Starting writing

Organising thoughts

  • Try mind mapping or listing initial ideas.
  • Form questions about the topic with Who? What? When? Where? Why? How?
  • Examples: When and where did it occur? Who were the key figures?
  • Another technique is to divide a page in half. Use the left-hand side to capture your current knowledge; use the right-hand side for areas you could research.
Diagram to plan initial thoughts into what I know and what I would like to know.
Figure 1: Adapted from Cooper and Shoolbred (2016, p. 19)

Building a title

  • Titles often feature the following parts:
Parts of a title: instruction, topic, focus/aspects
Figure 2: Parts of a title, adapted from Gillet (2019)
  • Instruction: this may be an instruction verb such as discuss, compare or evaluate. Alternatively, you may have a question word such as ‘how’ or ‘why’.
  • Topic: this is the main area of research.
  • Focus/aspect: this narrows down your general topic. For example, you could consider specific practitioners, genres, aspects or time periods.
  • Use the title template and instruction verbs (University of Kent, 2008) below for initial ideas.

Planning a structure

  • There are many ways to plan writing.
  • Look at the examples below, and pick a method that works for you.
  • See a summary of the techniques in the guide to planning.
Example of outline planning.
Figure 3: Example of outline planning

Outline planning

  • Make a list of the main points you wish to cover.
  • Consider which evidence could support these points.
  • Experiment with the order of the points.
  • Which sequence is most logical?

Visual planning

  • Try making a mind map of the whole structure or each section.
  • Different branches in the mind map could become paragraphs in your writing.
  • See the video below about how to make mind maps.
How to make a mind map

  • You could also make a storyboard of the main points.
  • Create images to represent points. If desired, write prompt headings underneath.
  • See the example below for Dr Marten footwear.
Example of storyboarding.
Figure 4: Example of storyboarding points

Flexible planning

  • Use index cards or post-it notes to write down key points.
  • Similar to outline planning, you can also bullet point evidence to use.
  • Move the points around until you are happy with the order.
  • Additionally, make PowerPoint slides to see an overview of the whole structure. Each slide can represent a point and be easily reorganised.

Overcoming the blank page

  • Students often say that starting is the hardest part of writing.
  • Try Peter Elbow’s (1998) technique of freewriting; this involves writing without stopping or worrying about typos.
  • Set realistic writing targets for each study session e.g. complete paragraph on defining sustainable fashion; proofread document for minor errors.
  • Set a timer and aim to keep writing for the duration. Try a particular technique such as the Pomodoro method, which suggests setting a timer for 25 minutes and having a short break. Read more about the Pomodoro method.
Video about getting started with essay writing

The following sources were consulted:

  • Cooper, H. and Schoolbred, M. (2016) Where’s your argument? Basingstoke: Palgrave.
  • Elbow, P. (1998) Writing with power. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Gillet, A. (2019) Understanding the task. Available at: (Accessed: 16 January 2020).
  • University of Leicester (2009) Essay terms explained. Available at: (Accessed: 06 February 2020).

Graphic to represent eBooks available about the topic.


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