Essay Writing, Part 2: How To Organize An Essay


What are you likely going to hear a million times throughout university? “Before your pen hits the page, make sure you know what you want to say.”

Anyone writing an essay should adopt an organizational scheme to make the writing process easier.

Those aiming to have their work published do this for every piece of writing. You may not want to write a book or publish your work in an academic journal, but taking the time to write an outline can really help your grades too.

Organizing your essay is actually something you should do before you get to the writing stage.  If your essay is well-organized from the beginning, it will save you a lot of time.

Poor organization in an essay will make it difficult for the reader to follow your arguments, and if the reader happens to be your professor or your TA, this can make you lose marks.

Organizing your essay is actually something you should do before you get to the writing stage.  If your essay is well-organized from the beginning, it will save you a lot of time and effort because  you won’t have to read and re-read previously-written sections to create an optimal essay flow.

There are several different ways you can organize your information.


For visual learners, it can be good to organize ideas into a flow chart.  Using symbols or colour-coding can help you group like ideas together if you happen to run out of space on one section of your page.  Depending on what stage you are at in your planning and research process, sometimes you can make multiple charts.

This method is good for students who want to see all of their ideas at once to see how they fit together.  However, if you have problems drawing things out, it may be difficult for you to fit everything together on one page.

A way to solve that problem is to stick some Glad Press’n Seal Wrap to your wall, and to write your ideas out with a whiteboard marker.  All you need is a little bit of water and you can write and re-write multiple times.  (Or you could use a big white board as well.)

Index cards

This method is really good for tactile-oriented individuals.  For every point or quotation you have, you write them on an index card.  Once you have all of your points written down, you re-arrange your cards in an order that flows the best.  This creates the outline for your paper.

The good thing about this method is that once your cards are re-ordered, you have your paper already outlined and organized.  At the same time, you may have way more information than you can use and will need to get rid of some of your research.


This method can be really limiting for people who like to physically write things out, but at the same time allows you to move things around multiple times without wasting paper.

While you are doing your research, write out points and quotations you think may be valuable to your argument.  With a simple CTRL+C (or Command+C for you Apple fanatics) you can move the points around in an order that fits the best for your paper.

This is the method that I usually use, since it allows me to change things multiple times and I can do this literally as soon as I start researching.

Of course these aren’t the only methods you can use; you want to make sure which ever method or methods you select work the best for you.


As a final step in the essay organization process, you can create a formal essay outline.   An essay outline is similar to what you have above, but also includes a working thesis statement, as well as topic statements and a concluding statement.   Click here to download a sample essay outline.



More articles in the Essay Writing series:

About the author

Danielle Lorenz is a long-time contributor to the Career Incubator. Danielle is a PhD student in the Department of Educational Policy Studies at the University of Alberta. When procrastinating from schoolwork, you will find Danielle lurking on several social media platforms and trying to befriend the snowshoe hares on the U of A campus.