Basic English

Planning methods for extended writing pieces

Before an essay or a piece of extended writing can be completed, you need to plan it. If you want to play a game of football, you need to know the rules. If you set out on a journey, then you need to know where you're heading so that you can find out how to get there.

Writing an essay is like doing one of these things—so if you are to write a good essay, it needs to be planned. A plan is a guide that you can refer to while you are writing to keep you on track, and make sure that you are focused on the task.

This is a part of the essay-writing process, which is best carried out using plenty of paper. Get used to the idea of shaping and re-shaping your ideas before you start writing, editing and rearranging your arguments as you give them more thought. Planning on-screen using a word-processor is possible, but it's a fairly advanced technique!

Some students write very detailed plans and lots never plan. Others, especially under exam conditions, write very short plans. Successful essays need to be planned; here are a few tried and tested examples:

mindmap_smMind Maps – use colours, key words, subject issues to organise strands of thinking.

Spider Diagrams
– good method for getting initial thoughts down very quickly – can then be numbered/colour coded to organise/sequence and prioritise thinking

gridGrid Maps – very structured planning grid to organise key points and show overlaps of thinking

Order your topics - At this stage you should be formulating a basic response to the question, even if it is provisional and may later be changed. Try to arrange the points so that they form a persuasive and coherent argument.

Arrange your evidence - All the major points in your planning/ argument need to be supported by some sort of evidence.

Finalise your essay plan - The structure of most essay plans can be summarised as follows:

  • Introduction
  • Arguments
  • Conclusion

The SPEC code is every classroom: it is our whole school approach to marking basic writing skills. This is what it means:


S Spelling
P Punctuation
E Expression
C Capitals