, but it actually saves you time and makes your essay clear and organized.  

A solid plan should include:

  • Thesis statement
  • 2-3 supporting reasons
  • 3 pieces of evidence for each supporting reason
  • Counterargument (if persuasive/argumentative)

Still don’t believe in the power of planning?

Try it out next time you’re assigned an essay. Notice how much easier it is to write your essay—and how much better your writing is with just a bit of advance planning!


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