Properly planning and drafting an essay will help avoid rambling and make your arguments more coherent. Many students believe that they write best when under pressure, but often a rushed essay is laden with grammatical errors, muddled arguments, poor structure and other signifiers of poor writing that would likely have been avoided through sufficient planning. It may seem like a lot of extra work, but getting into the habit of writing drafts is sure to improve the quality of your essays.

Why draft?

You should already have a good idea of what you want to say before you put pen to paper. Obviously research is a crucial first step, but much of the important thinking and organising occurs once you begin writing and making connections between ideas. This synthesis of ideas and concepts is what demonstrates a deeper understanding of the topic, but such connections rarely gain clarity and take shape without drafting, reflection and re-writing. Early on, drafting helps you focus your ideas to structure them in a way that makes sense. During the writing process new issues arise constantly, forcing you to make corrections as you go, which is very time-consuming and often results in poorly constructed arguments. Whilst writing multiple drafts may seem like unnecessary effort, it is a more efficient approach to writing.

Make a basic plan or outline first

Firstly, plan out the main structure of your essay with the question firmly in mind. Read through your research notes and list all the central points and ideas you want to cover. At this stage it’s important to develop an idea of how your thesis relates to the prevailing arguments and how you will approach them. It may be helpful to set out the sections of your essay with a brief summary of each and the main points to be addressed. Quickly review this to ensure you have included all relevant information and that you are answering the essay question.

First draft

The first draft should flesh-out the ideas highlighted in your outline. Rather than worrying about spelling or grammar at this stage, you should focus solely on writing freely and adding content, using the outline as a guide. Exactly what you write here isn’t too important as it will be subject to heavy editing later. The point is to avoid writer’s block and keep going. The first draft is typically a long and disorganised arrangement of your thoughts and ideas, so naturally it will contain logical and structural errors. When you lay your thoughts down without focussing too much on details, you may find that certain concepts and ideas lead to novel associations as you begin to synthesise information. Note which side tracks are particularly useful to your essay and follow them, but keep the original framework and essay question in mind. The end result may well be very different from the original plan.

Subsequent drafts

Once you’ve completed your first draft it’s a good idea to take a step back for a while and look at it again with fresh eyes. This will allow you to review what you have written more critically. It may even help to pretend the draft was written by someone else to lessen your attachment to it. Read through the draft, carefully searching for any passages that need rewriting or rethinking entirely. Is any important information missing? Try to critically assess the essay’s structure. Will it be clear to the reader what is meant? Is it logical and coherent? Does the introduction still make sense in relation to what you have written in the main body? Are your arguments clear in relation to the thesis? These are the kind of questions you need to ask when reviewing each draft. It may be helpful to note how each paragraph relates to others and whether they should be rearranged to improve the flow of your essay. Once you are satisfied with the content and organisation, you can move on to a final draft.

Final checks

At this point the broad structure and content of your essay should be finalised. The final steps are all about proofreading and editing. This involves meticulously reading through your essay, focussing on style, presentation and word flow. And of course, ensure that your grammar, punctuation and spelling are faultless.

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