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Developing Your Essay

Learn more about how to develop your essay: from brainstorming to organizing your writing

Creating a document plan

While the video is playing, click "Outline" to navigate through the presentation or "Notes" to see the transcript. Click on Introduction to Academic Writing (PowerPoint) if you would like the slides from the video; the transcript is available via the slide notes. If you are working in Chrome and the file doesn't download, please try a different browser.

Plan writing with PowerPoint

Planning a work before starting to write allows authors to think through their ideas before trying to express them. Without a plan, authors may be choosing their ideas as they write, which often means it’s the most recent idea that ends up in the text, not the best idea. Having a detailed plan reduces the likelihood of poor structure, unclear arguments, missing elements, and wordiness.

Why is PowerPoint an Effective Planning Tool?

Plans can take a variety of forms, such as a traditional outline, a pyramid, or a concept map, but in this tip, I’m going to focus on using PowerPoint slides to create a plan. Creating a slide deck has a number of benefits:

  • The goal of a presentation is to communicate ideas to an external audience, versus the presenter expressing the ideas to himself or herself. Similarly, it's helpful for authors to think about the information and explanations their audiences will need to understand the work.
  • The process of creating a slide deck allows a presenter to make important decisions about the content. When the slides are ready to share with an audience, the presenter has already identified the key ideas and decided how to talk about them. By making those decisions during the planning process, the speaker only has to focus on expressing the information during the presentation, which creates a polished final result. Ideally, a document plan does the same thing for an author: the plan identifies the writer’s best ideas, and the writing of the document expresses them.
  • The typical approach to a PowerPoint presentation translates well to the elements expected in formal writing. The title slide can identify the introductory details and the thesis statement, subsequent slides can represent body paragraphs (e.g., one paragraph per slide), and the final slide can identify how the author will conclude the discussion and reinforce key details. Using PowerPoint to frame that structure can remind authors to include all the sections.

Sample Slide Deck

For a basic example of a slide deck, please click on PowerPoint Plan. If you are working in Chrome and the file doesn't download, please try a different browser.

You’re welcome to change the template as it suits your work; for example, the template is structured for a five paragraph essay, but slides could be added or deleted as necessary. Writers can use keywords to fill in the placeholders, and when the plan is complete, blank spaces next to a placeholder will indicate missing elements. For more information regarding those elements, please watch the Writing an Academic Paragraph video. Please also see Finalize Your Document Plan for the information in the sample slide deck in a linear outline.

Evaluate the Plan Before Writing

To evaluate the plan before starting to write, consider:

  • Are the slides in a logical order? In other words, does the paragraph order need to change?
  • What are the transitions between the body paragraphs? Are those transitions identified on the slides? People naturally add transitions when speaking to help an audience move from one topic to another, but transitions in writing can seem more challenging. If you’re struggling to identify the transition, think about how you would talk through the transition if you were presenting the information.
  • Is there sufficient detail on the slides that you could present them verbally? If you couldn’t present the information, you’re probably not ready to write about it either. What information or explanations are missing?

A key aspect of developing a plan to guide your writing process is finding an approach that works for you; for more information on other planning methods, please see the box below.

More planning resources

Organizing Your Report: The Pyramid Outline

Students in the RRU School of Business learn the pyramiding approach to organizing a document. This resource by the World Bank Group provides similar information in an easy-to-use module, as well as samples and templates. The information provided in the module is another way of explaining the same basic principle as what is provided to School of Business students; if there are any discrepancies between the module and school materials, please follow the instructions or information provided by School of Business instructors.

How to Write an Undergraduate-level Essay or How to Write a Graduate-level Essay

These guides break down the process involved in writing a paper into 12 steps and direct you to where you can find more information on each step. In particular, please refer to Create the Final Version of Your Document Plan or Finalize the Document Plan (the information is the same in both resources, but the pages live in the different guides to writing essays).

Two Approaches to Writing a Compare/contrast Essay

This resource provides two ways to organize and plan a compare and contrast essay. If this resource doesn't correspond to the instructions for your assignment, please always give preference to the assignment descriptions. If you are unsure if these approaches align with the assignment, please speak with your instructor for further clarification regarding the assignment's instructions.

Outlining a Research Paper (©2011 Amy L. Stuart, Associate Professor, University of South Florida)

This resource provides an easy-to-follow, step-by-step process for outlining a major research paper or thesis, including suggestions on how to plan the introduction, literature review, analysis, results, discussion, and conclusion.

Project Planner (SAGE Research Methods; requires RRU login)

A comprehensive guide to the stages involved in a research project, including defining a project, writing literature reviews, and writing up the final result.

The MBTI Types and What They Can Learn About Writing

The approach you use to plan your document will largely be decided by your own learning preferences. This document, adapted by Sandy McIver for MA in Leadership learners, provides an overview of each of the Myers-Briggs preference types and the preferred writing style for the type.

If you don't know your MBTI preference type, there are a number of websites that provide information and self-tests to help you determine your type. However, please keep in mind that the only true MBTI test is one that is provided and reviewed by a trained administrator. Nonetheless, the following websites will provide you with a good starting point from which to identify your own preference type: Personality Pathways or High Level Description of the Sixteen Personality Types.

Assignment Calculator

The assignment calculator is a tool that you can use to keep you on track and help you to meet your deadlines. Plug in the start and deadline dates of your assignment, and you'll see a breakdown of the steps to complete the assignment, along with suggested completion dates and relevant resources.