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Academic Writing for University Essays: Planning Your Essay

Determining the Goal

Before planning your essay, it is crucial to establish a clear goal that you aim to achieve. Having a well-defined objective provides a sense of direction and purpose, allowing you to focus your efforts effectively.

To excel in essay writing and secure good grades, several key points must be considered. Firstly, it is crucial to address the question (Q) effectively. Understand the prompt thoroughly and ensure that your response directly addresses all aspects of the question. Secondly, strive for a comprehensive understanding of the topic (U). Conduct thorough research, explore different perspectives, and gather relevant information to support your arguments. Additionally, aim for a highly advanced analysis (A) of the subject matter. Develop critical thinking skills and provide insightful interpretations, drawing connections between various ideas and presenting a nuanced viewpoint. Lastly, effective communication (C) is essential. Express your thoughts and arguments clearly and coherently, using proper grammar, vocabulary, and sentence structure. Aim for an excellent standard of writing that engages the reader and conveys your ideas effectively. Once you have a clear grasp of the marking criteria and have committed to putting in the necessary effort, you can proceed to plan your essay accordingly.

Example of Marking Checklist*

a. Prescribed Essay (student was given specific questions)

b. Self-Selected Essay (Student has the liberty to choose the topic)

*the criteria was provided by my former professor in my postgraduate study to assess the student's essay

A. Essay Planning: Overview

1. Purpose of Essay Planning

  • The most important reason is big pictures not over details. Planning is focused on your main claims and key evidence.

  • To stay focus

  • Effective planning will save you time later on.

2. Steps of Planning

B. Formulating Thesis Statement

1. Analyse the Question/task instructions

- The topic (nouns) and the instructions (verbs)

- Underline keywords and divide the topic into parts to help you analyze it

o Example: Discuss the role of Child-Directed Speech in Early language acquisition”

o It contains the verb “discuss”

o The topic: two main parts (noun), child-directed speech and early language acquisition

- Ask questions about the question/ part of the topic

o e.g. who, what, when, where, why

o You may ask: what is the definition of child-directed speech? What is the definition of

early language

o Does the speaking play a small role or a big role? Is the role universal or not?

o To choose what questions to be asked in the essays

- How to handle the topic

- Verbs in the questions

o Discuss

§ Present evidence/reasons for different positions

o Justify the view that…..

§ Present evidence/reasons for one position

o Critically evaluate the hypothesis that…..

§ Reach a position (claim), justifying your view

o To what extent is it true that…

§ Variety of different positions could be a possible answer

- Think about the logically possible answers to your questions. Here is the table of essay instruction words.


The minimum expectation is to pull together and DESCRIBE experiments and

results relevant to the essay topic and argument being made.



The minimum expectation is to DESCRIBE + EXPLAIN



The minimum expectation is to EXPLAIN IN DETAIL providing EVIDENCE + ANALYSIS



The minimum expectation is to DECIDE a DIRECTION + Introduce DEBATE


2. Generate Ideas

To think of the possible ways of the answer. Write down all the ideas of the answers and you can evaluate it later.

- Creative thinking about the tasks – idea generation technique

o Questioning

o Mindmap (effectively generating ideas quickly)

o Lists

3. Research: identify positions in the literature

After you generate the ideas, the next step is research. What has been written about the topics already? Published? At the university level, is a range of views that exists in the literature. So your essay can demonstrate critical engagement of academic resources. If you only give the answer based on the questions it means that you are not aware of the existing research.

- Views in the literature related to your essay question

- Note down sources

- Note down quotations

Identify pre-existing views: Example view 1

The questions: Discuss the role of child-directed speech (CDS) in early language acquisition.

*So there are some views to discuss. Make sure you download/save the sources.*

- View ‘against’

o ‘against’ position: CDS is not necessary for children to learn a language successfully;

children’s innate capacity for language is key

o Sources: Lust 2006, Pye 1896

o Evidence: in some cultures, people don’t speak to children in special ways, but people

in these cultures still acquire languages successfully

- View ‘for’

o ‘for’ position: CD is necessary; without it, children will not learn a language successfully

o Sources: Curtiss 1988. Brown 2000, Matychuk, 2004, Rowe 2008

o Evidence: data shows that with no exposure to language, children cannot learn

languages; data showing children learn languages slower if CDS is reduced.

Tips from (, you can copy your related material from your slides, read the reading list (copy), do more reading, and make the final plan).

3. Formulate your thesis statement (your position)

- It should be a unique position adapting aspects of existing positions

o Previously unexplored evidence. Weaknesses of existing argument. Possibly notice the

strong view and come up with your own answer to the question.

o Selectively combine elements from existing views.

o Example: Language acquisition can proceed successfully without most aspects of CDS,

but not without X

C. Writing an Essay Outline

1. What is an essay outline?

- A skeleton of your argument that contains the main points without all of the details.

- An essay outline contains:

o Your thesis statement (draft)

§ Main claim (s)

§ Not exceeding 40 words

o The main pieces of supporting evidence

- The purpose to write an outline is to organize and make the best order for your essay

(Ordering/grouping task)

2. Simplified essay outline (example)

a. Structure

- Thesis statement

- Supporting evidence (summary sentence)

- Supporting evidence (summary sentence)

- Supporting evidence (summary sentence)

b. Essay outline: example

How much homework should schoolchildren be given?

1) Thesis statement (main claim (s))

- Generally, homework should be given regularly but in small amounts

- during exam season, the amount of homework should be increased to help with revision

2) Supporting evidence (regularity)

- regular homework helps children remember what they have learned

-regular homework encourages children to study independently

3) Supporting evidence (quantity)

- giving small amounts of homework is good because children’s workload is high

4) Supporting evidence (an exception)

- during exam season homework helps with revision

*Supporting argument relates directly to the thesis statement

3. Expanded essay outline: example

4. Benefits of Writing an essay outline

- Planning tool

- Helps you focus on the most important issues

o The content (your answer to the question, and your evidence)

o Organisation of ideas

§ How to divide your ideas into sections/paragraphs

o Revision tool during the writing process


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