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Using subheadings and bullet points is perhaps one of the most commonly used planning strategies, and can be very effective if used with care. It is a linear technique, and helps you to group and order your current ideas. It is therefore usually used after some reading and thinking has been done, as a way of planning content (although the Q&A method is a more analytical variant). It also helps you to get an overview of the macro and micro levels of your argument - the sections, subsections and paragraphs within them. A bullet point plan translates easily into the draft itself, as it is linear and helps you visualize how it will appear on the page. 

When using this technique, it is important to avoid becoming descriptive, as this method can become simply a list of 'things to talk about', neglecting the logical relationship between the points that creates your argument.

Step 1: Sub-headings

This method can be used at a fairly early stage of the essay-writing process, and then be built on in more detail later, but it depends on the writer having done some reading and thinking to provide material to work with. Assemble your notes from your reading and thinking (these could be preliminary, or the result of more extensive research) and 'brainstorm' the points you want to make from these.

You will then need to analyse these points to derive a number of overarching categories under which the points can later be grouped. These will later become the sections of your essay or, in a dissertation, they might be sections (subheadings and sub-subheadings). In a short essay, there will be perhaps only two to four sections, which is all that you might be able to cover adequately in the time or word/page limit allotted. It is easy at this stage to be overly ambitious about the amount of material you will be able to cover in depth. It is usually better to select fewer points to demonstrate your analytical abilities rather than to try and cover too much, resulting in a superficial treatment of the material.

Click here for an example (essay title: Discuss the power of the eye in Frankenstein).

Supervisor's view:

"I often encourage students to ask themselves, what is the least possible amount of material I need to cover in order to answer this question effectively?'"

Step 2: bullet points

The next step is to decide under which subheading to put each of the points you intend to make, and to order them in each section. You may already have done this, partially, to help you create your sections. This act of grouping the points requires some analytical thought, so that it does not become descriptive; make sure you can articulate why the material would best fit in those groups and in that order. The sections need not be matched in size; sometimes sections of an essay can be quite imbalanced, to suit the argument, rather than insisting on an equal number of points in each. It is not necessary, for example, to list the same number of points for and against an issue.

Click here for an example (essay title: Discuss the power of the eye in Frankenstein).