At some point before you begin writing, you should map out or outline your essay. This is sometimes best done after you have amassed your research material, though drawing up a tentative outline before your finish the gathering and reading stage sometimes makes sense of what further material you need to find. (Sometimes it is only at the writing stage that you are clear about gaps in your knowledge.)

At whatever stage you draw up an outline, treat it as a draft. Whether the sequence of arguments or blocks of information is effective will often only become clear as you write each section in turn. You may well get three-quarters of the way through your outline only to discover that it does not work well. But a tentative outline will help you organize your research materials, and it will break the essay down into manageable chunks for writing. It may also help you figure out the most logical sequence for arguments and explanations and illustration.

When you are developing an outline, think about what order makes sense for the various sub-topics. Each section of the essay should lead logically to the next, and each major section should cluster together the large and small points that are closely related to one another. Think of a typical undergraduate essay having four or five or six major "chunks,"and each of those chunks having a number of more specific points - most of those having their own paragraphs. Figuring out the order is not always easy. If your essay is asking why something happened, you might want to build up to the factor that you think is the most important - in other words, saving it to last. Or you may want to start with that, and then work through less important factors. If you are dealing with an issue over which there is a drastic disagreement, you might want to start with the argument that is less convincing and end with the argument you agree with.

Organizing comparative essays can be especially challenging. You will often have to make a number of analytical points about more than one political system or institution. There is no ideal way of approaching this, but it is often easier for you and the reader to deal with the first country or institution, discussing the various aspects of it that are important for the comparison, and then move on to the second. As you go through your second case, go through your analysis in roughly the same order as you did the first. Then remind your reader of the similarities or contrasts along the way with such phrases as "as with . . ." or "in contrast to . . ." If this all seems awkward when you are writing, change the outline.

Remember that you cannot leave the outlining and writing of your essay until the last minute. Writing is inseparable from the organizing and analyzing that goes into an effective essay. It is often only in the course of writing that you discover weaknesses in your argument or anomalies in your presentation.


Treat the introduction to any term assignment very seriously. This is where you tell the reader what your essay is about and why the topic is worth examining. This is where you engage the reader's interest, and where you build that person's confidence in your ability to intelligently discuss the issues at hand. For all those reasons, the introduction shapes how the rest of your essay will be perceived. It might be the first section of the paper you draft, but it definitely should be among the last parts you finalize.

At some point in the introduction, the central argument to be analyzed or the question to be posed by the essay ought to be put in as clear a form as you can muster. It needn't be right at the beginning. You may wish to set some sort of scene before focusing your reader's attention. You may, for example, wish to argue that some general topic area is of obvious importance, and only then zero in on the particular question that interests you. You may wish to relate a short anecdote that draws attention to your question or argument and makes it seem relevant. But