English & EAL

How I Do Essay Plans (A Real-Life Example!)

Lisa Tran

January 17, 2020

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Plans are one of the most ignored (and underestimated) steps in the essay writing process. Some people don’t do them simply because they don’t want to, some sacrifice them because they think they’ll run out of time, and some do ‘plans’, but in reality, they’re only a rough mental outline. Each of these situations place too many students time and time again in sticky situations come an English SAC or exam.

Why plans are essential for any good essay

  • They ensure that you can’t mindblank — it’s all on the paper in front of you!
  • They ensure that you always stay on topic.

Mental plans or not having a plan at all mean that you don’t have a true direction in which your essay is going. If you’re not sure where you’re going, well, how are you going to get anywhere?

  3.   They save you time in writing time.  

Instead of wasting reading time, you’ve done most of your thinking right at the beginning of the SAC or exam, positioning you to do really well in your essay because you can focus on constructing some really juicy, coherent analysis in your body paragraphs, rather than remembering your basic points and/or making sure your essay is actually answering the question.

Let’s have a look at an essay topic that I’ve tackled in the past. This one is based on Kate Grenville’s The Lieutenant, a current VCE Year 12 English text. To learn more about themes, quotes, characters about this text, and to have a look at an essay topic breakdown, check out this blog post written by outstanding LSG tutor, Angelina!

“But a man could not travel along two different paths.” How does Grenville explore Rooke’s conflict of conscience in The Lieutenant?

Step 1: Highlight key words

In this case, I highlighted: the quote, "How", "Grenville", explore" and "Rooke's conflict of conscience".

Now, it may seem like I've just highlighted the whole prompt, and I understand why you might think that! However, each of the words highlighted convey something meaningful within the prompt. If you're ever unsure about what could be considered a key word, consider whether the prompt would have the same meaning without the word in question.

Step 2: Define key words

In this topic, the main phrase that needs defining is ‘conflict of conscience’. For me, this signals that we must consider morality and the weighing up of right and wrong, especially when tough decisions have to be made.

I’d also take a moment to analyse the quote. This essay prompt is quote-based, so it’s imperative that we discuss the quote and consider the meaning of the quote throughout our essay. For some more detailed info on how to tackle different types of essay prompts, check out this blog post.

Step 3: Start essay plan

Next, I’d start tackling the plan itself. Although it seems like the above steps would take a while, my real-life planning process only takes about 5 minutes. You certainly don’t have to write everything down and you certainly don’t have to make it make sense to anyone but yourself.

Personally, I like to format my plans in dot-point form. I write 1, 2, 3 for each of my body paragraphs and I leave a space underneath each so I can plan each paragraph.

First, I’ll just write rough topic sentences under each, so I can really step back and consider whether my plan of action for the essay’s body paragraphs will do a good job at answering the prompt itself. Again, these are only rough topic sentences — fancying them up will come during the essay writing phase.

Step 4: Important things to include in each paragraph

Once I’ve decided on what each of my body paragraphs will be about, I can them go into a bit more depth for each of them individually.

These are the elements that I include for each:


Essentially, the points that I’ll argue and the reasoning behind the paragraph


The evidence that I’ll be using to reinforce my point(s).

Literary devices/metalanguage

In Year 12, I made a conscious effort to include one literary device or metalanguage example per body paragraph in all of my English essays. This really set me apart from the rest of the state because, in reality, not enough students really focused on the language of their texts, which can really impress examiners.

Strategy: Colour-coded plans

My rough, five minute, colour-coded plan for this essay prompt

For me, using different colours in my plans helped me organise my thoughts, distinguish between them, and ensure that I had covered everything that I wanted to cover.

Obviously, you can come up with a colour system that works for you, but this is what I came up with:

  • Green = metalanguage
  • Red = quotes
  • Black/blue = everything else!

And that’s it — my four-step but five minute essay planning process. Don’t be afraid to modify this to make it work for you and your needs. However, definitely DO be afraid of not planning — it’s absolutely essential for any good essay.

Happy planning!

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