Organizing an Essay: The Pre-writing Steps

Writing skills are given a lot of importance in the American education system, and justifiably so, as they reflect one’s ability to express themselves by narrating, explaining, or arguing effectively. Writing skills feature in every standardized test, be it the ACT, SAT, or GRE, etc. They are a major component of the application process for a college education. Considering the premium that is placed on these skills, one needs to understand and master the steps that go into producing a well-organized and clearly articulated essay.

While many students tend to think of the essay-writing process as a task that requires placing themselves at their computer and beginning to write immediately there is a lot more that goes into producing a great essay. There are several crucial steps that need to be followed before one even begins the actual writing process. Effective planning for each of these steps can help one structure their writing in a logical manner. Therefore, without further ado, let’s take a look at these steps.

  1. Determining the type of essay to write: A big clue to the kind of essay to write would be in the assignment instructions. Does the assignment require an argumentative essay or one of a descriptive nature? In several cases, especially in college application essays, the nature of the essay can also be that of a personal story. Therefore, the structure, the tone, and of course, the supporting details in the essay will be determined by the central theme and purpose of the essay. Yet another consideration that can help determine the kind of essay one needs to write is the audience of the essay. While, in most cases, the audience is the teacher setting the assignment, in several instances, the audience can also be the general public, the college admissions board, or a specific person or group (like a newspaper editor, perhaps). Taking the audience into account can help one decide on the tone of the essay in terms of the language to be used.

  2. Researching: After determining the type of essay to be written, the next step would be to look into the kind of supporting details that need to be included in the content to either support one’s argument, explain a concept, or even embellish a narrative story. To gather these details, one needs to either learn more about the essay topic by reading further, re-examining a text for supporting quotes or scenarios, studying the counterarguments, or in some cases, even interviewing the relevant people. The research process often helps one refine the structure of the essay as well flesh out the bare bones of the essay with the gathered details.

  3. Writing out the thesis statement: Now that a more defined idea of the essay is taking shape, a clear and detailed thesis statement needs to be established. A thesis statement is often called the head of an essay. It is the central component of a good essay that the rest of the body supports. Thesis statements assert the purpose of the essay, and therefore, need to be clear and include the central arguments of the essay. A thesis statement usually appears towards the end of the introductory paragraph.

  4. Outlining: Now that the essential details that would go into the essay are collected and its thesis clearly defined, a rough outline of the structure of the essay can be sketched. It is common knowledge that every good essay needs a well-defined introduction, body, and conclusion. However, at this stage, the outline should go deeper into the various components of the essay. Ideas for a catchy opening line or “hook” to draw readers into the essay as well as those for strong topic sentences for each of the body paragraphs should be jotted down in the outline. The relevant facts, statistics, or story snippets that would go into the body of each paragraph as supporting details should also be listed here. An outline of an essay at this stage should be thought of as akin to a detailed blueprint of a building. It should list out not only the relevant details but also the order in which they would be written down. This can help one plan out the flow of the overall essay and begin thinking about any transitional elements one might need to connect one idea with the next. While most outlines are only sketched out in phrases, there is no harm in actually fleshing out key topic and concluding sentences.

These pre-writing steps are quite comprehensive, and going through each of these steps not only helps one write a strong, well-organized essay but also avoid rewriting or revising certain elements at a later stage. What other steps would you include in the pre-writing process?