Before you start writing your thesis, article, assignment, or any other important piece of work, you need to plan two things: when you need to complete your task and what you are going to write. The when was discussed in a previous article entitled: “Better English Writing – Sleep On It.” In this article we will discuss making an outline of what you will write. As you may know, an outline or plan is like a skeleton and the actual article is like the rest of the body. This article will concisely explain how to make a plan and why it is so very, very important to do so.
Let’s start with the why. Making a plan saves time and energy. Inexperienced writers do not want to spend time in the planning stage and they end up being long winded. That is to say, their writing is too wordy and includes irrelevant information. Experienced writers always make a plan. Sometimes they do it in their head, sometimes they write it down and sometimes they even get up in the middle of the night (or even in the middle of a shower) to add an idea to their plan. Having a plan means that you have focus when you start writing, and you do not waste time both researching and writing information which never makes the final draft.
So, how do you make a plan? You need to analyse, select and organise. Analyse means asking yourself questions like: What is my specific theme or argument? What am I trying to prove or disprove? Who is my audience? Why am I writing this information, what is my objective? Personally I write the answers to these questions on a piece of paper which I keep in view during the whole writing process.
Now you are in a position to identify and select the information you are going to use in your piece of writing. This may involve selecting information from research you have already done, or identifying specific research which you will need to do in order to obtain relevant information, or both. Selecting your information means you will not use an excessive amount of time researching information which you will never use.
Once you have analysed what you are specifically writing about and why, and you have selected the main ideas you can organise your research and structure your piece of writing. Now a mind map, an outline or some sort of list may be helpful – this is when you actually make your skeleton. During this stage you may still select information to include or to discard because as your plan takes shape you may be inspired with a fresh idea or by the need for some specific information necessary to the logical development of your argument. Also, during this stage, you can start thinking about and noting down how you are going to link different thoughts.
How detailed should a plan be? Simply put, not detailed. Going back to the skeleton analogy: bare bones. When you review your plan, do you feel ready to write? Then your plan is done, your skeleton is complete, and you are ready to begin writing.
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