Academic Writing

Preparation: Summary and Sketch Outline

You may find that it is easier to plan once you have written something down. This can help to refine your thinking. The most effective way to do this is to plan your essay’s components via a written summary. This summary will provide you with an initial summary of your ideas upon which to build your writing, and it will serve to remind your of the readers’ need to understand what you are presenting as you develop your work.

Details about how to plan the summary around the three questions “Why? What? How?”  can be found here.

You may find one of the following two methods useful to help you expand from your summary towards a more detailed ‘sketch outline’ of your essay.


Method 1

Spider Diagram / Mind map: With this kind of visual plan, what you aim to do is capture all your main ideas down on a page with key words or phrases that surround, or stem from, the central question. You can then arrange or rank your ideas by numbering the arms of the ‘spider’. This method is adaptable and creative, so it can be a good starting point even if you then go on to order your points in linear form afterwards.


Mind Map


Useful links to Mind Mapping Applications:



Method 2:

Bullet Points / Linear Plans – Using this plan you will list the key features as bullet points or numbers. You could make a brief outline of the main point per paragraph, or a more detailed plan with sub-points and a note of the evidence to support each point.


Captain Smith was responsible for the sinking of The Titanic because:

1.    He agreed to Bruce Ismay’s request to travel at full speed

        a) Smith solely responsible for safety of passengers and crew

        b) Aware of possibility of icebergs

2.    Failed to ensure all on watch had binoculars

        a) Ignored standard procedure

        b) Particularly dangerous related to point 1a

3.    Left the bridge in order to go to bed

        a) Junior officer in charge at dangerous time re: points 1 and 2

4.    Instructed radio operator to prioritize passenger messages

        a) Missed additional iceberg warnings (point 1b)

        b) Delay in sending out mayday message (Caused more death, not collision)

Remember, there is no such thing as a perfect plan so expect your ideas to modify and develop as your essay progresses. It is much simpler to adapt your argument and add new elements if you have captured your thinking in a plan and can keep an overview on how it is developing.

You can use the following ‘Sketch Outline’ template to transfer the information that you have developed in your diagram or plan, and start to develop your structure. 

Essay_Sketch Outline

You can download the document version of the sketch outline in either MS Word or PDF format.

Continue to read ‘Essay Structure’