Throughout high school and undergraduate university courses, we get told about the importance of planning before we start to write essays or reports (or any other type of writing for that matter). I used to think that we were just told this for the fun of it, kind of in the same way that you are told to read ALL the instructions before using new technology… but for the most part we can just learn as we go. However, after writing a thesis last year for my honours degree and starting my Ph.D. this year, I realise that planning is actually an essential element of successful writing, and that I probably should have started doing it earlier. In just the same way that you cannot start constructing a building without detailed plans, you cannot construct a solid, near-perfect piece of writing without planning. The way you choose to plan is completely up, but I have outlined four different types of planners you could be:
The ‘tech savvy’ planner– There are many ways you can plan your writing using your computer. My favourite for my Ph.D. is using an OneNote notebook. I have set up separate sections for each of my chapters and whenever I get an idea that may be important to ‘Future Me’ I type it in there. Or you can be “old school” and just use Microsoft Word to type up a plan… yes I am aware that using “old school” to talk about computers is scary, hello 2016!
The ‘artistic’ planner- Draw mind maps. This is a personal favourite technique of mine. If you are trying to work out a specific topic for a research report, write the general topic in the middle of the mind map. Then keep drawing arrows to connect all the relevant topics or questions related to that initial broad topic. Mind maps can be as simple or as complicated as you need them to be. They are a great way to pinpoint the exact areas you will include in your writing and they are actually fun to create.
The ‘I will always be a child at heart’ planner- Remember when you were in primary school and you loved to cut out shapes and glue them back down? Well, making a plan is a great way to get back to your craft making ways. For honours last year, I had a lot of typed notes which I knew were all relevant, but I was not sure how I could fit all the information together in a coherent way. So I cut out the different paragraphs (making sure the reference was written on each piece of paper, so I didn’t forget where the words came from) and kept moving them around under different headings until I found where all the information fit. I then glued them down on large cardboard sheets in pretty colours. You could also do the same with essay planning, by sorting out which information should go in which paragraphs.
The ‘I make many mistakes’ planner- If you are planning a particularly complex piece of writing, use a whiteboard! You can keep changing your plan as you go without having to have a messy, unreadable piece of paper. Plus I believe that neat whiteboard handwriting is an undervalued skill, so get practising!