English is by nature a very textual, verbal subject, and using the written word to plan as well as to write up your argument can sometimes lead to a sense of 'not being able to see the wood for the trees'. It's easy to become overwhelmed with words so that the overall structure is lost sight of. In this case, it can help to use a medium other than words to help you articulate your argument and its structure. Mindmapping is one visual technique, which takes the individual, detailed points and then helps you organise them. However, by thinking of the overall shape of your argument, you could also represent the structure of your essay as a conceptual diagram, using shape and colour to organise and relate your ideas in overview before filling in the individual points.
Step one: Brainstorming
One advantage of this technique is that you can use it very early in the planning process, as part of the question analysis process and before you've done much reading. Therefore, brainstorming is part of the process, but runs alongside it rather than as a preliminary step. Brainstorming is more a way of recording your ideas as you read and work out your argument in detail, and then decide where they might best fit into the shape of your argument.
Step two: Identify the shape of the argument
One of the tricky things about structuring essays is that while the essay is necessarily presented in a linear way due to the nature of the written word on the page, the argument it expresses is not necessarily linear. Think about the 'shape' of your argument - how many sections or main points does it have, and how do they relate to each other? Try to represent this in a pictoral way, using shapes, symbols, colour, etc., to clarify this for yourself. You can then think about where your content best fits. Think about the type of essay you have been set, and whether this has any implications for the shape of your essay. Closed questions and some type of instruction questions may suggest a particular structure for your essay.
Click here to access an example of a structure diagram for the essay title: Discuss the power of the eye in Frankenstein.