As assignments at university tend to be longer and more complex than at school or college, you need to plan your time, your research, and your assignment structure. Planning allows you to do some of the higher-level thinking beforehand, so it makes the writing process itself smoother and brings your ideas into better focus. Every assignment needs a plan! 

Scroll down for our recommended strategies and resources. 

Planning the whole process

Break it down

An assignment can seem intimidating but splitting it into different tasks or stages helps make it manageable. You can focus on one step at a time. Use the Assignment Survival Kit to give a rough schedule.

Stagger multiple deadlines

Once you have a deadline, enter it into your calendar and see the shape of your semester. If all your deadlines cluster at the end of the semester, plan backwards and stagger when you start and finish each one, so you’re not working on them all at once. See our page on time management for more time planning strategies:

Planning what to research

What’s involved?

You need information on the task before you can make a plan. Gather everything you need including the brief, any additional guidance from lecture slides, word count and format. Look at our page on assignment briefs for more on understanding what you need to do.

Your ideas

Before jumping straight into your reading, generate your own ideas first. This creative process gives you a greater focus for what you need to research and ensures your own thinking doesn’t get lost when you read other people’s views. Try using some of these creative and visual strategies for ideas generation:

What do I need to find out?

Generating ideas should identify areas to follow up in your reading. The next step is making a research plan. What do you need to find out? And what sources can you use to find this out? See our pages on finding sources and researching for more useful strategies:

Planning the assignment

Group ideas together

Once you’ve done some reading, note down all your new and more developed ideas. Putting them in a visual form like a mindmap or colour-coding helps identify connections and group similar themes together to avoid repetition:

Make an outline plan

Starting an assignment without making an outline plan first is like going on a journey without using your GPS or a map. It is likely you will waste time and get frustrated because you don’t know where you are going. Planning an outline of your main points and your evidence frees your mind to concentrate on the phrasing of what you want to say when it comes to actually writing, and it should make the writing process smoother. There is no one ‘correct’ way to plan. See this guide for different ways to create an outline:

Main message

Try summarising your overall answer in response to the brief in a single paragraph. Use this to give coherence to your plan. Do all your points relate to it? See our page on argument for more on identifying your position:

Order your points

Transfer your visual planning methods into a more linear structure. What does your reader need to know first, then next, and next? See this video on essay structure and our page on structuring for more on finding a logical flow: