Structuring An Essay – The Pocket Notebook Trick


Writing an essay or dissertation is a daunting task for many students. One of the most common errors is a lack of proper structure in the thoughts and ideas that you want to commit to paper.

It can seem like the most important step is simply getting something – anything – down on paper, and then progressing from there on. While this is a great method to achieve a feeling of accomplishment, it also sets the stage for a sloppy and uninspired essay, often missing that all-important ‘flow’ that is so important for keeping your reader’s attention.

Remember, academic writing doesn’t have to be boring! You should aim to create interest in the topic you’re writing about, and grab the reader’s attention by weaving an academic ‘story’.

The process of determining the ideal structure for your ‘story’ can be made incredibly simple – even enjoyable – by following three simple steps:

  1. Using a pocket-sized notepad, write every major idea or concept you want to cover in your essay, each on a single page of the notepad
  2. Tear off these pages and toss them on the living-room floor (this is often therapeutic in itself!)
  3. Use the spacious area to arrange your ideas in a pattern that flows freely

By visualising your ideas in such a tangible way, your brain is given the opportunity to see the project as a whole, making it easier to write it down in a readable and interesting manner.

Involve a friend in the process.

When you think you have arranged your thoughts in the best order possible, grab a friend or relative, and verbally walk them through the outline of your essay.

Impressive words and a perfect speech during this explanation is not the goal; instead, you’re aiming to go over the major points of your future written work in simple (or even colloquial) terms. It’s important to walk your guest through each idea in order, paying careful attention to whether or not they are following your explanation.

To double-check whether your essay structure is logical (and interesting), you can also ask your guest to recapitulate back to you the major points that you have covered. In this way you can get an idea of the concepts and ideas that appealed most to them.

Once all of these steps have been completed, you should now have a very clear idea of the structure and context of your essay.

Now it’s time to put it down on paper!

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