Essay writing: how to organize your ideas

Plenty of students have a great grasp of the course material they’re expected to be able to write an essay on, and plenty of their own good ideas related to the material. Yet the vast majority of students find essay writing to be a chore, and a difficult one at that. This may be due to the fact that many students become overwhelmed when attempting to put these complex ideas into a coherent structure for an essay.

Why is it so hard?

The most likely culprit for most students is poor instruction at the grade school level of education. Initially, they are taught to form sentences, then paragraphs, and finally five paragraph “essays” or “reports” which follow a very straightforward structure. This is all well and good, but unfortunately most courses tend to go from this five paragraph “beginner’s” essay style to something far more complex without an adequate transition. While the basic tenets of this teaching method are a solid foundation for writing more complex essays in terms of structure, they don’t address the difficulty inherent in students learning to organize their own increasingly complex ideas as they mature.

Strategies for Success

Keeping in mind that the structure for writing taught in grade school, which generally consists of introducing an idea, supporting it, and then transitioning to another idea or concluding the passage is still valid, you simply need to develop strategies to organize your thoughts before writing. Here are some tips that can help:

  • Become an excellent note-taker
  • When researching your ideas or reading your source text to support your thesis, practice writing your notes down in an organized manner. Create categories for each idea you plan to use to support your essay’s thesis. Take specific notes; include quotes if necessary, and be sure to include how the idea relates to your larger essay as a whole.

  • Outline categories, not paragraphs
  • As you transition toward more complex essays and other writing assignments, you’ll find that simply separating

    your supporting ideas by paragraph is no longer a completely sound tactic. That’s okay; the same principles still apply. Simply create an outline for each supporting idea. How will you introduce the idea? How will you explain it, and relate it to your topic? How will you transition to the next idea? You can even go so far as to write these sections out for your rough draft and then go back and determine where you will break up your paragraphs.